Violeta Lópiz was born in Ibiza and later moved to Madrid, where she studied illustration at the Escuela de Arte 10. Since 2006, she’s illustrated books with Éditions du Rouergue, Kalandraka, Edelvives, Almadraba, Macmillan, Anaya and Topipittori. Violeta was a winner of the third CJ Picture Book Awards in Korea.
In this post, Violeta shares some development work and final illustrations from ‘Amigos Do Peito’ (Friends from the heart), which was written by Cláudio Thebas and published by Bruaá Editora. This beautifully illustrated picturebook is a stylistic departure for Violeta.
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Violeta: When Bruaá invited me to illustrate Cláudio Thebas’s poem, I liked the text because of its simplicity. I thought it was so simple that I could illustrate it quickly – something that I often try, but never manage to achieve.
My slowness is nothing but my brain’s need to reset itself every time it faces a new project. It forgets everything that it has done up to that point and needs quite a while to repair itself and be able to produce something new.
This time, the first thing I did to reset my brain was move to Lisbon (thanks to the generosity of the Portuguese Screen Printing Centre that hosted me). The second thing I did was to read the poem over and over again, which made me understand that it’s not a simple text at all, as it gives away almost no clues and doesn’t have a storyline.
(I spent a large part of my Lisbon life stuck in a chair.)
The third thing I did was to find Miguel, one of Bruaá’s two editors, who proved to be a gentleman from another time. He gave me the Cantigas do Maio album by José Afonso and a blind trust that left me stunned.
I devoted half of the time to deciphering what Cláudio’s text was telling me and the other half trying to understand what I wanted to convey. Finding the idea, matching it with the text, the style, the content, the technique, the page sequence, the intention, the characters, the sizes, the composition, the relationship with the text, the setting of the text… all of that amounts to quite a laborious puzzle.
At some points, I felt like a clumsy Buster Keaton setting up an old tent. I would hoist up one of the little sticks and another one would fall down; when I had three sticks up, I couldn’t reach the nails and they all fell down again; and when there was only the fourth stick to go, a bear came and I had to run off.
My process is quite a chaotic one. I allow myself to be guided by my intuition. If I get tired of researching, I start drawing or writing, and when I run out of ideas, I switch tasks again. This a trick that Linda Wolfsgruber taught me when she saw me getting blocked.
For this project, I decided to explore the relationship between places and people, architecture and feelings, mental maps, places on the body, in the mind, on the street… The memories that live in those places and the places that live within memories.
I submerged myself in the architecture and the cartography — collecting houses, roofs, chimneys, shops, walls, windows, squares, markets and routes.
I was ready to do two things that I didn’t know how to do before: draw buildings and paint with felt-tip pens.
At the same time, I felt the need to tell a story with images – a story that would personally link me to the work. And there, I rediscovered something I had originally discovered as a little girl: realising that something exists when that something is no longer there…
Thanks to spending time alone, I noticed things that I didn’t notice when someone was with me. One of these things was the pleasure and the need to have friends.
Even though it scared me a bit, I decided to distance myself from the text and illustrate what I felt about friendship. I would let the images be in contrast to the text but talk about the same thing.
I planned out the story so that the protagonist would always appear alone. Only the places would be left over from the friends who were no longer there. By replacing the children with places, a tension would be created, as well as a contrast which would be resolved by an emotive ending.
With this approach, I felt that the reader would be invited to search for the place where Cláudio says the protagonist’s friends live.
I continued sketching and defining images…
The searching phase ended when I produced the following image.
After the learning and the exploration, what is left is the choice of a path – which in my case begins with a sign. This sign is the surprise of doing an illustration that I really like, and that I still like after several days. Once found, it serves me as a guide for the rest of the work to be done.
The final stage was planning the pages of the book: the composition and all the elements. I did the storyboard the size of a matchbox and I showed it to Bruaá. Slowly, the pages got filled.
I really enjoyed painting the people and hiding all of my friends inside the illustrations.
The music to this book is José Afonso; the theme is the crazy wind on the Rua dos Industriais and the alarm to change the firefighter’s shift; the smell is the wet streets of Lisbon and the ink of master Marçal’s studio; the taste is quince, requeijão and Portuguese stew; the book is ‘Maps of the imagination’ by Peter Turchi.
A boy wants to talk to us about friends from the heart. He takes us through the streets of his neighbourhood, which happens to be very much like our own. But these streets and houses are not the only things that seem familiar to us: the boy’s voice also does. And the friends he talks about seem to remind us of our own friends – because we all have them – and we all play with them in one neighbourhood or another.
This poetic text by Cláudio Thebas is wonderfully interpreted and amplified by the beautiful illustrations of Violeta Lópiz.
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Jimmy Liao studied art at Chinese Culture University, and then he worked at an advertising agency and as an editorial illustrator for many years. After surviving a battle with leukaemia in the 90s, Jimmy totally devoted himself to his art, and has since created about forty picturebooks which have sold millions of copies around the world.
In his second post for the Picturebook Makers blog, Jimmy talks about creating ‘The Starry Starry Night’ – a story of sorrow and silence, courage and love. This stunning picturebook has been translated into several languages and it inspired a feature film.
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BEAUTIFUL PICTURES INSPIRE A STORY
Jimmy: One day, there was a news item: Two high school students from the south made a plan to run away from home. They jumped on a motorcycle and travelled here and there. They had fun together during the day, and slept in work sheds, schools and temples during the night.
Subsequently, their parents alerted the police, and they were caught and taken home a few days later. The parents on both sides made angry accusations at each other. The girl’s parents made her undergo a medical examination and sought compensation from the boy’s parents. But the children said they did not do anything wrong; they just enjoyed each other’s company and visited the beach and the mountains, innocently.
When I read that news item in Taipei, I became misty-eyed. I wanted to believe that they were genuine, that all they wanted was to spend a few infinitely pure and flawless days and nights together. Would those shining, bright and crystal-like days be the most memorable times of their lives? I have never run away from home. I was foolish and timid, and this is why I wanted to let the boy and girl in my picturebook run away instead. Yes, to let them make their big escape!
That day, I went to my studio, put aside all other chores, and I started planning their escape. But where would they run to? I did not know. Let them run away first and work out the rest later.
After a month, I had created many pictures about the process of their escape. But I was forced to suspend the work. I needed to go back to the beginning and arrange everything carefully: Why did they run away? Why did they run away together? How did they get together? Were they classmates? What did their homes look like? What jobs did their parents have? How were their relationships with their parents? Under what circumstances did they decide to run away? Where did they want to run away to? What happened after their journey ended and they returned home? What means did they have to enable them to leave home?
One question led to another, which resulted in many more questions. I had no choice but to answer each question before continuing. One picture followed another and resulted in lots more pictures. One passage led to another and resulted in lots more passages.
Many years ago, the director Wong Kar-wai said to me: “A director’s job is to resolve every problem.” To become a creator, one must resolve all the problems regarding one’s creation.
The creative process of ‘The Starry Starry Night’ was like this: Ten pictures were produced in the first year; another ten pictures were produced in the second year. After that, the degree of difficulty gradually increased.
After much deliberation, I still could not find a way to weave a substantial narrative out of these twenty pictures and allow them to continue. I had no choice but to stop and observe, turn my attention to another book, and temporarily put aside this troubled story. I have quite a few partially completed projects that I have needed to set aside. It is inevitable that any creative process will run into difficulties. It is a ‘bottleneck’ experience; it is also a challenge.
Since creation is a challenge that you set yourself, and you would not choose to create something unless it is difficult, you can expect to encounter a bottleneck moment at any time. When I look at the many projects that I have suspended midway, I always wish to give myself another chance to face the challenge and get them completed. But when difficulties arise, sometimes the only thing you can do is stop. If you keep going and get trapped in the project, you cannot get out of the bottleneck phase no matter how hard you try to create more pictures.
At such moments, it is best to work on another project. After some time has passed and you are in a different mood or have developed a different perspective, you can look at the project again. Quite possibly, you may have accumulated new experiences or developed a revolutionary way of thinking through your work on another book. Armed with this different perspective, you are then more likely to come up with a creative solution.
I was almost into my third year of making ‘The Starry Starry Night’ when the influence of Van Gogh came up, and the works of Magritte appeared as well.
And in the fourth year, the concept of my book was formed. At the same time, I also worked on many other books. Each time I felt that I could not go on, a spring would suddenly open up and a channel would be found. And so the persona of the grandfather appeared, and the characters of the exchange students were also formed. Various elements, settings and plot points joined together to form a chain.
I looked at the book again after it was completed. While the story felt familiar and fluid, giving birth to the images and story was an extremely difficult labour. It was hard for me to explain why this seemingly simple story took so long to compose.
In hindsight, the story seems so logical that I feel as if it has always meant to be that way. After all, it has no unexpected twists and turns, nor does it have any suspense or intrigue. Reasonably speaking, it should not have been so painful and difficult to do. I guess only a creator stuck in the middle of it all can appreciate the sensation of being torn between life and death.
A girl, who used to live with her grandparents up in the mountains, moves to the city to live with her parents. She finds the city cold and distant, and her parents are always arguing. She misses her dear grandfather, who will soon die, and she dreams of laying in a field, looking up at the starry night above.
Everything changes for the girl when a boy moves into the apartment across the street…
‘The Starry Starry Night’ is a magical story of sorrow and silence, courage and love.
Chinese (Traditional): Locus Publishing
Chinese (Simplified): Modern Press
Spanish: Barbara Fiore Editora
Swedish: Mirando Bok
Italian: Edizioni Gruppo Abele
Portuguese: Kalandraka Editora (Portugal) — Edições SM (Brazil)
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