May 7, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #107: Zeke Peña

I am super excited to present my interview with award winning illustrator Zeke Peña about My Papi Has a Motorcyclehis latest collaboration with author Isabel Quintero. I was immediately drawn to this book because of its graphic novel elements, and it was a pleasure picking Zeke's brain about how he utilizes those elements within a picture book format. 

About the book:
When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she's always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her. 

But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.

Let's talk Zeke Peña!

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of My Papi Has a Motorcycle? How did you shape the characters?

ZP: I spent a lot of time sketching Daisy, Ramona, and Papi. Fortunately, I was able to read early versions of the manuscript. As Isabel was editing the text I was making small changes to the characters to try and capture their personalities. This story has a lot of joy in it so I really wanted that to show through in the characters. I also wanted both the characters to be approachable and relatable for readers. For both characters I definitely wanted them to resemble Isabel as a little girl and her actual dad, but I definitely added, exaggerated and changed some characteristics. 

LTPB: When you received this manuscript, what about it drew you in? What is the first thing you do when you receive a new project? How do you make a conscious effort to tailor your illustration style to each new manuscript? 

ZP: The thing that drew me in when I first read the manuscript was how exciting and fun it would be to draw the fast motorcycle scenes. I could see the really dynamic illustrations in my head. Emotionally, I really liked how specific and intimate the relationship between Daisy Ramona and Papi is. When I first receive a new project I start making loose sketches in my sketchbook. I start with really loose pencil strokes. I don't do any research or look at any reference. I just try to use my imagination to visualize the characters, action and world. I make a conscious effort to capture the mood of the manuscript with the shape and design of the characters. Color is also a critical element that I use to convey the mood and emotion for the reader. In My Papi Has a Motorcycle, I used colors of the sunset you see in California. The story takes places during this time of day and there is a mood of calm that these colors bring. After an exciting and fun ride the sunsets and we get some rest so we are ready for the next day's adventure.

LTPB: What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) to get the neighborhoods right? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

ZP: Isabel helped me out with researching the neighborhood. She sent me photos from her childhood that helped me design Papi's character, the motorcycle, and Daisy Ramona. She also sent me some photos and videos of the actual neighborhood in Corona. I did my own research online to learn more about the history of Corona, especially the races that happened there in 1913 and the importance of the agricultural industry. This research helped inform almost every page in the book. 

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book? 

ZP: I used pencil and paper drawings for the sketches and a Wacom Cintiq for the inks and colors of the final illustrations. My preferred method is to mostly use traditional technique then scan the images but for this project we were on a tight deadline. The editing process of the manuscript was happening alongside the illustrations, so doing my illustrations digitally helps make the editing process more efficient. My process changes from book to book depending on the story. If the story or scene I'm working on is very animated and has a lot of action, I will use a very active line and draw kind of quickly to give the impression of action. But if the story or scene is very dramatic I will have the scene be more quiet by using less lines and adding more hard shadows and shading. 

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us? 

ZP: Right now I'm working on a couple things. I've been working on illustrated short stories and oral histories about the Rio Grande river in the border community of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. These stories illustrate how the border has had an impact on the river and the community. The stories are taken from interviews of people in the community and archival research. I'm also working on another children's book that I can't announce yet. 

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why? 

ZP: If I were to write my picture book autobiography I would want to illustrate it myself. Hahaha. Mostly because I think it would be fun to draw my family and hometown.

A big thanks to Zeke for taking time to answers some questions! My Papi Has a Motorcycle publishes next week from Kokila!

Special thanks to Kokila for use of these images!

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