July 5, 2022

Let's Talk Illustrators #216: Mariana Alcántara

I got a chance recently to talk to Mariana Alcántara about her illustration process for Swimmerswritten by María José Ferrada and translated by Kit Maude. Mariana uses heavy white space and a primary color palette to bring Ferrada's humorous and thoughtful words to life on the page. Enjoy our chat!

About the book:
Fish dream of becoming Olympic swimmers...Olympic swimmers dream that they're fish.
It's a very unlikely dream. Swimmers uses humor and poetry to show the reader how a page can be a deep, blue sea or an Olympic swimming pool and blurs the line between what is and isn't possible. Filled with quirky text and amusing illustrations of sturgeons in swimwear and tuna taking the gold, Swimmers merges the worlds of fish and people in this English-language translation of an entirely original book.

Let's talk Mariana Alcántara!

LTPB: Where did the idea for Swimmers come from? What was the inspiration for the story?

MA: I really like going to swimming lessons. It is quite a ritual: you prepare a bag with sandals, a towel, clothes, and soap. Then wear your swimsuit under your clothes. It's like carrying a secret with you.

I like the smell of chlorine that you feel a street before arriving to the pool. When I arrive, I like to see how many people of all ages and occupations share the activity. And when we enter into the water, it doesn't matter who we are or where we come from, because we are all the same. It's like all of us transform into something else.

The rhythm of breathing underwater is my favorite moment, because I feel connected to myself. Sometimes I think about nothing. I just feel the water that slides through my body, and the lightness. This was the moment when I asked myself if the fish felt the same way too.

The context of the public pool: the tiles, the flags, the colors, the different people, the swimsuits and the feeling of being like a fish in water; made me think that I wanted to draw it all. So I started creating 5 illustrations that I sent to the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival illustration contest. When I showed them to my editor Mónica Bergna from Alboroto Ediciones, she loved them and asked - Shall we make a book? So we sent those 5 images to María José Ferrada. It was as if we were swimming in the same pool in different countries, because she wrote a wonderful text. She created a round and fresh idea, which surprised me a lot. At that moment, we had everything we needed to create a book.

So I went back to work on the illustrations and creating new ones.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

MA: The hardest part was deciding what could go into the book and what couldn't. My creation process consists of producing more illustrations than necessary. Saying goodbye to many drawings that I like a lot, is always complicated. What I drew the most were corals and not at all of them appear in the book. In addition, we created this book during the pandemic. It was very difficult for me not to be able to go to the pool, but at the same time it was very nice to remember all the sensations when drawing.

The most rewarding thing was the magic of Pantone inks in the final result. Monica and I wanted to get the color effect that is generated when the yellows and reds are inside the pool water, that feeling of fluorescent brightness. And I'm glad we got it.

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?

MA: The technique is charcoal, collage and digital retouching. Charcoal is my preferred medium because it allows me to express loose and expressive strokes. Although I don't use charcoal in all the books I create, I try to do the first sketches with charcoal to feel comfortable. And collage is so fresh and fun that I use it in all my processes because it works for me not only to generate final illustrations, but also to find ideas.

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

MA: I'm working on a book about the future. It has been a very fun and complex process, because sometimes the world that I am creating in the illustrations is a very pleasant place; but other times it seems unattainable when I hear about the current news about global warming, for example.

My intention is to communicate hope for the future through this new book. When I'm working on this project, I try to think that it is like writing a letter with my best wishes for the children that have so many questions about the future.

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?

MA: I am very excited about the idea of ​​writing and illustrating at the same time. So if I had the opportunity to write my own autobiography, I would like to be illustrated by my child self.

I really enjoy drawing with children, their creations are wonderful and inspire me. One of my goals when I'm working on a book is to rescue that freshness to look at things other way than they are, the humor, the color and the expressiveness of the forms.

Many of the stories I wrote as a child were lost, but a few days ago I found a book I made when I was 9 years old and it is precisely about the future, the cover is silver. So, that's why I would be very honored if that enthusiastic little Mariana wanted to illustrate our story. Also it would be so fun to draw together.

A million thanks to Mariana for taking time to answer some questions! Swimmers publishes TODAY from Tapioca Stories!

Special thanks to Mariana and Tapioca for use of these images!

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