March 13, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #62: Jacqueline Alcántara

I feel very lucky that I got to talk to illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara about her debut picture book The Field. I have a feeling Jacqueline will be quite coveted — as an illustrator, as an interviewee, you name it — going forward, and it feels like such a success to get to talk to her about her very first book in the field (pun intended!). This book is wonderful for so many reasons thanks to author Baptiste Paul, but Jacqueline's ability to match the fast-paced language Baptiste presents and still add in whole new layers of narrative is incredible. Enjoy the conversation! 

About the book:
"Vini, come, the field calls," cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community –– family, friends, and the local fruit vendor –– for a pickup soccer (fútbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running, bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport. Friends versus friends teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins. But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Jacqueline Alcántara!

LTPB: Let’s start by talking about your debut book The Field. What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) to capture the St. Lucia culture and lifestyle?  

JA: I started my research by talking to my dad. He grew up in Honduras and played pick-up soccer games just like this everyday! He has so many great stories about the people he played with so I used those as a the background stories for my characters. The manuscript doesn’t specify who the main character is, who the dialogue is coming from, who scores the goal –– so a lot was left open to imagination and interpretation! While the background stories for the characters are pretty irrelevant to the actual story, it helped me to think about what I wanted this game and it’s players to feel like. Through creating the characters this way I felt I could make the relationships feel authentic and create a dynamic game!

I did a lot of internet research, too, of course. I internet-traveled around the world to watch videos of kids and adults playing pick-up soccer games. From rooftops in Japan to alleys in Brazil, it was so much fun to research the different ways the game is played around the world. While we wanted the book to represent soccer lovers and players around the world, I also wanted it to be true and accurate to the Caribbean and especially St. Lucia. I watched many videos and searched through lots of images, studying the body language, faces, plants and landscapes!

LTPB: How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

JA: I think that my style came through by including my own memories and associations with colors, personalities, outfits and just the general vibe of Caribbean culture. Those details mixed with things I picked up through my research led me to create something that feels personal yet universal.

Here is my character sketch for the “Ref.” He’s based of the guy who organized some of the games in my dad’s village and was also the town nurse, barber, and the only one in town with a TV so all the kids would watch games at his house. He went on to be the physical therapist for the national team in Honduras!

The twins are based off of two brothers who were so good everyone said they, “had glue on their shoes” because nobody could get the ball away from them!

This girl is based on a couple of my cousins in Honduras. They sent me photos of themselves playing soccer in the rain when they knew what I was working on!

The moms, I just love! On a phone call, Baptiste mentioned that the moms might take the ball while the kids were in a bath, wash it off and do a few tricks themselves! I loved sketching the moms dribbling and had to include them in the last spread. 

As for color, I started my palette with 4 colors. The bright yellow and sky blue found In the St. Lucian flag (and national soccer team uniforms!), the blue-green color pictured above in the ref’s hat, and lastly the the bright red that is just gorgeous set against the deep greens of the foliage. FYI, that my dad playing guitar!) 

LTPB: You were the recipient of the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship award AND a WNDB Walter grant, which is all pretty incredible! What is your art background? Have you always wanted to create children’s books?

JA: It is so incredible! I’m deeply honored to have won both of those awards. They are obviously a huge part of the reason why I’m here celebrating my first published book! I believe that subconsciously, I had always wanted to create children’s books. I loved art growing up, but I also remember the day in dreaded Junior High, when I thought, “how sad that I can’t just make art for a living!” Once that idea became instilled in my head, it took many years for me to believe in myself as an artist and to believe in the possibility of making it a career. I had studied art education, and taught high school art and photography until the district cut the art department. After that I took the time to find out who I was as an artist. The fine art world didn’t attract me because thinking of myself as an “artist” felt really serious and heavy. A friend sent me a link to a website with many illustrator profiles, and I had an “ah-ha!” moment. I loved illustration –– the styles, the options, it felt right and looked fun. After I started to dive deeper into illustration, children’s books became my main pursuit because stylistically it felt right for me, and it provided a way for me to still be involved with children and education. The Field came through my agent (Adriana Dominguez at Full Circle Literary), who became my representative because of my WNDB mentorship.

LTPB: How did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

JA: Well I have commitment issues so my preferred medium may change by the time this posts! I think through lots of trials and errors and experimentation, I have found a process that I really like which allows me to stay consistent with the things that matter but allows me freedom to keep experimenting with different mediums. Creating this book certainly lead me to understanding my own process a lot better. I like not really knowing what an illustration is going to look like until it’s done!

For The Field I used a combination of pencil, marker, gouache, and Photoshop. I think they were the best mediums to create the book in the way I had envisioned it. I started by drawing in pencil, doing certain elements and then scanning that part in. I like to scan a lot along the way because it frees me up from thinking, “I’m going to ruin this if I push it further!” I usually do ruin things, but it doesn’t matter because I have a high resolution scan of it and can work from there –– or start over!

an early version and before any digital

final with digital

LTPB: How did the process of creating this book inform your future books?

JA: I think the process of creating this book made me a lot more confident in understanding how to use each medium for its best qualities and not forcing one to work like another. For example, I love Photoshop for lighting, layering, blending modes, color experimentation, and hundreds of more reasons. But I found that I was relying on Photoshop to solve problems that could have been solved a lot more easily and naturally with a different medium!

pencil and marker

final version with digital elements added

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

JA: I'm very excited to be working on a book with Candlewick Press! I’m still in sketching phase so unfortunately I can’t share anything yet! But it’s a beautiful and powerful story about a Haitian tradition –– with a delicious ending :) 

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

JA: Chris Raschka! He’s my all time-favorite. I think the body language and emotion in his characters are genius. And the looseness of his compositions are perfection! And let’s just make it a biography and have him write it too :)

A million thanks to Jacqueline for taking time to answers some questions! The Field published from NorthSouth Books last week!

Special thanks to Jacqueline and NorthSouth Books for use of these images!

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