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September 26, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #262: Yolanda Mosquera

I recently broke out my rusty Spanish to talk to Yolanda Mosquera, illustrator of The Silence of Water, written by José Saramago and translated by Margaret Jull Costa. We caught up on this powerful book, as well as finding a unique voice and the power of believing in your own creativity. Check out our chat below!

About the book:
"I returned to the spot, even though the sun had already set, I cast my hook into the water and waited. I don't think there is a deeper silence in the world than the silence of water. I felt it then and never forgot it."

On the banks of a river near his grandparents' farm, a boy is about to catch a big fish. At the same moment that he loses his prey, the boy has a moment of growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. He is compelled to try again to catch the fish even though he is sure it's gone. And even though his chance has passed and he is company only to silence, he has staked a claim there by the river's edge.

Let's talk Yolanda Mosquera!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of The Silence of Water? What were the first images that came to mind when you saw José Saramago's text?

YM: The text had already been published previously with another illustrator, so what happened was that the first images that came to mind were similar in terms of graphic solution--not so much in style--of what was already done. In the text there is a great invisible presence: a “huge fish,” that is never seen, only sensed, and has a lot of weight in the story. That is why I tried to move away from this idea and considered giving it another vision to enrich it in some way. I thought about taking the river as the main narrative element, as a setting and its banks, which make up and delimit the channel, and telling the visual story from there. The riverbed will be a silent protagonist (as the title of the book says) and at the same time its banks will be witnesses to what happens in history. This also gave me the opportunity to suggest even more layers of interpretation than the text itself already has. I decided to capture the storyboard as a continuous scene, a tracking shot, that followed the slow and linear rhythm of a river bed. I thought this helped the visual reading by creating a rhythm similar to that of water sliding down a river, until reaching an outcome. In the end, Saramago's text is a very rich text, where there are several interpretations and it seems that for him the symbolism of the river in relation to life or its events was important.

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

YM: It was quite difficult for me to create a scenario in which each scene fits perfectly with the previous one and at the same time, to set them differently so that the visual reading was not excessively monotonous. I also had a block on how to solve the end of the book graphically, and that's where the great help of Alejandro G. S. appeared. I really enjoy the part of the process that consists of planning, thinking how to solve. It's like fitting the pieces of the puzzle together and making it perfect. I really like making sketches in a carefree way. Then comes solving the sketch in a more definitive way and here I have a terrible time because I think: Horror! I do not know how to draw! But then little by little it comes out. The most gratifying thing is when, you don't know exactly how, but finally an image appears that you feel satisfied with.

LTPB: How did you create the illustrations in this book? How does your process change depending on what book you're illustrating? How do you make sure each new book is unique to the text?

YM: For the illustrations in this book I thought about using limited resources such as color. At first I wanted to use only three colors, blue, orange and yellow and the colors that give their superpositions, but then I didn't like the final result at all and I had to manipulate the image digitally to obtain another color range. I used the stencil technique and created the images by separate colors. This was pretty crazy, because for each page of the book I had to make three different layers of color. Then I assembled them digitally and manipulated them by adding details. For me, the process and technique of each book is very important, and I vary it depending on the “voice” that I want to transmit and the “voice” that the text reflects to me. I read the text many many times to discover the tone and the mysteries it hides. I think that the texture and the material from which each image is made, that is, the technique, is also an element that provides and evokes sensations that help transmit the message.

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

YM: I am currently focused on the creation and organization of my own studio-workshop that I hope to launch by the end of the year. A place where you can work more comfortably and give workshops. It's what I'm most excited about right now. I also have many ideas written down in notebooks, trying to create a book in the future, but it is very difficult for me to carry out projects if I do not have the pressure of what an external commission entails. My big challenge right now would be that, to be able to give birth to my own project.

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?

YM: I would love for Kitty Crowther to do it. Her books are wonderful and profound, both the illustrated and written parts. There is a book, The Root Child (“Lènfant racine”). When I read it my heart skipped a beat because I thought that the protagonist of the story was me. So maybe I already have a part of my autobiography illustrated!

Mil gracias to Yolanda for talking to me about this beautiful and meaningful book. The Silence of Water published earlier this month from Triangle Square!

Special thanks to Yolanda and Triangle Square for use of these images!

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