Creating Nightlights: An Interview with Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Lorena Alvarez is currently in the gallery for her Nightlights book signing, so we thought it fitting to repost her interview with Matthew Tobin as featured on

When I saw the cover of Nightlights for the first time in the Nobrow catalogue, I knew that I had been hooked. There was something about the style and colour of that cover that brought images of Miyazaki’s worlds to mind as well as a touch of Sendak’s Outside Over There and Henson’s Labyrinth: a taste of the mythical and magical daubed with a sense of weighted reality. When I managed to get hold of a copy and found that it was all of these and yet, equally, none of them – a story set within the imagination of a vibrantly creative individual – I was swept in from the first few frames and taken on a wonderful journey which I still regularly return to. My review can be found here.

Thanks to the people at Nobrow and Lorena herself, I was able to ask the creator a few questions that I had about Nightlights and the creative process that went into its making:

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself and the path you took that brought you into illustration and creating Nightlights?

I’ve always been interested in writing and drawing my own stories but the idea of becoming an author was too intimidating. I was waiting for a big, epic story to come out of nowhere in my head and it took me a while to understand that it doesn’t work that way. I started then with “small” ideas, taking notes from my everyday life, writing about the music I like, about the people I met; it wasn’t only a good exercise but also it gave me an opportunity to communicate with others and share experiences.

When I wrote the first draft for Nightlights I was living in a small town in Arkansas. Being in a place so different from Bogotá gave me enough distance to see things in perspective, to appreciate my personal story in a different light. I was educated in a catholic school for girls and it was something I dreaded to talk about, but at some point I realized that the whole experience was an important part of my identity. I thought a lot about the stories we used to tell each other—particularly during our elementary years—and they were amazing. Unknowingly, we mixed the doctrine we learned from the nuns with elements of our own imagination, pop culture and the social context we lived in. With all that in mind I started to work in the plot of Nightlights.

2. One of the things that immediately grabbed my attention when reading Nightlights was where you positioned me as a reader. Sometimes I was high up, looking down and other times I was at ground level. Using some of the pictures from your book as examples, could you tell me a little about how you go about choosing the reader’s positioning and what your intention is in some scenes?

I think it depends on what aspect of the characters I want to present to the reader and the action that’s taking place. I draw many scenes viewed from above because I like to give and idea of how Sandy interacts with the place she’s in. For example, when Morphie and Sandy are playing in the supply room, I wanted to create a dynamic image, without a rigid sequence to follow, in which both girls are using didactic objects as toys, moving freely in an otherwise regulated space. Also, when Morphie leads Sandy to the forest I wanted to show how Sandy is engulfed by the surroundings which symbolizes Morphie’s power. When I want to show more subtle aspects of the story I like to draw details, like Sandy’s hands which represents her feelings and reactions.

3. Sandy’s story really struck a chord with me with and how much we encourage children to follow their dreams and interests. How much of your own story is she telling?

Sandy was created as a silent character in a short story I wrote before Nightlights. She actually resembles me during that age, with the ponytails and the oversized skirt. I also used to imagine that there were little bright dots in the darkness of my room at night, that I could catch them and give them any shape I wanted. For a long time I didn’t have close friends at school and I was found being by myself during recess.

In a way, Sandy has allowed me to acknowledge and appreciate the little girl I once was, with her flaws and complexities. It wasn’t until I started this project that I could see how the decisions I made being so little draw the path I would follow ever since. I have drawn since I can remember; I made the decision of being an artist when I was a kid. I like to think that determination is still in me, so as it is in Sandy.

4. ‘Breathtaking’ is probably a good word to describe some of your panels. How you go from the start of creating a page to the end, sharing a little about your method and materials?

Thank you! I start doodling and writing notes, trying to “catch” and give shape to the idea I have in mind. Then I take all that mess and put it in a layout, working the flow of the story until I’m happy with the plot. Finally I start to clean the images and work in the dialogues.

5. There are too many scenes for me choose from which I enjoy. Which picture is your favourite and how long did it take to put together? 

One of my favorite scenes is the one in the supply room, when Sandy and Morphie play together. It was very important for me to write it because I could define their relationship through that scene.

6. Can you give us a little sneak peak of your work-space and how a typical working day looks for you? (I know you’re extremely versatile and work in other mediums besides illustration – please do share)

This year has been kind of weird because I had so much to do, but I usually try to keep a routine. A typical day for me means to get up at 8am, feed my cats, water the plants, and check the online papers and the mail before getting to work. I like to take time and draw my sketches on paper before taking them to coloring in Photoshop. I dedicate two days a week to write. When it comes to exhibitions I like to paint with watercolors and acrylics, lately I’ve been also working with Ink and bleach. I make time to knit and sew, I haven’t been able to do it lately but i love to do plush toys. Now that I have a little more time I’m planning also to retake my guitar lessons and my swimming practice.

7. All readers will carry on interpretation of what or who Morphie is, but can I ask what Morphie means to you?

Morphie is a part of Sandy, that’s why she mirrors her in some panels and that’s why she won’t die or disappear. In a certain way Morphie represents the traps and insecurities you have to deal with when something you love to do becomes your job. I think it is a concern for many artists to lose their authenticity while dealing with the pressure of staying relevant and produce great things all the time to the pleasure and benefit of others.

Morphie is also that part of me that tells me to stop trying, that inner critic that we all have but sometimes grows so much that it consumes all your energy and makes you feel worthless.



8. Finally, can you tell us of any future projects?

I hope so! :) I’m writing a second book, so I’m again feeling this mix of happiness and fear again, I’m really excited about it. I’m also planning to paint more, to create a new line of plush toys, to work in some animation projects too.


Special thanks to Nobrow Press for letting us repost the interview, and to Matthew Tobin and Lorena Alvarez for the insightful questions and inspiring answers—respectively (this interview originally appeared here)!

If you aren't here in-person getting your book signed by Lorena, visit our store and pick up a copy or snag one online.


Featured Products: February '17


Turtle Enamel Pin - Jon Klassen              |              Melting Enamel Pin - Ben Zhu

Nucleus Enamel Pin - Gallery Nucleus            |            Hug Machine Enamel Pin - Scott C.

Little Funeral Enamel PinTeagan White

Pink Star Nasturtium Pin - Kevin Jay Stanton       |       Magenta Orchid Pin - Kevin Jay Stanton
Yellow Magnolia Pin - Kevin Jay Stanton       |       Blue Magnolia Pin - Kevin Jay Stanton

Saturday – May 6, 2017
12:00pm – 7:00pm
More Details

RSVP on Facebook



The Blister Exists - Little Thunder

A Greyhound A Groundhog - Chris Appelhans              |              Hug It Out! - Louis Thomas

100 Portraits - Louis Thomas           |           The World: Croix Point (Box Set) - Valentin Seiche

Painter - Nicholas Uribe                     |                     The World of Edena - Moebius

The Art of Tomorrow Kings - Ashley Wood              |              Le Petit Loup Rouge - Amélie Fléchais

Obsidian - Mais2                        |                        Sunday Girl - Glen Murakami



Morning Silkscreen - Nico Delort             |             Rites of Moth & Bloom - Teagan White

Little Funeral - Teagan White                 |                  Shadow Veil Corpse - Teagan White

There You Go, Poetry - Claire Hummel              |               Romance Academy 7 - Jisoo Kim

The Historian - Annie Stegg



The Many Motivations of MALL

May Ann Licudine has carved her story out of trees.

Quite literally, the artist from La Union, Philippines has hollowed out sections of tree wood for several of her pieces to be featured in this weekend’s solo exhibition:
Babu’s Daydream. We spoke with MALLas she is known in the art world—about the characters in her show, specific mediums she gravitates to, overcoming challenges and much more!

Nucleus: Hi MALL, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us.

MALL: No problem, thanks for sending me questions!

Nucleus: We’ve been excited to hear your answers! To begin, let’s talk about the title of your solo show: Babu's Daydream. Would you consider Babu your alter ego?

MALL: Yes, absolutely.

It’s an evident connection considering how whimsical you both appear to be. We noticed that Babu and Abu are recurring characters in many of your pieces—can you tell us a bit about their story?

MALL: They are my personal characters who explore mysterious forest places and dreams, discovering odd and weird creatures along the way... Just like the comics of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, but with a mostly forest-themed motif.

NUCLEUS: We sensed a sort of Winsor McCay-an vibe to those two. You seem to be big on forests! Is there something characteristically unique about creating art on tree wood that makes it a special canvas to work on?

MALL: For my wood art, the paint actually absorbs faster. My new pieces involve washi tape art on resin-covered wood!

NUCLEUS: From the looks of it, you’ve figured out a way to make all the different mediums work in harmony. Which is your favorite medium? Do you import your washi tapes from somewhere specific or shop locally for it, perhaps?

MALL: Oh, my favorite medium is pencil on paper because it's easier and more comfortable to use! Yes, I purchased washi tapes from different online shops like Rakuten Japan, Pinkoi and Etsy. Oh gosh, I’m not sure how many washi tapes I have, too many to count, haha...

NUCLEUS: Maybe your next show with us can be nothing but washi tape. Let’s switch gears for a bit: what’s the most challenging part of your art process?

MALL: Mmmm, the most challenging part of being an artist is to try and push the barriers, to come up with new and thrilling mediums to create something that will make a difference in people's lives... which will make them want to dream and connect to that piece. The whole purpose of art is to make people discuss what they saw and analyze it at all levels.

Also... Making sculptures. Sometimes I make mistakes during my art process, but at least I can fix them again!

NUCLEUS: We agree that art is about making a connection—about making people have a conversation about the art—and that this can be tough to do! Here’s another fastball: What's the most difficult thing you've ever done in your life?

MALL: Major depression, suicidal disorder and crazy health issues like this:

NUCLEUS: Looking at this illustration evokes so many emotions that we can’t imagine how it must’ve been to go through all of that. We’re so glad that you’re doing better now MALL!

There’s a common thread throughout the pieces in your exhibition and it’s that they all seem infused with personal energy, with a variety of emotions which are clearly motivated by your life. How have your health challenges affected or influenced your artwork? 

MALL: Well, my very first health challenge that influenced me would be my inborn hearing deficiency. Having a hard time interpreting the things around me, pictures, images and symbols helped me a lot since they are easier to understand compared to words. Art became my foundation, strength, and it destroyed communication barriers to my social life.

I suffered from my major depression / suicidal disorder again when I had serious health issues; I felt quite paranoid, hopeless and negative. My good friends visited me at the hospital and gave me a new sketchpad, pencil and colored pencils. So I tried to draw art during my recovery period, which made me focus on positivity, bravery, and motivation. It became my outlet for my inner thoughts and emotions.

And yeah, I surprisingly noticed that my style seemed improved; maybe because I was way too serious about focusing on art, haha.  

NUCLEUS: It’s probably safe to say that you wouldn’t be the same person you are today had you not gone through these trials and hardships. When all is said and done, maybe the only things we really need are good friends and a good sketchbook!

Switching gears yet again: we know that dreams, nightmares, nature and folk music are things that heavily inspire you… Are there specific examples which you’d like to share with us?

MALL: Sometimes I draw/paint my dreams and nightmares if I remember them—I then add my characters like Babu and Abu, creating a world for their adventures! As for inspirations, I am extremely inspired by one of my favorite “surrealistic” movies, Dreams by Akira Kurosawa. The scenes were beautiful and eerie.

NUCLEUS: That beauty and eeriness definitely translates into your work. Akira Kurosawa seems to be a point of fascination for several of us then... So many films (he directed around thirty), so little time!

Some of us here at the gallery are Filipino, one of the things that excites us about you as an artist is the fact that you’re vocal about your roots! Have you ever considered doing art that taps into your Filipino heritage or Philippine culture in general?

MALL: Wow, so happy to know that Filipinos work at Nucleus—say hi to them for me! :) Yes, in fact, I have worked on artworks / commissioned commercial work about the Philippine culture in the past... But as of this moment, no.

NUCLEUS: Last but certainly not least, what are you most proud of?

MALL: I’m really proud of myself. Even with all the hardships—physically, emotionally and mentally—I was able to endure and face them; none of this would have been possible without the help and support of my family, relatives, friends and my boyfriend, who never gave up on me.

NUCLEUS: We’re really proud of you too, MALL. Keep pushing boundaries and daring us to dream.


Nucleus Roundup: July '16 Reviews

Thalia and Kenneth break down the latest crop of new books available in the Nucleus shop! In the coming weeks we'll be reviewing our SDCC haul, so check back with us regularly for our take on this year's Comic-Con pickups... For now we've spotlighted artists Morghan Gill, Caleb Thomas, Niccolo Balce and Ellen Surrey—all of whose books can be found and purchased both online and in-store!


Let's start with Thalia's sketchbook reviews:


The first sketchbook by Laguna College of Art & Design graduate, Morghan Gill, is nothing short of whimsical fun and a tenderness to her adorable characters. An experienced artist in the animation and video game industry, these pages reveal her penciling process of red pencil underneath illustrations colored in by ink and copic markers.

Morghan’s attention to her characters’ quirky and playful expressions, strong gesture but soft curves show her potential in the animation industry. Her stylized drawings of badass girls, video game and fantasy characters show her ability to transform fan art into something much more original.

To check out more of her work go to


Star Stuff is a character development sketch book for Caleb’s personal project, The Annie-Mei Project. For those of you who are not familiar, Caleb started this project years ago with a goal to direct focus in his drawings and tell the story of a young schoolgirl heroine surrounded by friends and enemies. Although the story is not complete, the sketchbook reveals a great deal of character building through poses, gestures, expressions.

There’s so much detail in the different ways each character moves, expresses, and interacts with another that we pretty much get the gist of their world. Every character drawn has a unique way of shouting, kicking, and playing from one another. For example: we immediately can tell that Annie is a stubborn, confident, and fun girl. Plus, the world Caleb built has a fun Cowboy Bebop vibe to it. Can’t recommend the Annie-Mei books enough!

To check out more of Caleb Thomas’ work go to

For more Annie-Mei go to


Kenneth shares his opinion on two more
books to wrap up this week's roundup:


This is the first collection of illustrations by Niccolo Balce, who’s currently based in the Bay Area and has worked on everything from comic books to video games—including Lab Zero’s
Skullgirls (co-created by Nucleus mainstay Alex Ahad). Robotnicc 1 is a happy mixture of softly painted slice-of-life illustrations and fantasy scenarios, sometimes sneakily juxtaposed on two facing pages.

Color theory is strong in this one, even when Niccolo’s drawings are heavily stylized poster treatments that favor a simpler alternative to the detail-minded process. That’s not to say there’s a lack of detail; the book showcases an impressive series of compositions which convey a focused attention to structure through lighting/shadows, atmosphere and reflections.

There are some pages where it’s difficult to discern whether Niccolo is character designing or world building, and it’s perhaps the most interesting aspect about Robotnicc 1… It all just melds together and sooner or later it becomes apparent that—above all—he’s storytelling.

We’re looking forward to Robotnicc 2, but until then we’ll have to make do with!



Ellen Surrey and Gloria Fowler are somewhat of an Art Center Mid-Century Modern superteam. Having both graduated from the renowned Pasadena school, Ellen more recently than Gloria (who has 20 years of teaching there under her proverbial belt), the two found each other in what seems like the perfect pairing for this kind of collaborative endeavor.

For the past several weeks in July, Nucleus featured the original artwork of Ellen Surrey in our upstairs atrium for a solo exhibition that is literally straight out of this book. Every colorful piece which hung on our walls can be found between the book cloth covers of this gorgeous hardcover and since the show has since been archived, the next best thing to seeing Ellen’s art in person is flipping through the pages of Mid-Century Modern Women in the Visual Arts! Along with accompanying quotes from each featured creative personality, she treats us with vibrant two-page illustration spreads in her growingly identifiable art style.

As a bonus, editor Gloria Fowler concludes with a 1-paragraph bio for each influential woman at the very end of the book. This is a coffee table must-have for any household—even if your coffee table isn’t an Isamu Noguchi from Herman Miller.



OPEN CALL! Broken Age Exhibition


Gallery Nucleus Art Exhibition Submission Guidelines

On June 11, 2016, Double Fine Productions & Gallery Nucleus are teaming up to host a special art exhibition for the beautifully crafted adventure game Broken Age! To celebrate this momentous collaboration, Gallery Nucleus is taking an open-call for online submissions from fans who want to express their creativity & the chance to be featured in this exciting event!


Exhibition: Double Fine’s Broken Age Art Exhibition hosted by Gallery Nucleus

Dates: June 11- June 26, 2016

Opening Reception: June 11, 2016 from 7:00PM-10:00PM

Exhibition Venue: Gallery Nucleus, 210 East Main Street Alhambra, CA 91801

Business Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 12:00 PM - 8:00 PM , Closed Mondays (FREE Admission)


All submissions must comply with the following…

  • You are FREE to submit as many images you would like

  • Submissions are open to those who are at least 18 (eighteen) years of age

  • No use of any third party intellectual properties outside of Broken Age

  • Submissions must pay homage to the Broken Age title by Double Fine Productions

  • No business advertising

  • No crossovers or character mergers with outside properties or other Double Fine titles

  • Submissions must be ALL-AGES APPROPRIATE

    • No use of profanity, hate speech, or vulgar language

    • No use of explicit/overtly sexual language or imagery

    • No images or references to illegal drugs

  • All pieces must be created from the imagination of the contributor and must not infringe     on the intellectual property of any other individual or entity.

  • Mediums: 2D Artwork in either digital or traditional mediums preferred

  • Dimensions: Submissions must fall between 11x17” and 24x36” once framed

Feel free to interpret the Broken Age characters and world in your own style, but they should still remain recognizable!


Please do not send physical artwork to Gallery Nucleus until you have been contacted by email to participate in the exhibition. Submitted artwork must strictly adhere to the Submission Guidelines to be eligible.

Once accepted, all artwork submitted must be available for sale. All digital submissions will need to be printed out, signed, and framed prior to being received by Gallery Nucleus. Select submissions may be chosen as a Nucleus event exclusive print. Artists whose works are selected for Nucleus prints will be contacted by Nucleus directly with further details.


For consideration to be included in the Broken Age Art Exhibition by Double Fine and on display at Gallery Nucleus opening on June 11, 2016, please submit images via email in accordance to instructions above no later than Tuesday May 24, 2016 at MIDNIGHT 12:00AM (PST) to:


Selected artists/submissions will be notified by email no later than May 28, 2016 and will receive further instructions for participating in the Broken Age exhibition. High-resolution files will be requested upon notification, and an official gallery agreement will be sent to the artist by Gallery Nucleus.  All selected artwork must physically arrive at Gallery Nucleus by June 4, 2016.

Final selected submissions must be hand-signed, framed, and ready to hang. Artwork must be shipped securely with painter’s or other non-paint-stripping tape on the glass face (in case of breakage) and at least two layers of bubble wrap padding around the artwork. Artists are in charge of shipping their work to safely arrive undamaged at Gallery Nucleus by June 4, 2016.

IMPORTANT: Damages due to shipping will be the responsibility of the artist. In the case that the artwork does not sell, the artist will be responsible for the shipping cost to have the artwork returned.



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