December 1, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #163: Rosa Osuna

I am so excited to share a special interview today with Spanish illustrator Rosa Osuna. Rosa illustrated Chema Hera's Grandparents, which published in the US for the first time this past spring. This is Rosa's debut book, but it's clear it won't be her last! Check out our conversation below.

About the book: 
Grandfather is tending his garden when a loudspeaker announces a dance in the local park. He asks Grandmother to join him, but she has many reasons to delay their outing: she needs to put eyeliner around her eyes--which are as sad as a moonless night--and color in her hair--which is as gray as an autumn cloud. Grandfather counters with loving arguments of his own: her sad eyes look like stars and her hair is as perfect and white as a summer cloud.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Rosa Osuna!

LTPB: Thank you so much for talking to me about Grandparents today, Rosa!

RO: Thank you for asking me to participate in your wonderful series about fantastic illustrators where we can share some tasty secrets. There are so many generous illustrators and all of them learn from each other, so thank you for creating this space!

LTPB: How did you create the illustrations? Did you immediately envision the characters when you saw Chema Hera's manuscript?

RO: I did it all with mixed media on a background of watercolor stains. No computer. I was very inspired by my own grandfather. He was a chubby dentist whom I adored, and one day I wrote and illustrated a memoir about him. This was over twenty years ago, so I only have a few sketches. I was looking for a character who looked like him, and I did a lot of sketches. I thought they turned out a little cold, and they didn't move me like the memory I had of him did. Nor could I find a leading girl to identify with. Agh, the horror:

After many frustrating drawings, I had the great idea of ​​picking up a pen with my left hand (I'm right-handed) and ... suddenly my grandfather appeared! It's not that it was exactly him, it's that this kind of shy, awkward and imprecise line quickly took me back to childhood and reflected the tenderness that I wanted to express.

Sometimes my hand draws what it knows on its own. 

I created a rather bland story to go with some drawings that I liked, and I sent them to the children's publisher, Kalandraka, which at that time was emerging as a pioneer in the world of children's books. Now it is internationally acclaimed, so it was quite good luck that, just at that moment, they had also received Chema Heras's manuscript for the book Abuelos and were looking for an illustrator. They asked me for some sketches and accepted my work.

The sketches were just squiggles. I would launch into the final art almost without thinking, enjoying the contrast of the gray of the backgrounds with the overlapping bits of color. I like the unfinished, suggestive forms that are "left behind." A little pencil, a little ink, a little gouache...all floating in neutral watercolor backgrounds, like candy on a cake.

I laughed by myself at my own antics in the scene I was drawing. Meanwhile, Chema and I were in constant contact by phone. We did the book together while in different cities. He searched for the right words like an archaeologist in love. He weighed them, measured them, enjoyed them...and shared them generously with me.

I drew the positive things that the grandmother thinks about upside down, the positive things standing up. Children notice these kinds of details. The unprejudiced cleanliness with which they observe is surprising. 

And since I enjoyed it so much, I even made small tributes to painters that I like. 

All this without ever forgetting the tenderness of the story, summarized in an image that captures almost a whole lifetime:

They are simple images without great plastic pretensions. 

LTPB: Would you say you prefer working solo as an illustrator more, or working with an author?

RO: With this book, which has several awards, Chema and I have traveled to Brazil and Japan. In Japan, surprisingly, it was bought by adults to give to their elders. We signed many copies. They could not believe that, in Spain, grandfathers say such beautiful things to grandmothers. A famous 100-year old Buddhist nun writer, Jakucho Setouchi, wrote a blurb for the belly band for the book. It was a great honor that she received Chema and me in her beautiful monastery.

I have illustrated other albums with the same philosophy, putting emotions ahead of technique and enjoying the sensuality and delicacy of classic materials (pencil, ink, watercolor ...) If what I do does not move me, if my characters don't turn out nice, if the result is only "decorative," it doesn't interest me, and that's why I'm so grateful that they let me illustrate stories with heart above all. I have even written a couple of them myself, something that is supposedly the goal of an creator, to be able to cover both fields (text and illustration) although I recognize that the interaction with authors is very enriching and in my case they also become my friends.

LTPB: Are you working on anything now?

RO: I have several personal projects in mind, but on my work table today there are a lot of illustration ideas destined for worthy children's textbooks, which I also love working on. Many lonely hours between colors, textures and innocent little characters, a real luxury!

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

RO: I would choose Edward Gorey, a fascinating and strange character, quite sinister, with a complex and unclassifiable inner world. I would love to see his interpretation of my dark side (because I have one)!

A big thank you to Rosa for talking to me about Grandparents, which published earlier this year from Greystone Kids!

Special thanks to Rosa and Greystone Kids for use of these images!

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