May 5, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #142: Ana Sender

It's hard not to feel moved by Ana Sender's illustrations in Fran Pintadera's Why Do We Cry?. They are dense in color and powerful in image, and there's an enormity to them that often cannot be contained by the pages of the book. I talked to Ana about her illustration process, I hope you enjoy.

About the book:
In a soft voice, Mario asks, "Mother, why do we cry?" His mother thinks for a moment, and then begins to tell him about the many reasons for our tears. We cry because our sadness is so huge it must escape from our bodies. Because we don't understand the world, and our tears go in search of an answer. Because we can't find the right words, and our tears speak a universal language. Most important, she tells him, we cry because we feel like crying. And, as she shows him then, sometimes we feel like crying for joy.

Let's talk Ana Sender!

LTPB: You created some very abstract visuals to enhance the emotions we read in Why Do We Cry? How did you approach the illustrations? Did you immediately have something in mind after reading the manuscript? What challenges did you Encounter?

AS: The images came to my mind as I was reading the text. Some of the final illustrations are very much this first ideas, while others needed more thinking and testing. Since this is such a poetic, suggestive text, it offered many different possibilities. This is both a good and a bad thing, as it gives you a lot of freedom but it also requires more effort. The other main challenge I faced was finding the central focus of the story, which I ended up deciding would be the mother, who tries to explain her son why do we cry the best she can.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text? When you do both, which do you generally start with?

AS: I will answer the last part first: just like most of the illustrators I know, I’m more than a little chaotic, so I don’t have a well defined order when I have to create a project all by myself. In general terms, my ideas flow better through images than words, so I tend to start with very small rough doodles, and eventually things end up falling in place. I prefer to illustrate my own ideas, but it’s also a bigger challenge as you have to start from zero, so you need to find a path through that chaos I was speaking of. Illustrating someone else’s words, on the other hand, gives you a solid path to walk through, and sometimes will lead you to amazing places you wouldn’t have thought by yourself. 

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?

AS: In Why Do We Cry? the illustrations are done with digital media. This gives me great freedom to build things up on the go, even while I'm working on the final art. I wouldn’t say I have a preferred medium. When I work with traditional (non digital) materials, pencil is what I feel more comfortable with, but digital media has opened a whole new range of opportunities for me, and it offers a huge amount of possibilities in the technical aspect. My books usually start by doing a lot of research, to find references for the graphic style, the color, or other aspects of the book. This is a part I really enjoy. Once I’m done with this (or sometimes at the same time) I start with the small doodles I mentioned earlier, or with some color proofs, character design, etc. From here, it’s different every time: with every book I try to do things different from what I’ve done before, or else things would get a bit boring.

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

AS: At this moment, my main task is to take care of my little daughter Ariadna, who’s six months old. I’m also working on a few projects, but I’ve been asked not to speak about them, sorry. What I can say, though, is that I’ve recently finished illustrating a story by one of my favourite writers ever: Kelly Link. This has been huge for me, and I’m so happy about it! Also, by the end of this year (if the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic allows it) I will start illustrating another text by Fran Pintadera, author of Why Do We Cry?, which I’m very much looking forward to. Finally, if someday I can find the time (fingers crossed) I would like to develop other personal projects.

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

AS: This is a hard question, but I thought of Leonora Carrington. She was a great surrealist artist, with an amazing inner world I very much relate to. She was also a fascinating personality that has interested me for a long time now. 

A big thank you to Ana for taking time to answer some questions!  Why Do We Cry? published last month from Kids Can Press!

Special thanks to Ana and Kids Can Press for use of these images!

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