Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, baby girl, cat, and dog.
Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.
Here is Elisa discussing her process:
I hadn’t done much research at this point, but after looking into some Guatemalan weavings I didn’t think I would be able to do them justice in illustration form within the time constraints of the project. I had the idea to try a ‘collage’ style look for the character’s clothing, and use photos/scans of actual Guatemalan fabrics to do this. I came up with the following sample to pitch to Lee & Low:
I was thrilled when they decided to go with the idea and character design!! After doing some research into the Guatemalan clothing and weaving, I realized dressing these characters wasn’t going to be so simple. Each region has a very particular style of shirt (huipil) and skirts (corte) that they wear. After conferring with Lee & Low, the author, and her contacts from Mayan hands we settled on the idea that she was probably from Solola. The author, Linda Marshall described Ixchel as living “high in the mountains above Lake Atitlan” and this was a good fit.
After some more research into the Solola clothing I was able to order some fabric samples and source some scrapbook style online. Then I photographed and scanned them for the project. Here are some of the fabrics, and my little ‘helper’ was thrilled about helping me photograph them 😀 (The shirt in this original character design I found out later is of an embroidered style, that is a cheaper easier to make alternative to the historical and highly valued huipils, but are common throughout Guatemala. My editors liked it for the cover image.)
This is Ixchel in her almost final outfit for the book.
This is my sketch for the first spread.
And the finished spread.
How long have you been illustrating?
About 14 years!
What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
I think it was in high school, my graphic arts teacher commissioned me to paint a water color mermaid for her friend.
What made you choose to attend Savannah College of Art and Design?
I was excited about their 2-D animation program and fell in love with the city when I went to see it.
Why did you choose to study animation and comics there?
Animation, because of the love I had for animated movies and curiosity I had for the process behind it. I was always fascinated by of the behind the scenes concept art work, design, and exploration that went into animated films and amazed by how they made worlds and characters come to life. I ended up minoring in comics after taking intro to comics as an elective with James Sturm. I was so inspired by the class I decided to make it my minor, and James Sturm went on to found the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.
Do you think art school influenced your style?
Possibly some of the artist friends I’ve made in art school have. The classes probably influence my process more than style.
What type of job did you do right after you graduated?
I did some odd jobs, like cataloging books at the hospital’s medical library, but mainly I started working on an illustration portfolio and sending out samples. I also put some paintings up at a gallery and volunteered there, which soon led to a job illustrating covers for a local family magazine that came out with the newspaper.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
It’s probably something I’ve had in the back of my head since grade school. I’ve always adored picture books and had a love of stories and illustrations. I didn’t study it in college because I thought of it as something I could learn and explore on my own, vs animation which seemed much more complex to try and learn on my own.
Was SANTA GOES GREEN your first illustrated picture book?
Yes (unless you count the story I did in grade school.)
How did that opportunity come your way?
I sent them samples of my work, and the Art Director eventually contacted me!
When did you paint the Capital Area District Libraries Bookmobile? How did you get that project? Was it fun to do?
I did the illustration for Capital Area District Libraries (Lansing, MI) in 2016. I was approached for the project by their Associate Director of Public Service whom I had worked with indirectly for a Public Service Announcement years prior.
How did you get the job to the animation for the Public Service Announcement “Make a Splash? How long did you have to work on it?
I heard of the opportunity from film professor, Jeff Hamlin who had my sister as a student and knew of my animation work because of some animation titles and story boards I had worked on for my sister’s films. Together with him and two SCAD colleagues we put in a bid for the project and won it! I don’t remember how long exactly we had to work on it, but it was a tight deadline, probably just a few months from concept to final. We all had other full time work at the time as well.
Did the Sesame Street Podcast you product come after that?
Had they seen your work and call you or did you approach them? The Sesame Street Podcast came before. A Peruvian producer who worked with Sesame Street International saw my work online and wondered if I wouldn’t be interested in pitching some ideas. Those didn’t pan out, but Sesame Podcast liked my idea and I ended up adapting it for their Podcast.
Where you working on FAIRLY FAIRY TALES while you were doing the animations and bookmobile?
I believe I was working on Fairly Fairy Tales while I was working on the PSA animations, and I remember having to work in the living room during Christmas family gatherings to get the illustrations done! For the sequel, Maybe Mother Goose, I was a few months pregnant with my daughter, and the ladies at Aladdin were wonderful about working with my schedule. I completed all the sketches early before giving birth, and then took 3 months off and then I believe I completed the final colors about 3 months after.
You had four books come out in 2016. What type of time did you have from the publishers to get the book done? More than a year?
Luckily for me the jobs came in right after I was wrapping up the previous book. The picture books projects were about 9 months or so, the American Girl books less than 4 months for both, those are pretty whirlwind, but some of my favorites to work on.
We had a book giveaway on Writing and Illustrating for your latest Book RAINBOW WEAVER? How did Lee & Low discover your art? They made a great choice. The artwork is perfect for the book.
Thank you! I was contacted out of the blue by one of their editors that liked some of my Peruvian inspired illustrations she saw online.
Have you done any book covers?
Two for a book series called Micah Road Mysteries.
Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?
I love the idea of it and I’m trying to work on writing, but that is a struggle for me. I’m much more comfortable with the illustration side of things!
Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?
I actually do work with one author like this, and it’s lovely, but of the many times I’ve been approached to do this, it’s the only situation where it’s panned out. Book projects take time, lots of developmental work and many illustrations. So unless I get an offer that is comparable to my regular rates I can’t afford to take these sorts of projects on unless it were something I was really passionate about. In most cases I find it more valuable to try and develop my own projects when I have the time to spare.
Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?
Not yet! Some wordless comics a long time ago, yes.
Have you worked with educational publishers?
Yes! In my experience they have been fast paced but fun to work on. Unfortunately I don’t ever get to see the end results of these projects as with the magazines and children’s books.
Which children’s magazine do you think you have worked with the most?
That would probably be Shine Brightly who was one of my first clients ever and continue to this day. They’re wonderful!
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you?
Not at this time.
What types of things do you do to find illustration work?
I have a website and try to maintain an online presence, mainly through Instagram at the moment. I’ve sent postcards and mailers, as well as email mailers. I did have an agent for a few years as well which brought in the educational work.
Are you still looking for animation work?
Not actively, but I’d like to get back into it.
What is your favorite medium to use?
Digital is the medium I use the most, but I do love painting with acrylics and watercolors.
Has that changed over time?
Yes, I like trying new things, and I used to use more traditional mediums. It’s evolved into digital mostly because of the flexibility and ease of it.
Do you have a studio set up in your home?
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
That would probably be the computer first, followed closely by the Cintiq.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
As much as possible, now it’s more of a challenge with my 2 year old 😉
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
It depends on the project and how familiar I am with the material, so often I have had to do a fair amount of research. Many times publishers will provide some as well, which is nice. If I can’t seem to get a pose right in a sketch I have on some occasions had to pose for myself or find some other victim to pose for me in order to figure it out.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Yes, absolutely. The exposure it’s provided and it’s also been a very useful means for communication.
Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?
Photoshop for my digital work.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Yes, I began with a Wacom tablet and used that for many years, and in the last 4 years have had a Cintiq.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I am so happy with the variety and quality of projects I’ve been getting in the last few years, and if this continues in a consistent fashion, I will be thrilled. Another dream would be to get some work in toy development, I got a taste of it last year in a project I can’t share yet, and I’d love to develop some toy ideas of my own.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m wrapping up some educational easy reader illustrations for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I have some magazine illustrations to start on for Shine Brightly, and a book project to finish wrapping up for my self publishing client.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
A couple summers ago I picked up some Pentel Arts Aquash Water brushes and a Koi Water Color Field Sketch set, so it’s a perfect portable watercolor set up to keep in my purse with my watercolor sketch book, and I’ve loved having this with me to play around with on the go.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
Keep exploring your personal projects and finding those things that you are passionate and excited to work on and explore, and show your work. I think it’s key to exploring your own personal style and it’s amazing how these projects can end up bringing you the work projects that you will love the most. It’s advice I need to follow more myself 😉
Thank you Elisa for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Elisa’s work, you can visit her at her website: http://www.elisachavarri.com/
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Christine. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!