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 nobrow.net!
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.
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 MALL—as 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.
NUCLEUS: 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.
What is nostalgia without a solution of the new to activate it?
Killian Eng's works are pop sci fi lost artifacts from the late 70s or early 80s. An artist who's work feels like it has existed for the last 30 years and is just now being discovered or re discovered and digitally remastered. It is a retro future, a yesterday's tomorrow of an era when cd's were making their debut. Its phsychadelic but so much more a sci fi trip than an acid one. He works primarily with lines and dots and whatever texture is suggested by a combination of the two. I love the flat colors, gradations and airbrush styles that are signatures of his work. Amongst a sharpened hyper age of HD everything I have become a sucker for the look of a VHS video.
His first book Object 5 and this new book Object 10 was adequately titled as the size and content have doubled since his first debut. What was once an indy pub soft cover 8.5 x 5.5 soft cover is now an 8.5 x 11 hardcover printed in better quality.
I am not sure how long the artist has worked in this style but Killian knows his medium well. There is a strong fashion and architectural sensibility present in the work. The perspective is often two or one point and often imperfect but it is what partly gives its charm.
One of my favorite activities is to try and guess at an artists' influences without any confirmation or evidence to back up my claims and upon close inspection of Killian's work...well,here goes: Nintendo game box art, Syd Mead, Moebius, Katushiro Otomo, dreams, German symbolist painters and kittens. Killian if you are reading this please confirm. The rest of you join in with your own guesses.
(Were a whole game or film were set in this world then sign me up. In the mean time I will stare at his alien utopias, and dream about past futures.)
(Not sure what this is but I it is an illustrated diagram of what it feels like to burp, sneeze and cry at the same time.)
(I had a dream like this once...I think you were in it. We made some sweet dark tunes. Weird....)
If you miss MTV's Liquid television, Laser discs, and the original DUNE you may want to pick this book up...with your power glove.