Illustrator Interview – Yuyi Morales

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Yuyi - library hat

Yuyi – library hat

In keeping with my blog’s strong support of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, for a while I have wanted to interview illustrator Yuyi Morales. I think from the words and photos YuYi shares today, you will see the important stories and influences she brings to picture books.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures? 

[YM] Simple answer: words. Complicated answer: the lines are blurry. Ideas, concepts are the first step; in there words and pictures blend.

[JM] Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

[YM] I was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. The influence in my work is monumental. Like dreams, books are the result of the forces of our past along with the impact of the present (plus the stirring of an emotion). My books are an amalgam of the influence of where I come from and my life as an immigrant.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[YM] I felt in love with picture books at the public library when I was a new mother recently immigrated to the USA. I very much wanted to create my own books just like those. I wrote stories in Spanish and made drawings that then I bind together and I had my own books. I loved the process so much that I began wanting to learn how to do it better–and in English. So, I began taken evening classes, and practiced painting on the dinner table at home. I also formed a critic group that was (and still is) essential to my journey. Under their insistence I joined the SCBWI and that year I won the Don Freeman Grant for my dummy and a couple of illustrations for a book project I had titled Waiting for Grandma Beetle. This book eventually would become my second book published under the title of Just A Minute. That summer, feeling encouraged by my winning of the grant, I sent my portfolio with friends that were attending the SCBWI National conference in LA, and there an editor saw my work. She eventually called me to illustrate my first book, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. I would say that was the start of my learning how to create my books. It took me about 4 years to get that beginning.



by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[YM] I mostly work painting with Acrylic, but I am very experimental. I get excited about using anything to create, from the old lumber reclaimed from my yard to the great computer programs.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[YM] Celebration is my most recurrent theme. I tend to want to celebrate everything from birthdays to that what makes me feel scared, those things both I feared and was very curious about.

[JM]  How important have crit partners or groups been to you in your career?

[YM] I met the original members of my critic group in 1997, at the first class I ever took when trying to learn the mysteries of writing picture books. We were all dreamers pursuing the idea that we could get our stories published some day. Ever since we decided to work together we have gotten every one of us published (we are six), and our creative and productive bonds are undeniable.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[YM] Here are a few images from studies for my next book, written by Sherman Alexi. I usually don’t reveal much of what I am still working on, mostly because in a process there are many changes yet to happen, and it still feels like work is fragile. Often showing work that has not yet been finished makes me fell like I am showing myself in my underwear! It is much easier for me to show things once the book is finished. But for now here are just a few samples.

I start making very rough and simple thumbnails. I mostly work on composition and on sharing action and attitude even just with stick people. No details here until the whole book has been laid out in this way.

IMG_9597-2 IMG_9691 IMG_9699


                                                                                                                                              [JM] Do you have any marketing tips for illustrators maybe with their first book coming out?

[YM] Marketing tips…have a Pinterest page where people can follow the progress of your book, where visually you can give a glimpse of your creations. Give: give insight, give tools for people to use your book in classrooms, give ways to give your book to others…However, marketing is a mystery to me, not really something that I put much though on. I like creating, and I create many things that surround and support my books. Sometimes those things help create connections between the readers and my books.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[YM] My studio–so far. This week I have been movie to my new working space I built in the back of my garden where I will be doing all of my painting and all kinds of messy jobs.




[JM]  What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 


Artwork by my brother-in-law Cuatemoc Rodriguez, a clay heart from Chiapas, A ceramic doll I made with an air plant as headdress, a pencil drawing I made, A drawing of me by Octavio Valadez, and bones my friend Odilon finds by where he lives.


Books and toys


My walking sticks, a huge hat, and a morralito


A painting my agent, Charlotte Sheedy bought me at the street art market in Mexico City, and a ratablo thanking the Virgen of Guadalupe for saving a mother and her daughter form a nahual


A cross-stitched painting I made


A painting based in a Gabriel Marquez’s short story (painted by O. Valadez)


A painting by David Diaz


the little devil is papier mache and the masks are wood



A drawing and a small weaving

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                              [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[YM] The Zocalo, in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. When I was single I used to bring my horn lizard pet there to eat ants by the benches. Later, this is where I would bring my newborn son, early in the morning before the heat became too unbearable, and late at night to see from there his dad play music in the cafes.

[JM] Oh, my, I need to make a trip to Veracruz! Cats or dogs?

[YM] Dogs.





[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[YM] When I was a teenager I was a swimmer. Once my teammates and I, including my two younger sisters, swam across the Catemaco lagoon, a place believed to be full of spells, witches, and magic.

[JM] Wild one! One word to describe yourself?

[YM] Passionate.

Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[YM] Yogurt with pineapple.                                                                                                               

[JM] Yuyi thank you so much for taking time to answer these questions. The way you have decorated your beautiful house and studio tell the best story, in my opinion. Wonderful. To your continued success!

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12 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Yuyi Morales

  1. Great interview, Joanna and Yuyi. Love your work. It is thrilling to read your story and your process. Those critique bonds are beautiful, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing Yuyi with us, Joanna.

  2. Great to read about Yuyi Morales on your blog. Her books are like her: full of passion. Thanks for this interview.

  3. Catherine says:

    Great interview, Joanna. I love richness of color on Yuyi’s illustrations and the faces are incredible. I’m pretty sure I’ve read books with Yuyi’s illos in before. Great to hear more about you.

  4. I first became familiar with Yuyi’s work in Mira Reisberg’s class and have been charmed and intrigued by her art and writing since. Thank you for a glimpse into Yuyi’s amazing life and spaces!

  5. Yuyi’a illustrations are so rich and beautiful. She has a unique way of creating facial expressions that I really like — they convey a silent power. With her cultural background and multitude of ideas, I expect to see more books she has authored and illustrated. Chuckled over her comment about sharing her unfinished work was like showing her underwear. Great interview ladies.

  6. Sylvia Liu says:

    What a great interview. Yuyi, I love your books and am quite inspired by your story.

  7. Another great interview! Love this series, Joanna.

  8. I love Yuyi’s space – it says as much about her need for dancing light as the room’s need for her breath! Thanks for the interview, Joanna and Yuyi!

  9. the pictures are wonderful and the insights are fresh. I really loved hearing her journey AND she has a painting by one of my favorite people! Thank you Joanna!

  10. rhythm says:

    What a magical creature Ms Morales is! Thanks for sharing her story!

  11. I always enjoy these interviews, Joanna.
    Your work is beautiful Yuyi, and I love that your recurring theme is celebration!

  12. Pingback: Just a Minute Written and Illustrated by: Yuyi Morales | The Fundamental Fun in Reading

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