February 9, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #167: Estelí Meza

I was so excited to talk to award-winning Mexican illustrator Estelí Meza about her author debut Finding Home! Estelí's illustrations are bright and welcoming, and like the book, our conversation is a real treat. I hope you enjoy!

About the book:

LTPB: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Finding Home! There’s an author’s note at the end, but for those who have not seen the book, why did you write it?

EM: Thank you, Mel! I’m so excited about my debut, too!

To create this story, I was inspired by two natural disasters that occurred very closely. In September 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane María. I remember that I was very impacted by the images. The force of nature had caused a terrible scenario. And also, in those days, Mexico City, where I live, suffered an earthquake. Many lost everything; they were left without a house, without belongings. These were very hard days for the city. These two events made me reflect on the loss of a home but also about other types of losses. For example, the experience of an immigrant who leaves a country behind to look for a new home. Or also the change of a school or a house. That's where my inspiration was born. It is a book about searching for ourselves, exploring our emotions, knowing ourselves and being able to continue on our way.

LTPB: Can you speak a little bit about Conejo’s and his friend’s visual evolution? As you got to know these characters, how did your illustrations change?

EM: When I started to draw this book, a sad rabbit always appeared. My first drawing of Conejo was in pencil, and he was sitting with a sad face. When I saw it, I realized that there was a story to tell. Then I experimented with different materials: India ink, acrylic, and colored pencils. At first Conejo was brown; One day I drew it on gray cardboard and I really liked it. There the real Conejo appeared. His friends were emerged little by little. First Lobo Lobito (Wolf), Buhíta (Owl), and then Perezoso (Sloth). At first Lobo Lobito was a deer. He turned wolf when I drew him hairier and in a horizontal position. Owl also transformed because it was more pale than an owl. Then I made the beak smaller. And Perezoso also went through different processes until he found his final form.

Another part of the illustration that is equally important is the background. I drew many trees and plants with different materials, and I chose the ones that were different, unique. These elements gave great richness to the imagery and accompanies Conejo and his friends throughout the story. Every element is important.

My process is very particular because first I develop the whole visual part. I have the story in my mind and I am drawing it. When I finish, I start working on the text. That part is the most complicated for me, because it is choosing the right words for each image so that they fit perfectly and achieve an ideal harmony between image and text.

LTPB: How did you create your illustrations? Is this your preferred method? How has your illustration process changed over your career?

EM: I did all the pencil sketches first. That helped me to have a reference for the story. I worked with a lot of textures like acrylic, paper, and colored pencils that I then ran through the scanner where I worked on each image in Photoshop. I chose a color palette since color also tells a story. Afterwards, I printed these images on cotton paper and began to work on them again. I collaged some elements with paper and added many details with colored pencils. This part of the process makes the image textured and enriches the story. Finally I scanned the images to have the final files. I like the combination of digital and traditional. Every part of the process I really enjoy.

This is the process that I commonly do in my books. It's my favorite! But what’s so beautiful about illustration is that you can always be experimenting with different materials and media. I don't think my process changes much. I am quite methodical and that has worked very well for me. After making a sketch, I usually work on color images. When the story is complete, I make small prints of each image, which I put in my notebook, and there I can see how the story flows, the composition, the colors. I always keep this notebook with me because it allows me to have a record of my process. It is a very useful tool. Perhaps what does vary, depending on the book, is time spent. There are books that flow very fast and others take longer. I think it depends on the subject and also on the energy that you have at the time. And of course, on the publisher’s timeline.

LTPB: Are you working on anything that you can show us?

EM: In March my new illustrated book Peace, written by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul and edited by NorthSouth Books, will publish. It’s a magical text, and I feel so honored to have illustrated it. It was done with a lot of love.

I’m also working on a new book about cats, but I’m still in the beginning stages with early sketches. As you can see, I love to draw animals.

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?

EM: What a tough question! I would love so many illustrators: Isabelle Arsenault, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Maira Kalman and many more. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Miguel Covarrubias. He was a famous Mexican illustrator He was a well-known Mexican illustrator from the beginning of the last century. I love his illustrations, strength, and design energy.

A million thanks to Estelí for taking time to answers some questions! Finding Home published last month from Orchard Books!

Special thanks to Estelí and Orchard for use of these images!

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