In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unabashed HUGE fan of Vin’s work. I met Vin back in 2013 at the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference when he won the Juried Art Show for a Published Illustrator.
And here is a true story. A year or so had passed since we met, and one day I happened to be browsing the new releases coming out of Flashlight Press (I am also an unabashed HUGE fan of Flashlight Press), and I was automatically drawn to Maddi’s Fridge, and I wondered, who is this awesome illustrator? It was Vin.
Vin has illustrated more than 45 books for children and young adults. He has also provided illustration and character designs for a wide variety of print, animation, apparel, and web projects in his native country of Brazil, as well, the United States, Canada, and France.
His debut picture book as an author and illustrator, The Thing About Yetis! (Dial Books for Young Readers), hits bookstores fall of 2015.
Vin, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start writing and drawing? Did you always want to be a picture book author and illustrator?
I started drawing when I was around three, a bunch of scribbles on my parent’s apartment walls and books. Maybe my most impressive work as a little kid was drawing all the characters from Star Wars. My parents still have these drawings!
Oh yeah! I spent half of my childhood creating my own comic books and picture books with my own characters (the other half I spent dreaming of being Jacques Cousteau). Winning some prizes as best story and best illustrations when I was in primary school definitely contributed to my dream of being an author and illustrator.
Can you share some insights into your creative process? How do you develop a book from beginning to end?
Whether I’m creating a story or illustrating, it always starts with doodles. And almost always I doodle with pencil on paper.
I carry with me a notebook the size of a pocket everywhere I go, 24/7, so I’m constantly doodling—even when I’m standing up and being squeezed by other people on a NYC subway train. My creative process is very, very visual. Often stories begin from those random doodles. Doodling frees my mind, because it’s spontaneously visceral.
When I’m illustrating a book, the whole process starts with doodles, as well. I read the story and start imagining what the characters look like. During this process, I tend not to be rational; I enjoy seeing my hands drawing these characters without my brain thinking much, in the most spontaneous and natural way as possible.
When the characters are approved, I start working on sketches, on how I envision each illustration. When these sketches are approved, I start working on the final art.
Do you like to work in a particular medium?
My final illustrations are always and ultimately digitized. So I do like to work on my computer, mixing digital with more traditional techniques, when I feel it works visually.
Is your illustration process different when you’re working with someone else’s text?
The Thing About Yetis! is my debut picture book as an author and illustrator. It feels different because I’m the author as well, so it’s a different kind of adventure/challenge. The creative process is the same, though. But every book is different, and I like to try something new, a new approach in every new project.
Your latest book, Maddi’s Fridge, written by Lois Brandt (Flashlight Press 2014), is the story of best friends, Maddi and Sofia, who attend the same school, live in the same neighborhood, and play at the same playground. But there is one significant difference: Sofia’s fridge is full of nutritious food, while Maddi’s fridge is practically empty. Sworn to secrecy, Sofia has to decide whether she’ll keep her friend’s secret, or breach that confidence to get Maddi and her family the help they need.
This wonderful book touches upon so many important issues—friendship, trust, hunger, and poverty without ever being preachy. And your beautiful illustrations create an incredible sense of warmth and humor that all children can appreciate and connect with. How did you approach this project? (I think I read that you used your own neighborhood as a model for creating Maddi and Sofia’s neighborhood.)
I was hooked when I read the manuscript. I always wanted to work on a picture book that touched an important and polemical subject, like hunger, for example.
Shari Greenspan, editor for Flashlight Press, loved the laid-back, scratchy, urbanite style of one of my illustrations on my website (the two kids on a NYC street) and thought that it would be a good match for Maddi. We decided the background for the story would be a big city. So I not only chose NYC, the city where I live and that I love, but I also chose Harlem, which still has some architectural jewels. I’m crazy about architecture, by the way. I rode my bike around the neighborhood and took some pictures of streets and buildings that caught my attention. I’ve also used Google Maps for reference. All the buildings that you see in the main scene actually exist—with a little personal touch, of course!
Did you collaborate at all with the author?
The storyline and text were worked on by Lois and Shari.
Can you also tell us a little bit about Flashlight Press?
They gave me my first opportunity to illustrate my first book in the U.S. And I like their mission statement, which focuses on family and social situations.
I haven’t seen a lot of picture books about yetis (which I gather is a very good thing!). How did you become interested in yetis, and how did your picture book, The Thing About Yetis! (Dial Books for Young Readers, fall 2015), come about?
I’ve always been a big fan of yetis and big foots. I see yetis and big foots as a link to our more primitive, animalistic side. I remember watching Jonny Quest’s Monster in the Monastery as a kid, and being completely fascinated with this ape-like snowy creature. . . . And after spending three winters in Montreal, I ended up feeling like one!
So over the Summer of 2013, I was doodling this super sweet, yet bratty and monstrous, yeti kid that I named Jimi Icicle, and I thought: Hmm, maybe there’s something in there! A couple of months later Heather Alexander, back then editor at Dial and now my agent, ended up buying the project. John Cusick was my agent at that time, and he had brokered the deal. Thanks again, John and Heather!
Can you give us the scoop on Music Class Today, written by David Weinstone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, fall 2015), and the lowdown on some of your other works in progress?
Music Class Today was a fun project; it was great working with David and the FSG folks. The idea was placing these super colorful and dynamic characters against a white background. We wanted to stress the characters, their movements, their actions, their feelings. We wanted them to pop out of the page. I think it’s a fun book to look at!
I’m about to finish The Thing About Yetis! and there are other projects I’m working on now—more soon!
How can your fans get a hold of you for a school visit?
Please visit my website and contact me from there.
Lastly, do you have any advice for budding writers and illustrators?
The classic triple P’s: passion, patience and perseverance. Dream big and work hard! And don’t forget to become a member of the SCBWI.
Maddi’s Fridge is available at independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles.
Vin, thanks so much for doing this interview. All the very best and much success!
My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Robin!