What is it like to illustrate fairy tales, children's stories and classics? We chatted with Catty Flores, illustrator of much-loved children's books and readers. Once you see her illustrations, you will always remember her powerful and mesmerising visual style. What does she think about the creative process? How does she deal with illustrating difficult subjects? Read this interview to peek into Catty's studio and get inspired by her work.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB) You have a distinctive and powerful style. How would you describe it? How did you develop it?
This is a very difficult question. I think it should be up to others to describe your artwork. It depends on the way they see it. A very good friend of mine (an art teacher) told me once that as an artist you spend a long time looking for your style then one day you find out that you can’t avoid it! I still have to “focus” quite a lot on trying to be consistent so I guess that day hasn’t arrived yet.
HRB: Could you tell us about your creative process?
My ‘process’ is very chaotic - by now you should know that, Maria. ;)
HRB: How do you read a story when you are creating illustrations for it? How much research do you do?
Sometimes it is easy and the images come straight to your mind then on to the paper. Other times I get stuck and the best thing (for me) is to leave that until the end (yes, to waiting for the inspiration who will magically come…) I do quite a lot of research at the beginning so I get into the story. It is great with classics like Little Red Riding Hood because there is so much online and on paper! My research is mainly visual, then I stop (unless I need to find something very specific) and I start the sketches.
HRB: How much creative freedom do you have?
This depends a lot on the client and the project. For picture books I like to have a little bit of guidance but I know by experience that if there is too much interference I don’t usually do a good job.
HRB: You illustrated The Sun is Broken, which is story of acceptance and loss for children. What was the biggest challenge illustrating it?
So far that has been my favourite project to work on and the one I feel most proud of. My main worry was to keep the magic and the surrealism in Andre’s story. I also wanted to create strong characters who were at the same time interesting and loveable. I wanted to avoid too much “cuteness”. The bottom line to focus on is how to visually explain the understanding of the sad things in life with the help of the imagination.
HRB: You have also worked on two famous classics. How can you remain true to the original style of the stories and still create illustrations for the contemporary readers?
I think that a good “casting” work from the editor helps for that. I mean that some stories are easier to fit onto your style and if you like them it comes naturally. Also, if they are classics it means that the story is good and that half of the job is done!
HRB: Can you tell us about your latest work, Little Red Riding Hood?
Catty: That has been a dream come true. It is such a wonderful story with the right amount of “grittiness” and scary touches. Of course if you go for a less mild version you can find even more interesting connotations. I started to draw the character of Little Red for fun around 10 years ago and since then it has been my main portfolio artwork item. Destiny!
HRB: Where do you find inspiration? Which artists inspire you?
Everywhere but these days mainly via online research. A fantastic Asian meal cooked by my partner, Paco de Lucia as background music and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc help inspiration too…
HRB: Is there a story you would really like to illustrate?
Dozens of them! I was a more eager and faster reader when I was younger than I am now (unfortunately) and I have great visual memories of Sir Walter Scott and R. L. Stevenson and their wonderful stories. An adapted version of “The Odyssey” for kids would be wonderful, the same for “One Thousand and One Nights”, ”The Chronicles of Narnia”. The list goes on…
HRB: How do you see the future of picture books?
I feel quite positive about it. To tell and to read illustrated stories is still fun an important. It doesn’t matter if it is told on sand, paper or a computer’s screen. However, the needs of writers and illustrators should be more balanced against the needs big publishers and big distributors…but that would be in and ideal world. ;)
HRB: Thank you for the interview!
Visit Catty's website: Catty Flores Illustration
Catty Flores has illustrated five Helbling Readers so far:
- The Sun is Broken by Andrés Pi Andreu (level c Helbling Young Reader)
- Beauty and the Beast retold by Richard Northcott (level e Helbling Young Reader)
- Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (level 2 Helbling Red Reader)
- The Garden Party and Sixpence by Katherine Mansfield (level 4 Helbling Blue Reader)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (level 5 Helbling Blue Reader)