“The book is a hug in times when hugs are impossible”

Estelí Meza is the Mexican illustrator of Peace, a new book that will be published by NorthSouth Books in March 2021. In Mexico she has received several awards for her work and is now making her international debut. Peace is written by Miranda and Baptiste Paul
and talks about peace in our small and everyday actions. Our colleague Julia Ann Stüssi met Estelí in Mexico City and spoke to her about creating the artwork for this book.

We are happy to present Peace, your first book with NorthSouth. Tell us about the circumstances of making this book.

I received the manuscript from NorthSouth Books and immediately connected to the text. I knew I wanted to draw children and animals in different contexts. When I was starting to work on the colors in my illustrations the lockdown hit Mexico City. My husband and I
have barely left our flat in the following months. Luckily, I am used to working at home, where I have my small studio space. While this huge city was affected by the virus and the world seemed apocalyptic, I focused on the beautiful message of Peace.

Why is this book important?
Well, we all need peace. Especially in these times that are even more challenging for children. I wanted my Illustrations to be a gift to make them feel hopeful. I wanted them to feel accompanied and let them know that something good will come of any crisis if we take care of each other. This was my intention: To give them a safe space of hope. Maybe the book is like a hug for the reader. It is a way of hugging in a moment where actual hugs are not possible.

How did you translate this message into your illustrations?
I believe peace is strongly related to how we interact with our surroundings. We tend to only think about ourselves and not see the world around us. I am really interested in the caring relationship between children and animals – that love that comes so easy to them Diversity is also very important: The children in this book come from all over the world, with all types of skin colors and ethnicities, the animals stand for different countries and continents. For Mexico I drew the monarch butterflies, there are cranes that are associated
with Asia, the lion for Africa and so on. I knew I wanted a book with warm colors, reds and yellows that transition towards the nightfall at the end.

Are there any special things to discover?
Yes, there are many details in my book that children notice quickly, for example a little story of two cats: they appear on different pages, and although you never see them together, in the end suddenly there are kittens whose fur is a mix of the color pattern of
both adult cats. Also: every child appears at least twice.

Do you have a cat? I saw something moving just now in the background…

Yes! We adopted her during lockdown. She is very shy and her name is MascaritaSagrada (little holy mask), which is the name of a fighter of the mini lucha libre, the Mexican wrestlers. The fighters wear their famous masks. Did you ever notice that many cats have a pattern in the form of an “M” above their eyes?

How do you begin your creative work?
I sketch a lot in the beginning. To loosen my mind, I draw with my left hand instead of my right and see what happens. I try to surprise myself having the basic ideas in mind, in this case diversity, peace, friendship, cooperation, caring. (quote) Then I set a color palette
Generally, I work with pencils, felt pens and acrylic markers. I make small scale pencil sketches of the images to see them in a storyboard and analyze how the story flows. Then I make bigger pencil sketches for all the detail. If I want to make any changes, I use vellum
paper to trace and transfer them – this also means very clean images afterwards.

How are you mixing these analog techniques with digital ones?
When I start with colors, I paint the big surfaces first. In this book I mixed acrylic markers and color pencils to get the texture I like. I scan these background images and edit all the smaller elements digitally with Photoshop. This way I can easily change things a play with composition and detail. Then I print small images for an advanced miniature storyboard in order to see how they connect and keep adapting them. I actually glue the newer version on top of the previous one to be able to compare them. In recent years I have been mixing analog and digital techniques, I really love working this way. They combine well and the overall impression is neither completely digital, nor completely traditional.

You were born in Mexico City, where you still live today. What do you consider Mexican about your drawings?

I guess what is seen as the most “Mexican” part of my work is my use of color. In my new book I chose a very radiant palette, and I guess that’s just in my blood as a Mexican: If you go to the market or out on the streets everything is so colorful here, the sunlight is
strong. I also love to draw animals and plants, I find them very expressive. I wonder if this has to do with Mexico, where we are surrounded by tropical plants even here in the city.

You have a beautiful, special name. What is the meaning of “Estelí”?
Estelí Meza: Estelí is a city in Nicaragua. I don’t have any connections to the country, but my parents loved the meaning of this word: River of Flowers.

What makes you feel at peace?

You know, Mexico is beautiful but it is also a complicated country, just watching the news one witnesses terrible things. So you need a coping mechanism. Humor is very important, it has a cleansing function, channels difficult energies. What brings me peace is
clearly one thing: Drawing. Just having a sketchbook and a pencil in my hands makes me feel at peace. Also talking to people I love, knowing that they are well. Listening to music, reading, looking at paintings and drawings, enjoying a cup of coffee with a pastry – these are
the moments where I am at peace.

Peace, and the Spanish edition, Paz, will be published in March 2021.

Talking Turkey With Valeri Gorbachev

Valeri Gorbachev has illustrated books for NorthSouth for over twenty years! In fact, he credits NorthSouth for starting his very successful career in children’s books here in America. He has published over sixty books here in the USA.

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His first book with NorthSouth was Nicky and the Big Bad Wolves in April 1998. He collaborated with author Carol Roth on the very successful Little Bunny books, and this fall, we are thrilled to release his latest story There Was a Turkey on the Farm.

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Valeri’s stories celebrate friendship and family.His illustrations are always warm, wonderful, and just right for pre-schoolers. Valeri was nice enough to share a few thoughts and photos with us.

Valeri Gorbachev-I grew up in the city of Kiev (now days capital of Ukraine). I went to school like most other kids. But unlike them, I was more interested in creating and telling stories then normal school lessons. I was often scolded by my teachers and parents for this. But years later my love for storytelling landed me, my first book publishing deal. Now as an adult I was praised for the very same thing that I was scolded for as a child!

As years went by I become much better at drawing and telling the stories. It did not happened over night. It took a lot of everyday hard work and years and years of practice. But just like back when i was a kid i still enjoy nothing more than making picture books

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I usually most happy when I am working in my studio. There is nothing more exciting to me, then when drawing comes out from under of my pencil in the unexpected interesting way or when a phrase comes out from under of my pen that sounds just right!

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I usually most happy when i am working in my studio. There is nothing more exciting to me, then when drawing comes out from under of my pencil in the unexpected interesting way or when a phrase comes out from under of my pen that sounds just right!!

In There Was a Turkey on the Farm I wanted to show children how to make friends and how it is important to have them.

I think this is a very valuable message!

Valeri Gorbachev

Mixing Colors with Maja Kastelic

“Dober dan! (good day!)” Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic greets you at her door. Together with author Heinz Janisch, Kastelic has created a book that breaks boundaries of genre, past and present, reality and fantasy with Hans Christian Andersen: The Journey of His Life. The book is simply alive with her extraordinary illustrations.

“To me the story seemed very rich and also quite complex.”

Zurich-based editor, Andrea, visited Maja in her studio to learn more about her work and creative process. Maja’s studio contains a lavishly designed wall, full of notes, sketches and curios. Her studio also includes a remarkable picture book library, filled with both samples of Slovenian illustration art and internationally known illustrators who are pushing creative boundaries, like Jon Klassen, Catarina Sobral, Isabelle Arsenault, Peter Sís, Kitty Crowther and many more.

Sometimes she cannot control the creative process, and finds herself carried away by it, submerged and unavailable for a while, even to her editor.

Next to meticulous research, studies and experiments with color and technology, a certain amount of “playing” is necessary for the illustrations to emerge. Figures and things come into the picture that were not planned, but which literally awaken a child’s joy when looking at them, such as the tiny eyes in the flowers pictured in the “Thumbelina” scenes or the traveling

Andersen who casts a shadow that looks like a pair of wings. It takes the viewer a second or third look to see these subtleties. Some others are more obvious with illustrations that are full of exuberant details, such as the scene from The Emperor’s New Clothes.

“This is a story about the courage to follow ones dream and a beautiful tribute to playfulness and imagination.”

The character of Maja’s illustrations is strong and delicate at the same time. Strong in the sense of a balanced composition, and delicate because the figures seem light as a feather in the picture. A truly extraordinary combination, which make this book so special. We wholeheartedly agree with Maja, when she says “I honestly hope you will find Andersen’s life as inspiring and moving as I did.”

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