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Interview with ‘My Mom is the Best Circus’ illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell

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Luciana Navarro Powell grew up in Brazil and moved to the US in 2002. Drawing was a favorite past time of her childhood. She graduated with a degree in Product Design and worked as a product and graphic designer for a few years, but she was always drawing and taking freelance illustration projects on the side. Watercolor and acrylic paints were the media she used at the beginning of her career, but she eventually settled with the digital brush. Her latest projects include illustrating for toys, children’s products, book apps, mural and traditional books. After illustrating for educational publications for about 10 years and being involved with children’s publishing for so long, in 2011 she started to write her own stories.

PowellLuciana

For what age audience do you illustrate?

I illustrate mostly for children’s fiction, usually for ages 2 through 8.

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is called “My Mom is the Best Circus”. It is a humorous take on a day in the life of a busy working mom, seen through the lenses of two kids that love the circus. From sunrise to sunset, Mom is a one-woman show: ringmaster, maestro, juggler, magician, and sometimes a clown… until bedtime come when she pulls her best stunt, the “sandman show”.

Henry: I thought you said you write fiction. That sounds like a documentary of most mom’s days.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

First of all I hope that kids will enjoy reading it or being read to. Besides that, maybe learn new words, enjoy the comparisons that I make in the book – perhaps inspiring them to make their own associations – and if my book can get giggles from the kids and a silent nodding smile from the moms, even better. It is an homage to all moms.

Henry: The silent mom nod is better than the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of illustrating in my opinion is to keep it fresh, but at the same time being consistent with your illustrative “voice”. Just like writing, illustrators have a visual voice of their own, that is usually called “style”. I believe we have to keep challenging ourselves to evolve, and sometimes getting out of our visual comfort zone can be challenging. Another aspect of the career that can be challenging is to get a steady flow of work. That is, not “feast or famine”: too little work or too much work. Time teaches you to manage it better, but it is always unpredictable to some degree.

Henry: Those are challenges that authors share with illustrators.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an illustrator?

That persistence and quality always pay off. I went through some years of not having much commissioned work, but I kept doing portfolio pieces and striving to improve, even with no job in sight. Eventually clients will find your work and good projects will come your way.

Henry: Yes, the cream rises to the top.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an illustrator?

A recent one that comes to mind was a very sweet email from a young mom in Indonesia, asking me where could she buy my books – specifically, “My Dad is the Best Playground”. She found it somewhere online but didn’t own a credit card, and I wasn’t able to find a store in her town that sold it, so I ended up sending it to her. She was so happy to get it right in time for the birth of her first child, and sent me pictures of her gorgeous little baby girl. She told me how nice it was to hear her husband reading it to the baby, and how he could hardly wait until they would be able to play like the characters play in the book. To think that your work can touch someone so far away in such a personal and positive way is a very powerful experience that I wouldn’t have been able to have gotten any other way.

Henry: Completely agree. I’m always thrilled when I get a new Facebook or Twitter follower from another country.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

My advice is to be sure you absolutely love it and can’t do anything else – which is my case – because it is a hard career to succeed at – at the same time, which career isn’t, right? Be persistent, challenge yourself, find your own visual voice and be loyal to it. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style. Another important one regarding portfolio is that it is only as good as your weakest piece – only include your absolute best work.

Henry: Great tips.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I’m sure you heard it a million times too, and it is such a cliche… but this quote makes more and more sense to me as I get older, it’s a great reminder of the brevity of it all, and even a recipe-for-happiness-in-a-nutshell: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift”.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you illustrate?

Not really. The only ritual is to either run or swim early in the morning to clear my mind, or if I’m stuck. I have had ideas coming to me in the middle of a run. If you are stuck then moving can sometimes “unstuck” you.

Henry: How very metaphorical of you!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Definitely flying. I often dream that I am flying. It’s almost like I know exactly what to do and could even teach you – if I could, of course. It feels liberating and powerful, and you can go anywhere for free! It’s such a shame we can’t fly on our own!

Henry: No traffic jams!

If you could have three authors or illustrators over for dinner, who would it be?

Oh these types of questions are always so hard because I am a fan of so many artists! But I will pick three illustrators that I am in absolute awe of. If I could sit down for dinner with them I would just listen to them talking and see if I could get a glimpse of the wonderful minds that are able to produce such rich imagery – not to mention the quality of technique: Nicoletta Ceccoli, an Italian illustrator that makes arresting, magnetic, intriguing, mysterious, symbolic and slightly dark illustrations. The zany quality of Lane Smith’s art is so attractive and compelling that it would be fun to have him at a dinner table to try to pick his unique brain! Finally, Suzy Lee, a Korean author and illustrator who can say a lot with a very economic but expressive style and have done some wonderful wordless picture books.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully says: “Nicoletta Ceccoli is an Italian Artist who is known for her richly detailed, dreamlike work. She was born in and still lives in the Republic of San Marino and studied animation at the Institute of Art in San Marino, Italy. She has illustrated many books, most recently published is Cinderella.

Lane Smith (born August 25, 1959) is an American children’s book author and illustrator. Smith is most noted for his work on children’s books. Smith has illustrated works by Florence Parry Heide, Judith Viorst, Bob Shea, Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, Eve Merriam, Roald Dahl and George Saunders. He has authored and illustrated his own books as well, most notably It’s a Book in 2010 which was a New York Times bestseller for over six months and has been translated into over twenty languages, Madam President in 2008, and John, Paul, George, and Ben in 2006. In 2012, he was awarded the Caldecott honor for his book Grandpa Green.”

Suzy Lee is also the name of a song by the alternative rock group, The White Stripes!

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

As a kid, I was fascinated by the concept of miniaturization: I remember imagining I was a tiny person exploring the nooks and crannies of everything. So “Thumbelina” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” were some of my favorite stories because they included tiny persons in a giant world of huge grass blades, walnut shell beds, giant castles with towering chairs and tables.

Henry: Thumbelina isn’t real!? Spoiler alert!

What do you like to do when you’re not illustrating?

I am the mother of two very active little boys, and there are only so many hours in a day! It is safe to say that when I am not illustrating I am taking care of them which is a recipe for fun and exhaustion! Besides work and fun with my family, I enjoy reading, a good meal, movies, traveling.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

This took me a while but I think I got it:  “She will always be with us…in our hearts, in our memories, in our lives, and hopefully forever and ever in print.”

Where can readers find your work?

www.lucianaillustration.com

This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

One thought on “Interview with ‘My Mom is the Best Circus’ illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell

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