October 14, 2022

Latin American Artists in Conversation

On September 22, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art hosted New York-based publisher Tapioca Stories for a conversation with their award-winning Latin American authors and illustrators Andrés Sandoval, Mariana Alcántara, and Guilherme Karsten. If these names sound familiar to you, it's because I have interviewed each of them here on Let's Talk Picture Books (you can see those links at the bottom of this post), and I'm so excited to host the official summary of the event here. If you'd like to watch the event as it was recorded in Spanish, scroll all the way down and you'll find a YouTube video you can click on. Let's talk Latin American artists!


To kickstart the event, Carle Museum Literacy Educator David Feinstein welcomed co-host Yael Berstein, founder of Tapioca Stories, to the space and handed the reigns to her.

Andrés Sandoval and The Invisible:
Yael immediately dove in by introducing illustrator Andrés Sandoval of The Invisible, written by Alcides Villaça. Born in Chile but now living in Brazil, Andrés is a graphic designer, illustrator, muralist, and textile artist. When Yael asked what inspired the unique illustration and design style of The Invisible, Andrés explained that he was interested in the concept of a person who dreams of disappearing, and with his strong interest and background in 3D art, Andrés decided to incorporate a vinyl sheet into the book that would help him tell the two stories at the same time. He stuck with two colors in the book and made sure they always overlapped in interesting ways to create different effects when the vinyl sheet was moved.

final images in the Brazilian edition

Andrés also created a small dummy for himself so he could better understand what the final book would look like. The booklet used a system of green and red pencil combined with red film, and one of the bigger challenges in developing the project was making sure the two narratives worked together, that as one thing appeared another thing disappeared, but that there were always two stories.

Storyboard sketches for booklet

Booklet with red vinyl, green and red pencil

As mentioned, Andrés has a history of working with 3D elements in his 2D art. He discussed another book he worked on before The Invisible where he used two cameras to photograph images, and, depending on what lens viewers use, they see different things. Andrés' continued work on murals also heavily influenced the illustrations from The Invisible: he shared some process shots from when he created a large mural in Brazil in 2008 on multiple panels. It was designed to mimic paper so there was a lot of texturizing and collaging, and many of these artistic techniques ended up being recreated and reused in The Invisible.

Andrés concluded his answer by reiterating that The Invisible can be understood in the context of three things: the design research for the book (ie, the 3D and vinyl elements), the mural he was working on at the time, and his physical printing process. One of Andrés' goals for the book was to have interdimensional interplay with the revolving door on the front of the book: readers are literally spun into the book and its story. Since the Brazilian edition of the book came out over a decade ago, Andrés is also working to remain at the forefront of creating these design-heavy books, with elements like vinyl that add interactive layers to his work.

Mariana Alcántara and Swimmers:
Co-host Yael then turned to Mexican illustrator Mariana Alcántara and her book Swimmers, written by María José Ferrada. Mariana talked about the unique origins of this book, which started with the illustrations rather than the text. Mariana loves to swim and was very interested in observing how people at her local pool would be physically transformed by the water in such different and personal ways. She began to wonder if fish and other water animals feel the same way and if they understand the transformative powers of water. She ended up creating some images inspired by this train of thought and submitted them to a contest at the Sharjah Festival in the UAE. Mariana also mentioned that the Sharjah Festival selected her work from Swimmers for the visual identity, and they blew-up the illustrations of the swimmers and had them on the walls.

A Mexican publisher saw the visuals and said they wanted to turn them into a book. They sent the images to author María José Ferrada, who immediately found a connection with them. María José created the text, and Mariana mentioned that there are a lot of autobiographical elements int he illustrations of the book: many of the items in the room with her (on her shelves, her desk) ended up on the cover of the book.

Mariana loves to work with collage and as an industrial designer she looks to work with artistic and design elements as if they are parts of a machine. She mentioned that her memories and dreams are all related to textures, shapes, and colors.

Guilherme Karsten and Aaahh!:
Yael then invited the third and final guest, Brazilian author-illustrator Guilherme Karsten, to talk about Aaahhh! and the inspiration for it. Guilherme recounted the relatable story of walking back to his apartment building one night and hearing an infant crying.

Alternate cover for Aaahhh!

Alternate cover for Aaahhh!

Final cover for Aaahhh!

As he walked up the stairs of his building, the screaming got louder and louder, and it became clear it was his own son, refusing to take a bath. This became the inspiration for Aaahhh!, though Guilherme admits he exaggerated the loudness (slightly!) for the book and changed the ending a little.

With this story idea, Guilherme was particularly excited to try a new and different kind of illustration technique than usual. He mentioned that he normally works digitally, but he loves collage and was thinking about trying it out for this book. After trying, though, he didn't like it and decided to switch back to digital media.

Questions from the publisher:
Why is it important for young readers in North America to see stories by Latin American creators?

Andrés responded by saying that while he doesn't know the North American market very well, he does know that having a book published in the United States is important because it's an opportunity to have the book done really well. He thinks of books as instruments for educators and parents, so it's also a nice change of pace for adults who can experience a wider graphic universe and add new techniques to their own repertoire.

Mariana agrees with Andrés and adds that she sees books as a way of traveling and going on adventures. Books are windows into other worlds and other realities, and seeing those other realities helps humanize young readers and grounds them. Recognizing the differences and similarities young reader notice is important, too: Mariana mentions that she was recently invited to do a book in the UAE, and when she arrived her illustrator friends took her to their art studios and she could feel the borders melt around her as she realized that the language of art was universal and makes you a citizen of the world. She feels fortunate to make books that can reach so many readers and the power to share thoughts, dreams, feelings, and fun.

Guilherme finishes out the question by saying that he doesn't think about cultural touchpoints or themes when he is creating his books, but rather he tries to create universal stories that kids can understand no matter what their background. Guilherme feels that many of the best books historically come from the US and UK, so making a book with universal experiences shows that great stories can come from anywhere.

Yael pops back in to bring everything together, agreeing that all three make great points about books with strong visual narratives that allow them to be universally understood. Though the text is important and complements the illustrations, it's important to bring these narratives to other readers.

Questions from the audience:
What are the differences between the original editions of your books and the Tapioca Stories versions? Were there any surprises?

Andrés starts by saying that it was actually a long process to create the new edition because so many little things changed. One of the major things that changed was the color of the vinyl, which meant that Andrés got to experiment with new color combinations, which was fun and satisfying. The original Brazilian publisher didn't have much money to play with, so it was very bare bones: whatever paper they had on hand, simpler in concept, less expensive binding, etc. Originally, the book was staple-bound, but the Tapioca Stories version is hardcover, so it was very satisfying for Andrés to see the finished product because though the concept of the book was similar, in execution it was actually pretty different.

Mariana's book with Tapioca is also very different in execution, especially the colors, and the US edition is significantly larger in size, as well as hardcover. She agreed that opening the US edition was an interesting experience because she was seeing all the elements of one book translated into a different book. She particularly loved the way that Tapioca Stories printed the phosphorescent colors, which pop off the page more than they do in the original edition.

Guilherme's original cover was actually completely different than the Tapioca edition, and some of the text changed a little when the book was translated, but on the whole the book is pretty much the same, save for the physical quality which Guilherme noted is particularly beautiful.

Yael adds that the idea behind design decisions like enhancing the trim size of the books makes a huge difference when it comes to finding a book on bookstore shelves. She was grateful to essentially increase the size of everyone's incredibly detailed work while still remaining faithful to the original stories.

Explore Andrés Sandoval's art and books at his website here.
Purchase your copy of The Invisible from The Carle Bookshop here.
Read our LTPB interview with Andrés here.

Explore Mariana Alcántara’s artwork on her website here.
Purchase your copy of Swimmers from The Carle Bookshop here.
Read our LTPB interview with Mariana here.

Learn more about Guilherme Karsten and his artwork on his website here.
Purchase your copy of Aaahh! from The Carle Bookshop here.
Read our LTPB interview with Guilherme here.

Learn more about partners and organizations mentioned during this event:

Watch the full event in Spanish (use the translate button on YouTube to listen in English):

This post was sponsored by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art!
More about what a sponsored post means here.

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