Interview and Photos Written and Compiled by Jasmin Thankachen
Illustrator, Melissa Castrillon has drawn for many children's books throughout her career. Based out of Cambridge, England, Melissa earned her MA in Illustration and then took on many different projects in interior design, packaging, and the creation of book covers for young adult and children's picture books. Her most recent endeavor includes writing and drawing her very own children's book, "Mighty Min," out in 2019. PopUp StoryWalk has featured Melissa's inspiring and magical artistry in "Yellow Kayak," introducing children to her captivating pictures, colors, and creative design. Learn more about this extraordinary illustrator/author in our PopUp StoryWalk interview. For more information about Melissa's upcoming books visit her website: http://www.melissacastrillon.co.uk/
1) Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an English-Colombian illustrator from the UK. I’m currently a full time freelancer and working mainly in publishing, illustrating picture books, YA books and book covers for all ages. I’m lucky to live in the beautiful city of Cambridge, where there is a big illustrator community and it’s definitely a city which loves books and is very supportive of anyone who makes them.
I’ve just finished writing my first picture book as well as illustrating it, it’s called ‘Mighty Min’ and comes out next May-2019. Watch this space ;)
2) How did you come up with the illustrations for “Yellow Kayak”? What medium did you use and what does the process look like?
I’ve been so lucky to work with Simon & Schuster on two Nina Laden books, and I think Yellow Kayak is possibly my favorite of the two from a visual stand point. It was a really fun process and a lot quicker than the first.
First I spend some time playing around with the main visual elements of each stanza and then I play around with the composition, trying to find fun ways for designing the visuals around the text or vice versa. Then I play around with the color and split each image up into 5 color layers and play around with that.
The final artwork is drawn up in 5 separate layers on 5 separate pieces of paper. I then scan those in and digitally color and layer them using photoshop.
3) When you are asked to illustrate a book, do you take the opportunity immediately or is there something that you must “feel” about the book?
I definitely have to like the text I'm illustrating, and feel like there is enough inspiration there for me to develop the illustrations. Nina’s writing is full to the brim with wonderful lyrical imagery to work from, I think that’s why I find it so enjoyable to illustrate her stories.
4) Nina Laden had told us that the giraffe in the book was a part of your illustration, why did you choose a giraffe to travel with the child on the adventure?
It was actually Lizzy Bromley’s idea, she's my wonderful Art director at Simon & Schuster. It was originally going to be a dog companion but she planted the idea-seed. At first I thought that a giraffe was a weird choice and wouldn't work, but I trust Lizzy and she's always right - so far ;)
5) I've read that you will be coming out with two new books in 2019 that you have written and illustrated. How did these two books come to you? Did you do the illustrations first? What was your inspiration?
Yeah, that’s really exciting! and new territory for me. The first is with UK publisher Scholastic. It’s called ‘Mighty Min’ about a miniature girl and her 4 mighty aunts who live at the bottom of the garden. So expect lots of tall plants, big animals and small people and a mighty big adventure. I drew inspiration from an english children's book I loved when I was young called ‘The Burrowers’ about a tiny family who lived under the floor boards. I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of hidden worlds.
The second is a wordless picture book with Simon & Schuster- working with Paula Wiseman books and my wonderful art director Lizzy whom I’ve worked with on both Nina Laden books.
This book will be called ‘The Balcony’ and is a tale about a girl finding her self in a new strange home & city and her journey to make it her own. I was influenced by all the wonderful verdant balconies in Berlin when visiting my friend a couple of years ago. And how people try and make a space their own no matter how small that space may be.
6) What motivates and excites you to write and illustrate children's books?
I’m first and foremost a visual person, so I'm always trying to find new ways of drawing plants, people, buildings, finding new colour palettes, new patterns, new textures and that comes from everywhere really, my day to day observations. My love to nature is definitely something which comes out most in my work and I think there is so much in nature to draw from which can captivate children imaginations.
7) Describe the moment you knew that you wanted to be an illustrator.
I was 6 years old and in my second year of primary school. I’d always loved drawing and it was something I’d noticed I was particularly good at compared to my class mates but in my mind it was a children's activity and when you were an adult you did ‘adult things’ & ‘adult jobs’- not drawing. And one week in that school year an illustrator named James Mathew came to do a workshop with us, all week. And in that week I realized you could be an adult and draw for a living so that is when I decided to be an illustrator.
20 years later James Mathew was a visiting lecturer on my Masters degree in Children's Book illustration. I told him this story, it made him feel very old!
8) What has been your favorite collaboration and why?
Definitely the collaborative and supportive relationship I have with my Art director Lizzy Bromley at Simon & Schuster. I can always count on her, she's full of bright wonderful ideas.
9) Who are your top three influencers, literary, artist, or otherwise? What is the last book you read or loved the illustrations from?
The last book I read and also loved the illustrations from was a book called ‘The Explorer’ by the amazing Katherine Rundell. She's a phenomenal writer and story teller and always makes me weep. The book also had gorgeous illustrations by Hannah Horn.
Top three influencers…. three illustrators that I love are, Beatrice Alemanga, Valario Vidali & Moomins creator Tove Johansen- who as well as illustrating, she's a comic book artist and writer- she a big hero of mine.
10) We are intrigued by your use of vivid colors and use of movement. What draws you to this type of art and what other techniques do you use?
I’ve always loved color and a good day is made better when I find a new color palette to play with. Screen printing has influenced my use of bold color, the act of layer color upon color has definitely informed my process and how I build an image up using color layers.
11) What is the best career advice you have ever been given? Please share some tips for aspiring authors and illustrators.
Don’t try and draw or make art like anyone else. Always be yourself and draw influence not from other artists but from the world around you.
12) What is your favorite outdoor memory? How have you let the outdoors inspire your work, your life?
My favourite outdoor memory recently is probably travelling around the caribbean coast of Colombia, through jungle and small coastal villages with lots of bugs and falling asleep to the loud chorus of frogs.
The outdoors and nature is always informing my work, through colour & organic form which I love to play with and create my own natural world.
13) Many children will be walking the PopUp StoryWalk trail to read and see your beautiful illustrations from Yellow Kayak and will be inspired by your work. What would you like to tell them?
Always be curious! Always ask questions and always look at the small worlds under your feet and the one above your head. There the places that are most overlooked and often the most interesting. Also see how many colours and textures you can spot in the nature around you, there’s so much to see if your open to finding it.