Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
It's great that you are putting together a library for your school.
As a boy I loved to read all kinds of books. When I was twelve I read in a comic book about a place called The Famous Artists' School. I wrote to them and they gave me a test that would measure how good I was at drawing. Then they sent a cartoonist to my house who said I had artistic talent but I was too young to go to the school. It was in tenth grade that I got my first real training in art, photography and advertising. Many years later I am a busy illustrator and work with watercolors and colored pencils - brand name, Prismacolor. The paper is Arches or Fabriano watercolor paper. I also teach one night a week at the School of Visual Arts.
I spent part of my childhood in Puerto Rico, then moved to Fort Lauderdale and now I live in New York with my family. My childhood asthma did in fact influence my art life. Because I spent so many hours bedridden, I drew constantly and read constantly which helped me develop my style as well as a way of thinking to work out original ideas. As a child I had chronic asthma and would frequently be so ill that I could not leave the house for days or even weeks at a time. But all those times I spent locked up inside, I spent filling up dozens of composition notebooks with all kinds of drawings. I even tried to write my own comic books…. So my illness as a child, which kept me from going outside to play, became a blessing. Ideas are very important for anyone who tries to create art. More so than being able to draw or paint well.
I hope this helped answer some of your questions. Keep asking. Curiosity is good for the brain.
Please keep in touch. Best, Raul
I wanted to show everyone a book you made called Doña Flor: A Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart that is one of my favorites. Pat Mora who wrote the book gave it to me and your illustrations and the story was so fantastic that it won the Pura Belpré in 2009. She is a giant woman who lives in a little town with lots of other families. Children use her flowers for trumpets and her leftover tortillas for a raft.
Just this year I started to practice drawing with colored pencils and I like the way they feel in my hand. They come in so many amazing colors and you can blend them together to make new ones. I like the way you made those rainbow borders around all the artwork and when you look at your drawings close up I see that you scratch beautiful textures into them. I like talking to my dad and mom about art and you said something incredible, that ideas are more important than being able to draw or paint well. It makes me think about where ideas come from. Like your asthma my friends and I have things that hold us back but you are right that sometimes those problems can help us grow even stronger. We think you had so much fun playing with how big and how small things are in this book. Like the picture of Doña Flor holding that tiny little book or the tortilla. I have never seen anyone use colored pencils like you and your pictures have big magic in them.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
I'm so happy that you like the pictures in "The House in the Night". I will tell you a little bit about how this book came to be.
You may know that most children's books start as words. The author writes a manuscript and sends it to an editor at a publishing house. If the editor likes it, she and the art director put their heads together to decide on an illustrator whose style best compliments the manuscript. When my editor, Ann Rider, accepted the manuscript for "The House in the Night" from Susan Marie Swanson, she immediately thought of me as the illustrator. She knew I wanted to do a book in black and white, and it seemed to her that this little "goodnight" book would work well in black and white. It was Ann's idea to add the gold color. She remembered a book called "Goodnight, Goodnight" by Eve Rice, published in 1980, that was illustrated in black and white with touches of a rich yellow-gold. She thought that adding gold to our book would make it shine.
It was up to me to tell the story through the pictures because the text is like a simple nursery rhyme. I sat for a whole day thinking (brainstorming, actually) about what this story could be. The manuscript had the words "key", "house", "light", "bed", "book", "bird", "song", "dark", "moon", and "sun". I knew that there had to be a main character who had to somehow get from the house out to the moon and sun and then back again. I thought this character could do this on the back of the bird. I knew that on the last page the main character would be tucked in bed, as a proper "goodnight" book should end. I wrote out what would happen before I started drawing.
I made the main character a little girl instead of an animal, because I didn't want our book to be compared to "Goodnight Moon", whose main character is a bunny. Although I have two daughters, I chose to base the main character on myself as a little girl so neither one of my daughters would be jealous. I included Scamp, the dog we had when I was young. There are many objects in the pictures that are meaningful to my family: the violin (my husband and daughters all play violin), the shell mobile that we made after a vacation at the New Jersey seashore, my teddy bear, and the doll that I made for my daughter, Olivia.
I loved drawing the scratchboard illustrations for this book. Scratchboard is a board, or panel, with a thin layer of fine, white clay covered by a layer of black india ink. The drawing surface is completely black when I start. I draw by scratching on the black ink to show the white underneath. The more lines that are drawn, the brighter the picture becomes. The tool I use to scratch with is a regular pen holder with a scratchboard nib inserted. This sharp point removes the black ink easily. It's a bit tricky to make a scratchboard drawing because you have to think backwards. When you draw with a pencil you draw a black line on white paper, but with a scratchboard tool, you draw white line on a black surface. This can be a little complicated, especially when doing faces, but it's a good challenge. An easy way to learn scratchboard is by starting with scratchmagic paper. This paper is completely black and when you draw (scratch) on it with a sharp wooden stick, bright colors appear. You may have used this drawing paper before.
Good luck to you and your friend Pierre with growing your library. It is a wonderful idea and I am inspired by your hard work. I love the picture you drew for me, and I enjoyed reading your blog. It was fun to see the beautiful artwork by John Parra, your father, and you. I would be happy to send you a few of my books for your library. Can you please send me an address?
Hooray for all of you!
I enjoy connecting all children to books, languages and cultures.
I tell kids, teens and grown-ups who want to be writers--read, read, read. Pat Mora
Pat Mora's books have been recognized with the Americas Award and Pura Belpré Honor and you can learn more about them and Children's Day/Book Day by visiting her website. http://www.patmora.com
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Dear Santiago Lopez,
What a great site for art and for books, two of my favorite things. Reading, just like art, feeds our noggin and our imagination. It inspires us to be great thinkers and to share ideas with others. I think the concept of kids growing libraries is an absolute home run. Life is great when we all look out for each other and share good things.
Being a children's book illustrator I was thrilled when I got to work on the art for Gracias/Thanks. A big part of why I connected to it begins with Pat Mora’s beautifully written story. It tells of young boy growing up in a multicultural Hispanic home and being thankful for all the special people and things in his life. The story closely reflected my own life growing up. Many of the scenes were events and memories that I had as a child and many of the characters were modeled after my own family. The main character is really a portrait of myself and how I saw my life. My two favorite pages from the book are the scene at the beach, where the waves are crashing and chasing the kids as they play, and the other is where the family is dancing and enjoying along with their guitar playing uncle.
I always loved to draw growing up. I was drawing even before I was in school. I would spend hours looking and examining people and landscapes, birds and bugs, robots and fantastic creatures. I would set up still lifes in my room with toys, blocks, books and various objects. I would draw with my brothers and friends. Once a teacher showed me how to draw perspective and I drew pages and pages of railroad tracks and buildings that would disappear off into the distance. Art always brought out this creative and positive energy in me.
For those who would like to be an artist the first step is: start to draw and draw, make sure to have a special place or area at home where you can do art with your supplies ready to go, and remember to feed your ideas for art by reading books, visiting museums and observing the world. You will then see a path to where your creativity and energies lie in becoming an artist.
All the best,
This is a very special book John, you are a great illustrator and all my family loves your art. Looking at these pictures makes a kid smile because it makes you think of all the good things in life to be thankful for. Like going to the beach and that feeling you get when big waves come crashing down near you and your friends. You laugh and scream because it just feels so good. I like listening to my Dad play guitar too and we sing and make up crazy songs.
In Mexico people make little paintings on pieces of tin called retablos and even Frida Kahlo made them. We visited her blue house and the wall was covered with them and they paint them to say thanks like your book. When I saw your art I told my parents that I remembered those paintings about miracles on metal.
I like your ideas to keep drawing and reading and looking at all things in our world like bugs because they can look like they are from outer space. I am learning about perspective too and drawing it makes things feel close or far away. What a good idea John to paint pictures of yourself when you were a kid. I think it looks just like you. I know why kids love your drawings because I think you see the world like we do.
Gracias/Thanks Illustrated by John Parra and written by Pat Mora is a 2010 Pura Belpré Honor book and you can see more of John's amazing paintings at:
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Dear Santiago Lopez,
I think it’s so cool you are doing this. I’m with you that libraries are so important. It’s the house that holds all our stories. That’s why we’ve got to make sure all different kinds of storytellers are allowed to live there, on those shelves.
And I also agree with you about reading being a peace project. When you read, you become someone else. Simple as that! So, you get to understand someone else’s world from the inside out. If we did more of that and less making enemies we would have peace. Maybe every ruler of every country should have to spend part of every day in the library reading? It would be a better world, you think? At least, while they are in the library reading, they aren’t out causing trouble in the world.
You asked for a story from when I was a little girl. Well, back then, I lived in the Dominican Republic under a cruel dictatorship. We didn’t have things like public libraries. Actually, people were afraid to be caught reading or talking about ideas. The dictator thought intellectuals, writers and artists were troublemakers. (He was right! Ask your dad?) So it was a culture of censorship.
So I didn’t grow up reading or seeing people reading. But I did grow up surrounded by wonderful storytellers. Since people didn’t dare to write things down, they learn to say what they needed to say by telling stories. Later, when we fled to the United States, and I became a reader, I realized that even though people in my family were not readers, they were expert storytellers.
When we came to this country, I discovered the library! Wow! I knew I had come to a special place. I think more than the United States, it was in libraries that I discovered the great democracy my family had come searching for in this country. No one was barred from reading. And stories were about all of us in the human family. The story of a slave girl or the story of a prince. Every life was full of mystery and beauty, sadness and joy. And when you read, you are reminded that you are part of one human family.
So, you see, I totally agree with you! Maybe your dad—or heck, you!--can devise a bumpersticker: READ for WORLD PEACE!!!
I saw Julia Alvarez talk in Washington D.C. with my parents and she is such a fantastic writer I wanted to learn more about her. She was born in New York City but when she was a small baby she moved to a place called the Dominican Republic for ten years. Her family had to flee because they were in danger. My parents told me she wrote a famous book for grown ups called How the García Girls Lost Their Accents about a family who had to leave the Dominican Republic.
At our school we learn that bullies are wrong and when she came back to America she met people who were mean to her just because she spoke another language and was different. She felt alone and homesick but books became a good friend. There is a very happy ending to this story because she decided to become a writer and this is a book she gave me called Return to Sender. She is a great storyteller and it won the Pura Belpré medal. It is a chapter book so Mom read it to me and it is a beautiful story and we are getting another to put in our growing library. We also listened to Julia Alvarez read part of it on TeachingBooks.net and you can listen too. She is a great storyteller and talks about what she calls a pebble in her shoe. That means an idea. I like the way she uses her words to paint pictures. Writers can talk like they are singing sweet poems .
You have to go to Julia Alvarez's website to know more about her books. There is a beautiful drawing of her there with very long hair and many things floating inside it-like her ideas.