Luciana Navarro Powell – Illustrator Interview

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handsWhile I was visiting my author friend Marcie Colleen in San Diego this April, we popped into Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla to support Luciana who was signing books as the illustrator of WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE? by another friend, Miranda Paul. What a sweet moment to finally meet this FB friend whom I have been following for several years online. I am proud to say that Luciana is my second Brazilian interviewee! I am also very excited to say that we are the first to get a sneak peak of her latest project!!


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

[LNP] I’m an author/illustrator, but the author part is recent, I always start with the visual concept.


My Dad is the Best Playground

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

[LNP] I grew up in Brazil and moved to the US 14 years ago. I am not sure that any early influence is visible in my work today because my style has changed dramatically since I started. In the beginning of my career still in Brazil my media of choice was mostly watercolor, and environmental issues were a constant subject matter of my earlier work, so that combination created a visual style of its own. The photo shows an example of that phase. After I moved to the US I believe I was influenced a lot by the picture book landscape that I found here.


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

[LNP] Drawing was a favorite past time of my childhood. My father would bring stacks of printed sheets from work and I would draw on the back side – my parents say there wasn’t a stack of paper high enough for my drawing appetite. I graduated with a degree in Product Design and worked as a product and graphic designer for a few years, but I was always drawing and taking freelance illustration projects on the side from an editor I met in college. She edited a magazine focused on environmental issues to educate kids in the rural areas of the state I lived. That magazine has reached over 1 million kids over the years. When I moved to the US in 2002, I still worked for them long-distance for about a year, until I got a job as a designer/art-buyer/in-house illustrator at Pearson Education in the Chicago area. It was my first job in the US and it opened so many doors for me. I got to learn a lot about children’s publishing here and got to know the work of many wonderful authors and illustrators. I was part of a great team of designers who I still keep in touch with till this day, even though we have all spread to different places and jobs since then. When I moved to California in 2006 I started to work full-time as a freelancer again, illustrating all sort of publications for children, and eventually started writing.

3a 3b[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[LNP] I started my career using watercolor and acrylic paints, and eventually migrated to digital media. I’ve been feeling a pull back to watercolor lately, though. It is hard to give up the control you have working digitally – the ability to correct mistakes, change colors, cut and paste at will, mix textures… So what I do now is I paint stains, backgrounds, basic shapes in watercolor, then scan and re-work them digitally. This way I can retain the loose feel of the medium and at the same time still have the control tools at my disposal. I also have a completely different style, similar to a collage, that I do mostly to render animals. I will describe and show examples a little later in the interview.


“My Dad is the Best Playground” Random House



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

[LNP] It is not deliberate, but it seems like family is a recurrent theme in my latest work for picture books. And dinosaurs. I have illustrated 5 books on dinosaurs so far. I joke with my friends: “if you hear me all excited talking about a new dinosaur book I’m about to illustrate, please call an intervention”. Obviously it’s a joke – I can’t get enough of dinosaurs, if you are an editor reading this… I’m your person for that next dinosaur book. Interestingly enough, my sons were never into dino-fever. I also love to illustrate animals.


“Busy Little Dinosaurs” Capstone Young Readers

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

[LNP] This is a sneak peek at a series that is coming out for the educational market next year. It’s a style that I use to illustrate animals, that I call my “stuffed animal collage style”. I got special permission from the publisher to show this for the first time ever here in your blog Joanna! It’s a series of big books for pre-school by McGraw-Hill Education. There are 8 “Little Dog” stories that I illustrated, and the stories talk about different aspects of emotional intelligence and help kids to develop emotional skills through the different feelings that these dogs represent. I did an extensive character study and came up with these.

They were all created using pieces of felt and stuffed animals that I have. I cut and paste different parts of the stuffed animals, change colors, shapes, and construct these fluffy characters that look like you could touch them. Because they each represent a different emotion, the dogs facial expressions and body language were something I had to always keep in mind. Their hug-able appearance are also part of the appeal for the intended audience. My favorite story to illustrate was “I Can Control Myself” where – you guessed it – the dogs don’t get their way and throw tantrums left and right. So fun!


photos: character study, original textures, a few spreads for “Little Dog” series

[JM] I know you have done work for Nat Geo. I am a big fan and often review for them, so can you share with us an illustration or two you have done for them?

[LNP] It was a few years ago, a series of frogs to be chapter openers in one of their school textbooks. I could only retrieve this, but I think it’s interesting because it shows different color studies that we worked at until arriving at the final ones. It was fun for me to dig these up from memory lane!

Frog CRX.pdf

color studies for Nat Geo work book

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 


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

[LNP] A mix of art my husband and I acquired during trips over the years, our boys art, murals done by me, mementos from trips.

[JM] At what point in your process do you consider the endpaper design?

[LNP] It changes depending on the project. In “Whose Hands Are These?”, by Miranda Paul published by Millbrook/Lerner, it was the very last part of the final art process, after I had art for the whole book done. For the book I’m currently working on, called “Babies Come from Airports” by Erin Dealey published by Kane Miller 2017, endpaper will help me to tell the story – front matter tells what happens before the book starts, and end-matter will give us hints of the story after the curtains close – so I sketched them along with the rest of the story in the very first stages of the book.

10 9.02.40 AM

Five Fun Ones to Finish
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[LNP] Probably Joshua Tree National Park, specially in early spring when the desert flowers are blooming… I go camping many times a year with my family, and the landscape is so incredibly different and surreal for someone like me, who grew up in a tropical country. The colors change dramatically through out the day and throughout the seasons … sometimes I bring my watercolors with me to try to capture it.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[LNP] I don’t have any right now, but I grew up with Afghan Hounds, of all breeds – which is probably closer to a cat in personality than any other dog, not affectionate, aloof… after that we had a gorgeous and very affectionate Birman cat for many years, and he was lovely. So… cats!


Rhodes, afghan hound puppy, and I

[JM] OMgosh, that photo is adorable! Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[LNP] I’m terrified of earthquakes, and I remember vividly reading about “the big one” that was going to happen in California when I was in 5th grade… this was in the 80s. I remember thinking “well, good thing I will never live in California”. Ha! Never say never…

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[LNP] Hugger

[JM] Aww! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[LNP] Expresso! My morning joy, making a cup of latte and trying to create some latte art with the foam. It is very difficult, but sometimes I succeed, and get to make a “latte art for the day”. 

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6 Responses to Luciana Navarro Powell – Illustrator Interview

  1. I am blown away by Luciana’s versatility of artistic styles! It was fun reading about her background, both personal and professional. I look forward to seeing more of her books in the future!

    • Joanna says:

      This was a really comprehensive interview, wasn’t it, Teresa? Yes, what adaptability of style, a great asset for a book illustrator.

      • Luciana says:

        thank you so much Teresa and Joanna, this was a fun interview! I post news about projects in my FB page Luciana Illustration if you are interested. Have a great summer!

  2. I can’t believe I haven’t read Miranda and Luciana’s book. Luciana’s jumps off the pages. I love her “stuffed animal collage style”. So much talent. I look forward to reading her future books. Excellent interview, ladies.

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