May 9, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #248: Natalia Aguerre

I recently spoke to Natalia Aguerre about her work on the beautifully quirky There's a Monster in the Kitchen, written by Patricia Strauch and translated by Kit Maude. I'm so excited to share some of her insights into creating picture books! I hope you enjoy our chat, and don't worry, there are no monsters at the end of this interview!

About the book:
No one expects to wake up hungry for toast only to find a monster in the kitchen. But one Saturday morning that's exactly what happens to Matias. Is it his imagination, or is the monster real? A hairy, gray monster with a yellow crest, pink tail, and orange paws. How scary! Enough to make even the bravest lose their appetite. So what does Matias do? What anyone would: he calls his mom. She sees it too, but differently from how Matias did.

Let's talk Natalia Aguerre!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of There's a Monster in the Kitchen!

NA: Eloise, the editor of Periplo, contacted me to illustrate Patricia Strauch's text, and I thought it was a great opportunity because I really liked it. It was really exciting because it was the first time I was going to illustrate a book. I think the editor thought that I could translate the text into images because of my style of drawing, which is exaggerated and colorful. It was a great challenge because illustrating is not only about making beautiful drawings but also about being able to narrate through the images. I'm very happy because I think I achieved that goal.

LTPB: What were the first images that came to your mind for the monster when you saw Patricia Strauch's text? Can you tell us more about how and why you chose that color palette?

NA: My characters always tend to take up the whole scene, so when I was asked to do a story about a monster, I didn't hesitate! I imagined the monster in the kitchen, opening the fridge and surprising the whole family, and the reactions of each character. I also thought a lot about the backgrounds, which are a big challenge for me because I always focus a lot on the characters. I tend to work with limited and vibrant palettes. I like to accentuate with color, to turn it into another narrative element. I think that using bright colors is necessary in this story, which is so fun and imaginative.

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

NA: Perhaps one of the most difficult things about creating this book was reflecting what the text said about the characteristics of the monster. This description changes throughout the story, as the monster becomes more and more monstrous. It was a big challenge to reflect the changes the monster was experiencing in my illustrations, as are through the eyes of the terrified family.

As for the most rewarding think it would be how much I liked the text as a whole: the plot, the characters, and the situations that are generated.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations for this book? Is this your favourite medium? How does your process change from one book to another?

NA: I work digitally, and I tend to go from digital to analog. I am always alternating between one methodology and the other. For example, in There is a Monster in the Kitchen, I worked digitally, but most of the primary sketches (the ones that help me think about the general composition) were done by hand. Digital tools are becoming more and more efficient and can sometimes achieve the warmth of handmade work.

In general, I try to read the text I'm given. Then, I make sketches, think about the scenes, and analyze what tools I'm going to use. I also think a lot about the tone of the story and the voice the writer uses. Each process is different.

LTPB: What are you working on now and is there anything you can show us?

NA: I'm working on some texts. Specifically, I am working with sketches in notebooks in a more relaxed way. I'm also working a lot with collage, testing tools and including "errors,” and letting chance have more prominence in my work process. I find that very interesting things are achieved that way, leaving a bit of excessive control aside.

LTPB: If you had the opportunity to write your own illustrated autobiography, who (living or dead) would you like to illustrate it and why?

NA: I don't know, there are many illustrators I admire but I don't know if my life is interesting enough to ask them to draw it! I can say, though, that when my little daughter Lena scribbles and says that this drawing is "mummy", I already feel happy! Besides Lena, there are many illustrators that I admire but I think that Oski could be the one to make an illustrated biography of my life. He was a very famous Argentine illustrator during the 20th century, and the way he handled humor was really great. This is important to me, as I think that sense of humor is essential for illustrating.
A monster-sized THANK YOU to Natalia for taking time to answer my questions! There's a Monster in the Kitchen publishes one week from today on May 16 from Tapioca Stories!

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

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