March 9, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #171: Raissa Figueroa

I was instantly entranced by Raissa Figueroa's illustrations in We Wait for the Sun, written by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe, from the cover. Raissa was kind enough to chat with me about both this book and her general process, and I'm thrilled to share that with you all today! Enjoy!

About the book:
In the hour before dawn, Dovey Mae and Grandma Rachel step into the cool, damp night on a secret mission: to find the sweetest, ripest blackberries that grow deep in the woods. But the nighttime holds a thousand sounds--and a thousand shadows--and Dovey Mae is frightened of the dark. But with the fierce and fearless Grandma Rachel at her side, the woods turn magical, and berry picking becomes an enchanting adventure that ends with the beauty and power of the sunrise.

A cherished memory from Dovey Johnson Roundtree's childhood, this magical experience speaks to the joy that pulsed through her life, even under the shadow of Jim Crow. With Grandma Rachel's lessons as her guiding light, Dovey Mae would go on to become a trailblazer of the civil rights movement--fighting for justice and equality in the military, the courtroom, and the church.

Let's talk Raissa Figueroa!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of We Wait for the Sun? What is your personal connection to this story?

RF: I got a call from my agent asking me if I was interested in speaking with my now-editors Mekisha Telfer and Connie Hsu about the project. It was there they went into detail about the background of the book and how it was being revisited and revitalized into several different projects; they had acquired the rights to the children’s book. After hearing a brief synopsis I instantly fell in love with the story and the quiet, loving moment shared between Dovey and her Grandma Rachel. I was then tasked with creating a sample image before I was confirmed for the project. It was a nailbiter! But I was beyond overjoyed when I got the call saying I had the job!


LTPB: Did you have a clear vision of what the illustrations would look like when you saw the manuscript? What were you most excited to illustrate? What was the biggest challenge?

RF: This was only my second children’s book at the time so I was still new to the entire process of creating illustrations from a manuscript. I began with  pretty tight sketches (I remember being preoccupied with proving that I could draw and was the right choice for the project) which were revised a few times before I could go to final. The one spread that proved to be the most challenging for me to paint (because of the difficult perspective) and had gone through the most revisions ended up being one of my favorite final illustrations. A huge thank you to my creative director Beth Clark for getting me through the woods, no pun intended.

LTPB: What kind of research did you do for this book? As you got to know Dovey’s story, how did your illustrations change?

RF: I remember doing a lot of research into the manner of dress and the kinds of housing that were typical for the times. Because most of the book was set outdoors, I knew I could take a lot of liberties with what the woods looked like. Funny enough I took a trip to Georgia recently and was disappointed I had not done so sooner. I’m from San Diego but went to school up in northern California. Even so, our forest looks completely different from the lush, green landscape of the south. You definitely have to see it to believe!


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?
RF: For my first book I had used a Wacom Tablet and Photoshop to make the illustrations, but this would become the first time I used my Ipad and Procreate to go from sketch to finals. I’ve since made the switch to an Ipad Pro because of the extra screen real estate you get (it really does make a difference!) and haven’t looked back. It allows me to be ultra portable and you can’t beat Procreate’s price for all of the features you get! It’s been my preferred medium of choice for all the books I’ve completed since then, and I don’t see myself going back to a Wacom/Photoshop. Lately I’ve been doing a lot more traditional/digital blends in my pieces as I try to navigate acrylics, watercolor, pastels, and inks. Ironically enough I used to be intimidated by digital media and now the reverse is true. 

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

RF: I just wrapped up on a very special project and have a couple more on the backburner. I believe the only one (or at least the only one that I’m aware of at this moment) that has been publicly announced though is Real to Me, by Minh Le. I have two more books coming out this year: Princess Inc and The More the Merrier, but I don’t think that the covers have been released yet! Sorry about the vagueness, but you can’t be too careful LOL In the meantime you can follow my experiments via instagram @rizzyfig.

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?

RF: One of the books I’m working on now is going to be written and illustrated by me, so I’m pretty stoked about it. I can’t share any details yet either, but just know it will be a very touching, tender, book, not unlike Dovey’s story. 

Thank you so much to Raissa for talking to me about this incredible book! We Wait for the Sun published last month from Roaring Brook Press!

Special thanks to Raissa and Roaring Brook for use of these images!

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  1. I am a huge fan of Raissa's work and can't wait to discover each spread in this book!! Thank you for the great interview!

    1. I am now, too! This is the first book I've had the pleasure of experiencing, so now Im determined to find more of her work.