Rafael: This was the first time I had the opportunity to create a book based on my own experiences as a community muralist. I like to create mood boards where I paste imagery, textures and key words that might fuel the visual storytelling. I rode around on my bicycle and took photographs of neighborhood buildings, printed these out and put them up in my workspace. I sit with the text and begin sketching on tracing tissue, taking a long time trying to channel the spirit of my characters. It’s important to me to show a diverse group of characters because it authentically reflects the neighborhood. I also want children to see themselves on the pages of books I create. I then refine my characters into more finished sketches and begin to develop scenes for the spreads. I print these out into small books to check transitions and see how the visual structure of the story is flowing. I think making children’s books is like making a movie so I want the story to unfold, give it voice, form and viewpoint.
Rafael: I really wanted to include the actual buildings from the East Village neighborhood where the story takes place. For this reason, Maybe Something Beautiful is a mixed media book that combines my original photography that was scanned, combined with construction paper and digital textures that I have photographed over many years. Characters were painted with acrylic on wood and for some of the background textures I used watercolor on paper.
Rafael: The illustration is a door, that readers can unlock and interpret in their own way. I want my children’s book illustrations to be conceptual, a clever interpretation of the text and not see-say where you read and see the same thing. To genuinely connect to readers I want each illustration to stand on it’s own but also work as a whole. There are many tools you can use to create a sense of wonder like color or texture but the idea always rises to the top.
Rafael: The story is based on the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California that was created by my wife and I with the community. We bought an old warehouse in what was an edgy part of town that at the time had issues with crime and blight. We worked with community members to transform the neighborhood using art that included large scale murals, painted electrical boxes, sidewalk poetry, mosaics and sculpture. I developed a style of murals that made it possible for untrained artists and children to achieve a strong result. The collective act of making art brought people together and created a sense of place that improved the community. (This is Rafael's wife, Candice, painting.)
Rafael: The most challenging part of being a creator is encouraging clients to break away from traditional solutions and try alternative ideas and techniques.
Rafael: Everyone has unique abilities and ideas. We were originally advised that the best way to deal with crime and blight was to form a Neighborhood Watch. This was a good idea but just one approach. Through this experience I recognized the importance of using my own skills to make a difference. I also connected to others who had their own way of problem solving and brought those strengths to the collective table. I learned so much from them, am still learning and growing.
Here is Rafael's studio - click the image to see it larger in a new window.