Illustrator Interview – Luciana Navarro Powell

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It has been way too long since I did one of my illustrator interview and what better a distraction than to delve into the artistic life and work of a picture book creator during these “quarantine days.” I have had Luciana on my blog before, but when we checked back it was more years ago than we wanted to remember. I met her first in La Jolla when she was living in the most sort westerly tip of the US and since she has moved to the Pacific North West, another stunning location. So, welcome back Luciana.

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

[LNP] Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Joanna!

I’m from Brazil and moved to the United States in 2002. I have lived in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, and now I’m in Bellingham, WA. I think what influences my work the most is not necessarily the physical place I’m at, but what stage of my life I’m at and the visual influences I’m absorbing from culture at different moments. State of mind is key as well. In this moment, at the opening stages of the Coronavirus Pandemic when anxiety levels are so high, I’m finding a lot of comfort in painting with analog materials again. Although I have never completely abandoned analog techniques, I have been using them more often lately.

[JM] I am glad your art is bringing you comfort in these trying times. I know my writing is for me. When you receive a new manuscript to illustrate, what are the first things you do?

[LNP] It depends on the project, but usually it starts in my head, I marinate the story and visual ideas for a few days before putting pencil to paper. Visual research follows. Then I start rough sketching characters or places, then thumbnails. Thumbnails go to art director/editor, then the project really starts rolling from there!

 [JM] How has your art style evolved over the years? 

[LNP] It started really realistic in the beginning of my career right after college – I graduated as an Industrial Designer, by the way, so my first jobs were at design studios where I designed products and rendered them realistically. I started taking freelance jobs at the same time illustrating agricultural manuals. When I finally took the plunge into illustrating for children full-time, right before I moved to the US, my style had changed accordingly to more stylized and whimsical.  A permanent quest for me is trying to say more with less, I have a tendency towards showing a lot of details – but some projects call for that, too. The question of style is a big one for illustrators. I feel like it’s a moving target and we never really get there.

[JM] What artists or illustrators have most influenced you?

[LNP] That is always a difficult one! So, so many over the years, between fine artists and then illustrators. Instagram is now an endless source of influences, such a great way to find new artists. I can tell you a fun anecdote about my very first influence and how it played a part in my last book! I was obsessed by Edgard Degas ballerina series in my teen years. I remember the thrill of first seeing one of his bronze ballerinas at Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo in Brazil. In my last book I was finally able to illustrate a Degas-inspired scene in a kids book! I will show you the process. 

 [JM] Can you share a piece or two with us from Extraordinary Ordinary Ella, and the process of creating them? 

 [JM] When you create books for children, do you have the child reader in mind? Sendak used to say he made the books he wanted to make and told the stories he wanted to tell — and they just happened to appeal to children. Which is the case for you? Or is it a little bit of both?

[LNP] I do not disagree with Sendak and I have read similar testimonies from other artists. In my case, I work to make images that please my inner child. I still remember and cherish the things that used to fascinate me as a child as a way to preserve that universal connection. I feel that if I am able to satisfy the curiosity and sense of wonder – and wander – that I had as a kid, then a bridge to the children of today’s world is immediately built.

[JM] What does your workspace look like?  

[LNP] I love my workspace! I have a view of my neighborhood’s roof tops and it is very sunny in the morning, perfect natural light. It is also lovely to watch the snowflakes in winter – I wished it snowed more in the winter, though. I have a whole wall in my studio covered with art that I make when I go traveling or hiking with my family. I will show you.

studio wall

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

[LNP] Work acquired over the years in trips and some of my own old artwork too. I love to buy art from locals whenever I can. I will show you some of my latest, from my last trip to Brazil to visit my family. The bluish metal print is from a Argentinian/Brazilian artist called Caribe. The birds are by Rogerio Dias, from my home city of Curitiba, who I had the pleasure to meet in person in my last visit. The round piece is by local Bellingham artist Fish Boy.


[JM] I love all three of these pieces. What are your 2019/2020 titles?

[LNP] “A Tiny Brown Monkey on the Big Blue Earth” written by Tory Christie, “Extraordinary Ordinary Ella” written by Amber Hendricks, “A Little Round Panda on the Big Blue Earth” by Tory Christie, all by Amicus Ink. 

Five Fun Ones to Finish
[JM] What’s
your favorite destination in the Pacific Northwest?

[LNP] So many to choose from! Beautiful islands and pebble beaches; magical ancient fern-filled woods and snowy volcanoes, the Pacific Northwest has it all, and we have only scratched the surface! In the summer I love Orcas Island, part of the San Juan islands, I haven’t even been to all of them yet. In the winter, Mount Baker ski area, where they got the world record of snow fall a few years ago, something like 1,500 inches of snow in one season, a deep winter wonderland! In the fall, any hike at the North Cascades National Park will take your breath away, literally and metaphorically. I always bring my plein air painting kit to wherever I go.

[JM] What was your first paying job after high school? 

[LNP] I have never worked in anything other than the visual arts field. My first paying job was an internship at a Graphic Design studio straight out of High School – I went to a technical High School where I learned graphic design skills before computers where wide spread. We drafted layouts with pencil and ink, used compasses, learned lettering properties and other techniques that sound so outdated now, but it was a fabulous foundation.

 [JM Please recommend a local café/restaurant for when I visit you in Bellingham.

[LNP] I am so looking forward to that, Joanna! When you sent me this questionnaire we were not into Covid-19 Pandemic life yet. I feel for all the small business in my town and our community is trying to support them as best as we can. Here are some of the places in town which we love and I hope that will come back after this crisis.

– Bellingham Cider House, Leaf & Laddle, Just Poke, Boundary Bay Brewery, Pure Bliss Desserts.

[JM] Oh, I am so due a visit to Seattle. YUM. I love all your outdoor yoga poses. How long have you been doing yoga and what does it add to your life?

[LNP] Thank you! I have started in 2003 but have practiced infrequently after I had my kids. Whenever I see a gorgeous view in one of our outdoor adventures, though, I can’ help but literally strike a pose! Running and swimming I do almost daily, though, and the endorphins they provide are like a magic potion that calm the mind and boost creativity. Moving your body is essential to illustrators that spend so many hours sitting in less than ideal postures.

[JM] When you are creating art, do you like silence? Music? Listening to the radio?

[LNP] All of the above, depending on what stage of the project I’m in. At the very beginning of a book, when it’s very “creating-out-of-thin-air-heavy”,  as I call it, silence or classical music is what I listen to. When everything is better defined later on the process – characters, tone, color palettes, layout, flow, etc – then I can listen to any kind of music or podcasts.

[JM] Wishing you some wonderful creative moments as we weather out this pandemic in our homes. If you want to see more of Luciana’s work do follow her on Instagram @lucianaillustration  and check back on Friday for my review of Extraordinary Ordinary Ella + a giveaway.

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3 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Luciana Navarro Powell

  1. Wendy Wahman says:

    I so enjoyed this getaway with Luciana and following her work. I related to so many things she said, about how she works, exercise and nature.

  2. Joanna says:

    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for checking out the interview and I am glad it was a welcome interlude. You must recognize all these locations too!

  3. I believe many of us can identify with her thoughts about what influences Luciana the most is what stage of life she’s at — we all grow in different kinds of wisdom, as reflected through out the interview. Especially her thoughts about trying to show more with less in her art. Including her wall art and her outside yoga poses in nature. Enjoyed your interview with Luciana! Loved the artwork in Extraordinary Ordinary Ella. (I am on hold with PBs as I have a stack to work through, but this is a great giveaway.)

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