January 8, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #93: Cecilia Ruiz

I'm excited to kick off a new year of illustrator interviews by talking to Cecilia Ruiz about A Gift From Abuela. Previously, Cecilia has created two picture books, The Book of Memory Gaps and The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives, but this is the first book she has made for children, and I'm delighted that I got a chance to interview her about this book specifically. Happy new year, and enjoy!

About the book:
The first time Abuela holds Nina, her heart overflows with tenderness. And as Niña grows up, she and Abuela spend plenty of time together. Abuela can’t help thinking how much she’d like to give Niña a very special treat, so she saves a little bit of her money every week — a few pesos here, a few pesos there. When the world turns upside down, Abuela’s dream of a surprise for Niña seems impossible. Luckily, time spent together — and the love Abuela and Niña have for each other — could turn out to be the very best gift of all. With a soft and subtle hand, author-illustrator Cecilia Ruiz draws from her own history to share a deeply personal tale about remembering what’s most important when life starts to get in the way.

Let's talk Cecilia Ruiz!

LTPB: Am I correct that A Gift From Abuela is your third book? Your other two books are about memory and death, so why did you decide to create something for children?

CR: Yes, this is my third book and my very first for children. I had been wanting to do a picture book for a long time and when my grandmother passed away, all I knew is that it had to be about a grandmother.

Around that time The Book of Memory Gaps came out. At the book launch I told a story about how, during Mexico’s economic crisis in the 90’s, my great grandmother’s memory failed her in a very unusual way. After years of inflation, the government decided to drop three zeros from the currency and printed new money. The new currency was called “Nuevos Pesos” and people had to turn in their old bills for the new ones. After a transitional period in which both currencies were in circulation, the government stopped accepting the old bills and the “nuevos pesos” became the official currency. Many years after all this happened, while cleaning my great-grandma’s house, we discovered a hidden stash she had forgotten about—bundles and bundles of old money she had been saving up that no longer had value. A useless treasure, we all thought. 

After telling this story, Brenda Bowen, my agent at the time, said: “this is the grandma story you should tell.” It made perfect sense!

LTPB: How did your characters evolve as you got to know them and you fleshed out your story?

CR: I think the evolution of my characters was directly influenced by childhood memories. The grandma character is a mix between my great-grandma and my grandma. The little girl is loosely based on me. The more I developed the story, the more I wanted to include moments, objects and places I remembered. All this eventually became the heart and soul of my characters. 

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?

CR: I used a mix of traditional block printing techniques and the computer. I decompose my images into shapes and carve them all in rubber. I then make multiple prints of this shapes using different amounts of ink. This gives me a range of textures I can play with while putting the image back together in Photoshop. This is basically the technique I have used for all my books but in some I have kept the images flatter and simpler, and in others I have made more rendered complex ones. 

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

CR: I am currently developing 3 different picture book ideas at the same time. I haven’t finished any of them, so I don’t want to say too much about them.

The only thing I can say is that in one of them, a mole and a raccoon are the stars of the show. 

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

CR: I would love Edward Gorey to do it! He is one of my biggest influences. I love the strangeness of his art and it fascinates me how he is able to show something without really showing it, and how he is able to say so much with so little. I also love how his books live in an uncategorizable genre where it is not clear who the audience should be.

A million thanks to Cecilia for taking time to answers some questions! A Gift From Abuela published from Candlewick last year!

Special thanks to Cecilia and Candlewick for use of these images!

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1 comment:

  1. Yes thanks this was interesting. I love learning about the different techniques.