for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Illustrators bear witness.
Nothing could be more important.
One hundred years from now, when someone wants to know what it was like to be a seven-year-old girl in New York City on her birthday – or what it was like to be a Mexican-American child growing up in Texas – they won’t go to a reference book and look it up. They will look at a picture.
Illustrators, we must:
See with our fingers.
See with our hands.
See with our pencils.
So much depends upon it.
The world “literally” depends upon it!
The process for the bilingual picture book – A Surprise for Teresita/Una Sorpresa Para Teresita, written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Arte Publico, 2016) – I knew I needed to concentrate on community. I looked at 10, 000 photographs of New York City. I’ve been to New York City before – so I tried to remember it and “breathe” it in. A Surprise for Teresita is about a little girl in a Nuyorican (Puerto-Rican/New York) neighborhood.
I loved the idea of the tropical Puerto Rican culture splashed against the New York City buildings and brownstones.
I got to work immediately.
I made models from foamboard.
I ordered a snow cone machine.
I studied the difference between “snow cones”, “raspas”, and “piraguas.” Delicious!
It became obvious to me that my color palette was going to be “snow cones.”
But … there was a dilemma.
How to capture the intense color I needed, using only the mediums of pencil and watercolor?
The answer: I couldn’t.
I needed oil paint - the brilliant color of oil paint!
So … encouraged by my mentors - Caldecott winner Denise Fleming and Caldecott winner E.B. Lewis – I set out to create a new illustration process.
And, thankfully, it worked!
Here is what I did:
1. Oil paint takes five months to a year and a half to dry.
2. Oil paint on a “raw” surface, such as untreated cloth or cardboard, tends to bleed and is very difficult to control.
1. Liquin medium. “One stroke” at a time. I squeeze each tube of oil paint separately onto my palette. I dip my brush into each color. Then I dip it into the Liquin. I mix the colors as I paint, directly on the cardboard.
2. After each application, I clean the brush, and start again.
3. Similar to “watercolor technique,” I use the “cardboard” as my “white.” In the close-up of Teresita (below) – the highlights in Teresita’s hair are cardboard showing through.
4. As I paint, the oil seeps deep into the cardboard.
5. The cardboard remains wet for weeks “on the inside” - but the “skin” of the painting dries within four and a half hours! It is ready to scan immediately!
This process enabled me to paint A Surprise for Teresita without bleed, quickly, and using the saturated colors that I desperately wanted! All the difference in the world!