Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 13, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Carlos Vélez Aguilera

Carlos Vélez Aguilera was born in Mexico City in 1980. For 12 years he has been a professional illustrator and dedicated full time to editorial illustration. He is a graduate of the National School of Plastic Arts of the National University Autonomous of Mexico. He takes different workshops and illustration seminars with teachers such as Javier Sáez, Kveta Pakovska, Adellci Galloni, Noemí Villamuza, Santiago Caruso, Andres Neves, Roberto Inoccenti, among others. He has illustrated books for various publishers in Mexico such as: Santillana, Ediciones Castillo, Norma, SM, Trillas, Richmond, Alfaguara, Porrua, among others. As well as a large number of magazines and animation projects.

He has illustrated more than 20 books for children’s literature as well as a book of author “Salón Destino”. He has been recognized with two illustration awards in the catalogue for the International Children’s and Youth Book Fair in Mexico.


The first thing I do is make small thumbnails while I read the text, I make many, then I make the thumbnails of the book itself.

Since I have them, then I look for references, which I divide into 3: some for inspiration, with compositions and styles that I like, others for specific things that I will have to draw (like binoculars, for example) and others for color palettes.

Since I gathered the references, I make the character designs and then I start to make the sketches, I do these with a pencil and markers at a larger size.  I send the sketches to the publisher to wait for their comments, then I make the adjustments.

When they have approved me, I start with the technique, which is to make black and white images with graphite, watercolor and ink, a very detailed drawing that is generally 20% larger than what will be printed.  then I scan everything and put it together on the computer and then put digital color.

I send an illustration for color approval and once approved I make all the illustrations, print and see them all together to see if anything can be improved. Afterwards there are almost always adjustments to make since the author, the art director and the editor reviewed it. in the end I make the cover and you keep them, all this while they are approving me, although sometimes they ask me.



How long have you been illustrating?

I have been working as an illustrator since 2010.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first job was in a design studio called “a corazón abierto” and there I made illustrations, then I worked in a publishing house in Mexico making didactic illustrations.

What made you decide to attend the National School of Plastic Arts of the National University Autonomous of Mexico?

When I was in high school I knew very well that I loved drawing and that I wanted to dedicate myself to something related to it, the Autonomous University of Mexico is the most important public university in Mexico, so I applied there and stayed, which made me very happy.

What type of things did you study there?

I studied Design with an orientation towards illustration, every semester I took drawing and representation techniques, in addition to the fact that I was also studying plastic arts, I went to engraving and painting workshops.

What classes were your favorite?

my favorites were always the drawing ones because the teachers were very good.

Did college help you find work before leaving school?

In reality, not much because at that time the links to work as an illustrator were very scarce, but because of an advertisement I saw at the university requesting assistants to illustrate children’s texts, it was where I got my first job in the design studio.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

After attending a seminar on children’s illustration in Oaxaca, where Antony Brown and Uri Shulevitz talked, I fell in love with the way they talked about children’s books, I also met very good Mexican illustrators who were doing incredible things, I began to really like the picture books, I was amazed to see the books of Chris Van Allsburg  for example or the illustrations by Felipe Dávalos in Mexico.

Do you still live inMexico?

Yes, that’s right, in Xochimilco.


What type of things did you do to get illustrating work when you finished school?

The first thing was to make a portfolio, then I began to gather my best works from the university and make other more specific ones, then I sent emails to Mexican publishers, because at that time there were no social networks, I also participated in illustration contests because although you won’t win, with luck you could appear in the catalogs and then the editors could call you from there.  Now it is easier to spread my work as an illustrator because with social networks it has become easier.  But before it was much more complicated.

Has Astound been represent your illustrating work? How did connect with them?

Yes, it is the best thing that has happened to me in recent years because that has allowed me to do illustrations for books outside my country.  I sent an email with a sample of my work and when they accepted me I couldn’t be happier.  Astound is a great agency and they have landed me wonderful jobs.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

I have been influenced by the things I like, many illustrators and also comics and painting.  I have been influenced by my context and the colors I see around me every day.  I like symbolist painting, illustrators like Shaun Tan, Rébecca Dautremer, Isol… among others.

Was El Puntito your first illustrated picture book?

Yes, it was my first book and all the profits went to the Guadalajara hospital for children with kidney failure, which made me very happy because as a child I lost a kidney and I know what it means to be sick and to be a child who does not understand a lot is going on.  “El puntito“ is one of my most beloved works.

How did you get that contract?

I was contacted directly by the author who is a musician from a famous band in Mexico called “the blind worm” and saw my blog.

I see Salón Destino mentioned in a number of places on the Internet. Did you win any awards for the book?

yes, he won an award to develop it, it’s a scholarship for young creators who give in Mexico, then he won an award to be able to publish it, it’s my first book as an author and illustrator and I love it because it talks about another of the things I love to do in the life that is dancing.

How did you get that contract?

I Directly contact a small publisher in Mexico and then win support to print it in Mexico.

Lina Catarina was published in May 2020. Had it been published in 2014?

I thought I saw some artwork for it dated before It was originally published in 2014, then in 2020 they made a reprint. It is a beautiful book about the relationship of a mother with her daughter and many ladybugs.

Is Sleeping with the light one a MIDDLE GRADE book?


Did you do any interior art for this book or just the cover?

I did 11 black and white illustrations, and I really liked them because the text was very good.

Three lines in a Circle has Carlos Vélez, but book say illustrated by Carlos Vélez Aguilera. Why is that?

Yes, it’s true, what an observer.  My last name on my mother’s side is Aguilera, and she complained that in all my books I don’t put the “Aguilera” so after she told me that I thought I’d include the Aguilera.

Amazon has a “look inside” link for The Thing in the Deep. The illustrations they showed are very nice. How many illustrations did you do for this phonic book?

6 illustrations, I liked them because they are scary.

How did Carolrhoda Books find you to illustrate We Belong?

It was from Astound, my agent Kate took care of it which I really appreciate.

A Billion Balloons of Questions is being published by Floris Books located in Scotland this September. Their offices are closed due to covid. Did this affect your normal process with illustrating the book or did the book pub date need to be changed due to Covid?

Actually not so much, but on the other hand while I was doing that book I got sick with COVID and it took me a long time to recover so it rather affected my process because I had a month when I couldn’t work.

How long did it take you to illustrate for Kind World Publishing?

About 3 months.

Are you finished illustrating Hanukkah in Little Havana coming out in October with Kar-Ben Publishing?

Yes, it is a book that I am very proud of.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Yes, the dot and another book called “butterfly wings”.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, a small room where I have my drawing table and my computer, many colorful objects and many comics.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Yes, for a children’s newspaper in Mexico called El Morbito and for other magazines like Chilango.

I know you are early in your career, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Being able to publish Salón Destino as well as how to be represented by Astound.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Graphite pencil and watercolor.

Has that changed over time?

It changed the fact that now I edit color more on the computer and I love doing that traditional mix with digital.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, I try to dedicate at least one day of the week, but the reality is that lately I have a lot of work and in my free time I prefer to read and rest.  But I always carry a notebook with me to write down ideas or notes.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Yes, always, I also make a list of music that brings me closer to the environment that I want to project..

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, very much thanks to that I was able to contact astound and also many jobs have come to me from people who have seen my work on the internet.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes I use a Wacom tablet.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes,  Photoshop

Do you have any career dreams you want to fulfill?

I would like to write my own books, I would like to make a graphic novel with the history of my family, I would like to paint and have an exhibition of huge paintings, I would like to travel to Japan for example and make a graphic journal of the trip.

What are you working on now?

I am illustrating two books: one called a cloud in a jar and another that is about the Day of the Dead offerings.

Do you have any suggestion for a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.?

I think that for watercolor paper is very important and it was something that took me a while to realize because I focused more on the brushes and the watercolor marks, but a good paper makes all the difference.

When it comes to graphite it is good to use a wide range from 4h to 8b and start with the b’s and work out the details with the h’s. I already order everything online because not much material arrives in Mexico, so I order many things online.

It is good to experiment, painting with coffee for example is something great, or tar, which are materials that one would think are not for painting, also making monotypes, in short, experimenting is always a lot of fun and it is good not to repeat yourself so much.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

I don’t feel authoritative yet to give success advice, but I’d say a lot of it is about finding a balance between being disciplined but not being too hard on yourself.  It is also a balance between repetition, discipline, and surprise, freedom; Appropriating a good technique but not getting used to it always trying to surprise oneself.

It’s good to be demanding with yourself, but you don’t have to question so much what our themes are, it doesn’t matter that you like to draw as long as you have the strength to continue doing it, don’t question it, don’t stop doing it, keep drawing and painting, perseverance is important, it’s a long-distance race, little by little a good one is becoming. It’s like dancing, you have to have a great technique based on repetition, but you have to love what you do and for that you need the joy of whoever is creating, feeling…

Carlos, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Carlos using the following links:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. Absolutely gorgeous 😍


  2. Such beautiful work and so interesting to hear about the process. I really loved this interview.


  3. Wow! Such color, movement, emotion, and detail! Lovely!


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