April 14, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #140: Anna Cunha

A Story About Afiya by award-winning Jamaican poet James Berry features illustrations by Anna Cunha that perfectly showcase the depth of the titular character's imagination. The combination of Berry's words and Cunha's images has the book radiating warmth and wonder, and I was honored to catch up with Anna about her process for illustrating Berry's words. Enjoy our chat!

About the book:
Some people have dresses for every occasion but Afiya needs only one. Her dress records the memories of her childhood, from roses in bloom to pigeons in flight, from tigers at the zoo to October leaves falling. A joyful celebration of a young girl's childhood, written by the late Coretta Scott King Book Award-winning Jamaican poet James Berry.

Let's talk Anna Cunha!

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of A Story About Afiya? As you got to know Afiya, how did your illustrations change?

AC: Afyia for me is a very dreamy girl who sees the world with beauty, amazement and absurdity, which in my opinion is the definition of poetry itself. I tried to imprint this same gaze on my illustrations, creating images that evoke her feelings through her own eyes, and are not attached to a literal commitment with the text. Only after a couple of readings I noticed that James Berry was telling us about the end of a magic summer, which could be the end of the magic of childhood. I was convinced by a last minute decision to make a very last image that could be a glimpse into nighttime, winter, future... ensuring us that the magic would always stay with Afyia because it was not on her dress, but inside herself.

LTPB: What did it mean to you to illustrate this book? Had you heard of James Berry before you received the manuscript?

AC: It was a huge honor to illustrate a poem from James Berry. Unfortunately, Caribbean authors are not so commonly known in Brazil outside university. There's a lack of translation and publication, which I hope changes soon because their cultural debates have so much in common with our own cultural issues and processes. I had just discovered the beautiful work of Aimé Césaire at the right moment I was invited by Lantana Publishing to illustrate Afyia. For me it was a very special and meaningful synchrony. But only then I got to know the work of James Berry, which sadly is still not published in Brazil. 

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?

AC: This illustrations were completely created in Photoshop. My work is indeed mostly digital. I've worked with this media for a long time, but I'm always searching for new textures and new visual languages inside my own aesthetic. I think I'm always searching for new things, changing, experimenting, even within the same media. From time to time I also like to get back to real paper and paint and mix it with digital art. That gives me some fresh air and some curious books by the way.

LTPB: It looks like you do a lot of commissioned work and side projects! Can you tell me what else you do in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books?

AC: I have a stationary brand and studio which I started decades ago when I was still a teenager. Today it is a grown-up office with the nicest people working with me. Besides that I illustrate mainly for cultural projects in Brazil, like theater, music, and literature events. I always reserve some time to work for free for NGOs, for community projects that I consider important. And at last, not so often anymore, but I still have some sparse jobs from publicity and from magazines.

LTPB: What are you working on now? 

AC: I have just finished a picture book, written by a Brazilian author, Emília Nuñez. This is my second project with her, both are picture books without written text. And I'm starting to illustrate a new book for Simon and Schuster.

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

AC: That's a really hard question! It would be impossible to choose a single one! Marilda Castanha is my most beloved Brazilian illustrator, she has a beautiful work rooted on Afro-indigenous visual mythology which I admire so much. But if I was to choose anyone, it would be Milton Avery.

Thank you so much to Anna for taking time to answers some questions! A Story About Afiya published last week from Lantana Publishing!

Special thanks to Anna and Lantana for use of these images!

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for showcasing the work of this amazing artist! Love the roses in her cheeks!