July 6, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #185: Ana Aranda

It was such a pleasure talking to Ana Aranda about her latest illustrated book Moth & Butterfly: Ta Da!, written by Dev Petty! Ana's illustrations bring into colorful focus an insect world full of warmth and friendship, and it was so much fun peeking behind the curtain to see how Ana brought to life these delightful characters. Enjoy!

About the book:
Two caterpillar friends love what they have in common--lots of legs and a talent for chewing leaves into funny shapes. And when it's time to build cocoons, they hang theirs side by side. Happy metamorphosis, says an older, more knowledgeable butterfly. And it is a happy metamorphosis indeed--for when the two emerge from their cocoons, they can fly! But so much else has changed--as one is now a moth, who flies by night, and the other is a butterfly, who flies by day. How will things work now? Fortunately some things never change--like true friends figuring out a way to be together, and happily flying into the sunset and sunrise.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Ana Aranda!

LTPB: Hi Ana!! Thank you so much for talking to me today about Moth & Butterfly: Ta Da!!

AA: Thank you so much for having me!

LPTB: What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Dev Petty’s text?

AA: I am so proud of this book that all the Nancy Paulsen/Penguin team, Dev and me worked so hard on! When I first read Dev’s text, a lot of images were already in my mind. A lot of colors came to my mind, which is a great way of knowing that this project was going to be awesome! My favorite part in creating illustrations is color – I want that with each turn page we can discover new worlds through a colorful experience.

I see Dev’s text so colorful in my mind, full of poetry, joy, fun moments and full of metaphors for meaningful things in life! I wanted to honor that with the best colors I had! The first images that came to my mind were of my early childhood in Cuernavaca, Mexico, also called the City of Eternal Springtime. I remembered the colors in the flowers, trees, plants, which I wanted to show in the book as well. The characters appeared afterwards always surrounded by flowers and tropical vegetation.

LTPB: Can you talk about your research process for this book? What were some of the more challenging moments?

AA: I loved the research for this book! The process of this book took place in the span of different cities during trips and life changes so I was able to draw inspiration from lots of places and experiences! I went on long walks when visiting Cuernavaca, I went to botanical gardens in the LA area while I was living there, and I went on bike rides while visiting New Orleans, where the house in the book is inspired from.

I wanted the book to have bright, joyful colors to illustrate the friendship of the characters, and also the feeling of freedom and beauty that you can find in nature. I also did a lot of research on different kinds of moths and butterflies to see which design and colors would fit best the character’s personalities. Challenging moments during creation definitely involved working during the pandemic and life happening in the middle of it. I was very thankful to work in this book and to have that as a reminder that books and art can bring good and happiness during challenging times. That we can do hard things, and that life has so much color in it that I want to share!

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?

AA: All of the art in this book is created traditionally. Most of the images are created with watercolor, inks and gouache on watercolor paper. I love using a mix of these techniques because they allow for spontaneous washes and textures in areas. I let bright colors mix while losing control and letting myself be surprised by the inks and watercolor surprises that come when letting very watery washes dry for a while. I work in sets of three paintings at a time since there is a lot of drying time involved. I later do a lot of the details in gouache on top, usually light colors on top of darker ones.

For this book I used food for two spreads- something I had done earlier for The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra (written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, Nancy Paulsen Books). In two spreads which are very dynamic I threw and splattered a lot of ink into the page and then splattered lime with a toothbrush. When adding this acidic element, colors change in unexpected ways and we allow for surprise to enter into the equation.

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

AA: I am very excited to be working in my author-illustrator debut book about the Day of the Dead with my wonderful team at Nancy Paulsen Books! I can’t wait for you all to see this book that is so close to my heart in the Fall 2022!

I am also illustrating a book written by the amazing Elaine Vickers with the Wiseman/Simon & Schuster team called How to Create a Memory, coming out in Spring 2023!

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?

AA: My favorite illustrator in life is Shaun Tan, so I would like him to illustrate everything possible! I love his way of telling stories using metaphors and whimsical characters!

A million thanks to Ana for taking time to answer some questions about this beautiful book! Moth & Butterfly: Ta Da! published last month from Nancy Paulsen Books!

Special thanks to Ana and Nancy Paulsen for use of these images!

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