“Strange things, fairytales, lullabies, children games”
Writer & Illustrator – Interview, Spain
Mary Vareli: When did you realize you had the need to paint? Was your family environment supportive?
Beatriz: It’s difficult to remember. As a kid, I was an enthusiastic reader, but I never thought about becoming a writer. The stories become images in my head so I drew them. As I grew older, I just kept drawing. My family has been extremely supportive even if I’m sure they would have preferred I had chosen a more stable profession. They’re very proud now and they’ve helped me a lot, but parents usually aren’t happy when one of their children chooses a path as uncertain as art.
Tell us a few things about your studies.
I studied Art in Salamanca for five years and then I specialized in illustration in Valladolid, my home city, in a two years degree. Salamanca’s University gave me the knowledge I needed in drawing and painting as well as a background in Art history. The course in Valladolid allowed me to polish that knowledge and it made me able to focus on illustration.
You write “I am an illustrator evolving into an author”. Can you tell us more?
Yes. I’ve been illustrating books for a few years, novels, tales and some picture books. While I was illustrating picture books based on other’s writers’ texts, I discovered the possibilities of this format. I learned to build stories with sequences of images as this is something essential when building a picture book, and once I discovered the joy of building stories I decided that it was what I wanted to do. So I focused on making picture books. Just now four of them have been published. The first one was “Secrets” in Australia, by Lothian, long ago, when I began my career. Some years passed until I decided I wanted to focus on this format, so I made “Little Red” published by Logos in Italy and Thule in Spain. “Bird” was the next one, published in Canada by Simply Read Books, And some weeks ago “Enigmas” has been published in Spain. So that’s what I meant saying “evolving into an author”. My intention is keeping on it, making picture books on my own as it’s the more satisfying thing I’ve done as an artist.
Do you believe that commissioned work subtracts from an artist’s creativity?
Not always. Sometimes, when you have a publisher who trusts you, you can let the creativity flow. That’s almost as good as illustrating a text of your own, even better, as sometimes you work with wonderful stories and classical authors, and it’s a kind of luxury. But of course, you’re never as free as when you’re illustrating directly what is in your head. That’s what I understood illustrating picture books. There’s nothing comparable to that kind of creativity, as text and images are created simultaneously and flow as a whole. So you can be very creative even making commissioned work, but doing your own books is a very different kind of mental process.
What kind of media do you use?
Almost everything. Pencils, watercolours, acrylics, oils. I like to change techniques from time to time. When I work with one of them I miss the qualities of others. I like the density of oils, but when I use them I miss the graphite’s gentleness, and then when I use pencils I miss the colours and I change to watercolours, and then I miss something stronger and I go back to oils and so again and again.
What inspires you?
Sometimes the strangest of things. Old photos, fairytales, movies, other illustrators, painters, lullabies, children games. The funny thing is that it all makes a kind of pool in your head and inspiration comes from there unexpectedly. I think that when that kind of miracle happens, when an idea comes to you like a gift, this is the best feeling in the world.
Tell us a few things about your studies and the famous “first period”, so common with many painters / illustrators before they realize their particular idiom.
When I was studying Art my main inspiration in painting was realist painters, classical and contemporary, and the human body. When I studied Illustration I had to change the subject of my drawings and my style as an illustrator began to be defined. At first, it diverged a little from realism. My first illustrations played with the proportions of bodies and faces. I think that I was trying to find a way and somehow I felt It wasn’t right to illustrate the same way I painted. So I experimented a little but then, as I began to work, I returned gradually to realism. But this time, it wasn’t the same I had done in my years in Salamanca, it was not so close to reality. Even if I was a little shy at first, gradually my work became more dreamlike. It keeps a pretty strict figurative base but with a lot of symbolism. Sometimes it is closer to surrealism than realism.
Anyway, it’s a work in progress. That’s what my style looks like just now, but it’s a very organic process and I’m not sure what it may become in the future.
Is there a particular School that you admire, or a “master”, as some painters mention?
Tons of them. It’s very hard to choose. When I studied Art, I loved the School of London, particularly Lucian Freud. I’ve always loved Velázquez. I like most of the PreRaphaelites, and nineteen-century painting and photography. I really love Vienna Secession, Klimt and Schiele of course but all the other artists too. There are a lot of illustrators too, from Aubrey Beardsley to Norman Rockwell or Kay Nielsen. From the contemporary illustrators, if I have to choose, I think I’ll pick James Jean.
Do you flirt with magic realism? Which genre better characterizes you?
Magic realism feels like an adequate description of what I do. A kind of surrealism. I have a very figurative style but not exactly that of a realist.
Which is the more difficult: light and shade or good design?
For me, the key is a good design. A good description of light and shade is important too, of course, even more, if your style is very figurative, but good design can stand without depiction of light and shade. On the other side, design can be built just with light and shade too which is something I tend to do most of the time.
Are you optimistic as a person? I think that this is somehow reflected in your work.
Yes, I think so. You have to be a little optimistic to have this profession. I’m not a sombre person, I really love my work and even if it seems kind of dark sometimes, my images don’t grow from sadness but from fascination
How important is symbolism in your work?
Very important. It’s the thing that separates my work from realism. I think that my style began to work when symbolism got mixed with realism. It was then when I began to really enjoy the concepts. It’s the key to creating meaning in my images even if sometimes that meaning is not totally defined.
I bet you like fantasy and mythology.
Of course. I’ve always loved it. More recently I’ve been enjoying another kind of soft mythology, the fairytales. As mythology, they come from oral tradition. They are stories which have been created over the centuries before they were written and fixed so they reflect the fears and wishes of humanity in all its rawness. And they teach you, but not what one could expect. Fairytales teach you that you have to be clever, you have to be strong, you have to survive the monster. There is something absolutely fascinating about them.
What is your style when you paint? Do you prefer isolation, for example, or do you combine insights with music? Do you work with models or images?
I usually work with the radio on, listening to music, or even having videos on, which I don’t watch. I like some kind of noise when I work but, to be true, if I’m very concentrated I don’t even notice if the music stops.
Sometimes I work with models but I am used to taking photographs of them for reference. When I need references of objects, landscapes or dresses I search online, of course. Sometimes I take photos of myself when I need to understand the position of a hand for example or a particular gesture.
Do you enjoy exhibitions?
Of course. I usually work in isolation. Well, that’s the nature of the work, you draw alone. Exhibiting is a way to share what you’ve done. A way to contact people. They’re a source of surprise for me. Sometimes I feel really touched by someone’s reaction. My work is a part of me after all, and when someone reacts strongly to it, it moves me deeply. It’s a way of sharing what you do and what you are.
Apart from painting what other arts, or artists, do you admire?
Music, dance. There’s something so beautiful in the bodies and movement…For some reason, dance is very moving for me. I’m a great admirer of Jiri Kylian. I love literature too of course, but the list of writers I admire would be too long. I love Leonard Cohen, right in the middle of music and poetry, and I’ve felt his death deeply.
There are so many authors I love…For the purpose of brevity, I’ll restrict it to picture books authors and I would say David Wiesner, for example, who has made some of the funniest and fascinating picture books I’ve read. Shaun Tan too. I think that the first picture book I bought was “The Red Tree”. I love some comic authors too. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Miller, David Mack… They all have influenced me a lot as I grew up.
Are you working on any project currently?
Yes. I’m finishing a new picture book “Dear Aunt Agatha”, which will be published next March and I’m working on the storyboards of another two picture books. I´m really trying to focus on my work as an author and I hope I can have them all finished in the next year.
What advice would you give to young artists?
Try it. At least try to live from it. It seems difficult, almost impossible to live doing what you love, but it deserves the effort. Don’t let your dreams just be dreamed forever. Bring them to reality, just a little every day. Just a drawing, one more illustration for your portfolio. At least try it. Keep drawing.
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