Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Interview With Illustrator Rafael López

La  Bloga posted interviews with F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, authors of Maybe Something BEAUTIFUL.

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Join the hashtag #maybesomethingbeautiful and send photos of what makes yours neighborhood beautiful.

Today La Bloga interviews the illustrator of Maybe Something BEAUTIFUL, the award-winning illustrator Rafael López.

-Hola Rafael, it must feel amazing to know that your real story was going to become a book. What was your first reaction?

Stupefied! There is a Mexican dicho that goes “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” This translates to for everything bad that happens there is also something good. When my wife Candice and I bought an old warehouse in an edgy part of town her mother cried. After transforming that space into our home we realized the importance of changing what we experienced once we opened the door. I also believe that children’s literature has the power to impact change.

-As an illustrator, you must think about your characters before you turn them into beautiful art. Is this case you illustrated yourself. How was the process to illustrate the man surrounded by cans of colors?

I search for my characters and try to imagine how they move through the world. Closing my eyes, I think about their personality and try to put myself in their shoes. Then I sketch intuitively and keep working over previous drawings till I clearly see them. For Maybe Something Beautiful, I didn’t want to put myself in my own shoes. Instead, I saw the muralist as a mysterious force of affirming energy, like a magician with paintbrushes. He was a catalyst in the story but the real alchemy was Mira’s spirit of hope and the community who worked together to transform their neighborhood.

-Tell our readers what is the main impact in transforming a neighborhood and how they can do it.

It strengthens relationships among diverse neighbors who might not otherwise get to know or understand each other. This generates a feeling of ownership, belonging, and awareness that together you can create a sense of place. Everyone has strengths to bring to the collective process and by sharing ideas and skills you learn, grow mentors and leaders. If you don’t know how to do something there is always someone who does so find them and don’t quit. It’s about solving real problems and opening doors to the playground of possibility.

-What was the first image that you sketched for the book? Do you illustrate following the sequence of the story from page to page or do you skip around?

Images are powerful storytellers. I like to think of a children’s picture book like a movie with a story that unfolds. I start from the beginning and work to create a visual ebb and flow punctuated in parts that makes sense to young readers. This story began with the gray city juxtaposed with Mira’s small, bright corner of potential.

-I like how you change the page orientation on your double spreads through the book. You have done this technique in other books. How do you decide when to change the page orientation from landscape to portrait?

When you were a kid did you ever stand on your head? The world suddenly looks distinct and gets your attention when you see it in a different direction. For me it all comes down to engaging young readers and encouraging them to think about and get involved in the text. New generations of children grow up interacting with toys and computers so why not a book? I look for clues in the story, moments that could be punctuated by changing the orientation. Reading to kids around the country and speaking to enthusiastic librarians and storytellers has encouraged me to use this technique. It’s all about that dialogue with the reader.

-Mira in the story dreams of a colorful neighborhood. What did you dream as a child?

Dalí once said “No way I’m returning to Mexico. I can’t stand being in a place more surreal than my paintings.” My childhood dreams were incredibly surreal. My uncle worked at a paper mill and gave me a big roll of bright white paper destined for the dumpster. I drew one of my dreams there, a parade of over 100 skeletons including dog, cat and bird calaveras playing trumpets, accordions and guitarrones.

-What is your message for all those children who want to transform our world?
Children are wise and instinctively come up with ideas to make a difference. I would encourage them to be fearless to the possibilities of creating change.

Rafael López grew up in Mexico City, where he was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and color of street life. He is the illustrator of many vibrant picture books, including the acclaimed Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell. He has received the Pura Belpré and Américas awards multiple times. Rafael Lopez also designs and creates community-based murals nationwide. He divides his time between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and San Diego, California. 

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