October 1, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #120: Cynthia Alonso

I caught up with Argentinian illustrator Cynthia Alonso about her newest illustrated book The Reader, written by Luciana De Luca. Cynthia pushes color and shape to the limit in The Reader, and the vibrancy and texture of the illustrations really drive home the text's invitation to explore imaginative new worlds. Take a closer look below!

About the book:
While their parents are sleeping in, a young bookworm sneaks out of bed with one goal in mind: to spend the day reading.

Let's talk Cynthia Alonso!

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of The Reader? As you got to know the child in the text, how did your illustrations change?

CA: I identified myself immediately with Luciana’s text: A good idea, beautiful narrative and a lot of room for imagination at the same time. I have been very inspired by the fact that Luciana is Argentinian too and we share a background and a passion for spending hours reading books in our childhood. Working on her text felt like opening the box of my inner child memories: the nap time, the smell of old Buenos Aires apartments (filled with hundreds of books), the wood bookshelves, the curiosity for reading in the weekend afternoons, the idea of being bored in a big house, playing alone, playing in a house courtyard… time slowly passing. 

My job was very intuitive. A child moves into different books, different universes. Flowing throughout the pages. The character and scenes came to life pretty fast. I gave shape (as accurate as possible) to places, objects and moments living inside myself. I did the work as soon as I could, minimizing the gap between the idea and the actual drawing and reducing possible overthinking. I like when projects come up like that. It is less ambitious but not less simple and beautiful. Luciana also provided me with tons of reference book titles that inspired her. (I added some of them in the image). In the end, I created a curious and strong child that accidentally turned out to look like Luciana’s kids. While in the first edition this main character had a gender, we decided that the text shouldn’t define it in the second edition in English.

LTPB: What is the first thing you do when you receive a new project? How do you make a conscious effort to tailor your illustration style to each new manuscript?

CA: I spend a lot of weeks thinking about the text. I usually read it once and see if I can connect to it straightaway: that is a very good indicator on how the mood of the whole project will develop. Sometimes the visual universe and characters come to my mind and my drawings easily and, other times, the amount of possibilities are more complex in my imagination and I get lost. It often happens that I cannot even make what I imagine visually. It is always a fight with all these voices trying to negotiate internally between my brain and my hand before coming up with a solution that satisfies me. I try to explore different textures, colors and composition ideas in my books. Lately I have also added perspective to my drawings. The good thing of making something different in a book is that you have many spreads to try a new method and develop it, so is very challenging.

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?

CA: For this book I did a storyboard, rough sketches by hand, I re-drew and polished shapes many times in a digital medium, then I did some free digital collage to find compositions and finally painted the art digitally with a pencil textured brush. My process is always very messy but so far this fact lets me have fun while working. The complicated part is that sometimes I lose some sketches or previous steps. I also do the lettering for the title or inside pages in all my books. As the designer I am, I like to choose color, typography, draw lettering, decide format and consider printing techniques. I usually think of books as a whole, the entire piece. The publisher was very open to my suggestions in this case.

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

ICA: ’m just finishing a book with another Argentinian writer about being “normal”. I’m excited about this one. Here is a small preview of the character.

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

CA: This is a good question and a hard answer. I like so many children book creators! I think I would rather write a funny autobiographic graphic novel: “Cynthia’s Odyssey”. I always make jokes with this idea so is funny that you asked. I imagine some foolish chapters about my life since I am in contact with picture books: my freelance practice, the publication of my first book, moving to Germany, my experiences in Bologna Bookfair, all the friends I made around the world because of books, the cultural crashes, beliefs that changed, mixture of languages, my sad and happy love stories, irrelevant information of my everyday life, etc. Everybody should write their own odysseys. I would definitely ask the comic artist Tara Booth to illustrate and give her vivid magic touch to this book. She analyses herself in such a therapeutic way and deconstructs her identity through her very intuitive and funny art. I love her fresh ideas and expressive lines.

Thank you so much to Cynthia for answering some questions about her work! The Reader publishes Crocodile Books on October 22, 2019. 

Special thanks to Cynthia and Crocodile Books for use of these images!

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