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Illustrator Interview: Isabel Roxas

I. Am. Giddy. Filipino artist, designer, and illustrator Isabel Roxas is in the house, ladies and gentlemen! There aren't enough positive adjectives (charming, adorable, delightful. . .) or enough positive descriptions (they draw you in, they warm your heart, they tickle you, they make you happy. . .) for Isabel's children's book illustrations. Check out her website to see for yourself. =D

Isabel has very kindly answered questions about her work below!

What motivates you to illustrate children's books?

I really enjoy drawing raucous/goofy scenes, obscure animals, little kids playing under the moonlight—experiences that I lived through, or wish I did. I draw for MY own enjoyment, and fortunately for me, the pictures I like to create are suited to the task of creating a children’s book. I was a voracious reader growing up (and still am), so I am happy to have a hand in encouraging young people to have that wonderful experience of being deeply and fully engrossed in a story—that moment that Walter Benjamin eloquently describes as the reader getting “covered over and over by the snow of his reading.”

How would you describe your illustration style? What are your artistic influences and inspirations?

Whimsical, sometimes melancholy, oftentimes sunny, and mildly anarchic? I work like a sponge—I try to find inspiration in everything, though I do have a list of people I wish I could spend an afternoon with: Maira Kalman because she is so funny and thoughtful; Taro Gomi, Yoshitomo Nara, Shinzi Katoh, and many other anonymous Japanese artisans because their creations have a poetic, charming and quiet sensibility to them. Bruno Munari because I’m sure he would be wonderfully playful and inventive. Roald Dahl because he’d tell the most twisted fantasies and touching tales, and of course, Jim Henson because he was the first person to ever show me that learning could be so much fun and that monsters weren’t always terrifying.

Can you please guide us through your creative process?

Step 1 Read manuscript and evaluate how much I like it.

Step 2 Devise strategy for informing publisher that:
(a) I loved it (and try not to say, I love it so much I’d do it for free).
(b) Meh (must say nicely, but state definitively that no I will not do it, even if you ply me with food, shoes and art supplies).

Step 3 Create thumbnails and sketches of the characters for approval.

Step 4 Pray that there will be no major revisions.

Step 5
(a) If rejected: Rant about the injustice of life as an illustrator for several hours. Reorganize desk, and start over. Have a hot bowl of ramen to numb the pain.
(b) If approved: Reward myself with a delicious, generous serving of dessert, or an afternoon walk through galleries. Do a little jig.

Step 6 Work on final sketches.

Repeat Steps 4 & 5 here.

Step 7 Start coloring—either with watercolor, cut paper, computer or some combination of all 3.

Step 8 Ask for extension.

Step 9 Grovel for extension.

Step 10 Submit final art for approval.

Step 11 Bribe, threaten, bully, beg the art director not to ask for revisions.

Step 12 Lose battle, lick wounds, make revisions.

Step 13 Book goes to press, pray to color gods that the print manager is not color blind.

Step 14
(a) Be pleased with color proofs. Celebrate.
(b) Hate color proofs. Adjust colors. If still imperfect after several tweaks, put on dark glasses.

Step 15 Book launch.

Step 16 Rinse then repeat.

Hahahaha! Thank you for sharing that creative process, Isabel.

Dear readers, a little treat for you - Isabel's workspace:

(1) Supplies drawer
(2) Books on design, craft, illustration etc.
(3) Type Gauge and other nerdy rulers
(4) Fuel
(5) Sketchbook

(6) Cork board for inspiration/work-in-progress
(7) Paperwork: contracts, bills, receipts etc.
(8) Project files and research
(9) Books, books, books :)

Isabel, you have a Philippine National Children's Book Award for your illustrations in Araw sa Palengke [A Day at the Market] by May Tobias-Papa (Adarna House, 2008). What does winning the award mean to you?

It’s a tremendous honor, and it's nice to be in such good company. It’s also good that we now have a new way to promote books written and illustrated by Filipinos. There is still a lot to do. I’ve spoken to many book-loving and patriotic citizens who were surprised to know that Filipino children’s books even existed. If we don’t read our own stories, in our own language, and pass along these stories to young people, I feel like we lose something of our heritage. I hope this award catches the attention of people and leads them to support our burgeoning book industry as well as inspire other people to tell their own stories.

Alas, I also know some Filipinos who do not know that we have our own children's and young adult literature. =(

What did you like the most or find the most interesting about Araw sa Palengke?

I loved that the text was so concise but descriptive. It allowed me a lot of freedom. I was lucky because May Tobias-Papa (who wrote the book) is also an illustrator. She knows the kind of leeway that illustrators crave, and she was very generous in this book. I also loved that it was set at a palengke [market]. That place is a treasure trove for texture, color and interesting characters.

{Click on image to enlarge and enjoy a spread from Araw sa Palengke. Image provided by Adarna House. All rights reserved.}

Do you have any special or interesting market day stories from your own childhood?

Sorry, not really—I was a very fastidious child, so I didn’t enjoy going into the market because I didn’t want to get my sneakers all muddy. But I enjoyed riding the tricycle to get there. Also, after the market, we normally visited the panaderia [bakery], and I loved that because I got to eat fresh pan de sal [Filipino bread] and a handful of Jojo candy. Cherry flavored Jojos are the best. I wish they still made them. I’ve scoured Divisoria [a market district in Manila] in search of Jojo candy, and have sadly come up empty-handed.

Thank you so much, Isabel! It is an honor and a pleasure to interview you.

I shall search for Jojo candy. I love the cherry flavored ones, too!


  1. I'm such a big fan of her work! Thanks so much for this interview, Tarie. Araw sa Palengke is a favorite of my three year-old niece who lives in the States. She loves the scene with the palayok; it really showed her how much fun she could have with it. :)

  2. Wait, how come I didn't get to experience this "art director" bribery? :)

    Great interview, Tarie and Isabel!

  3. Chris, I also loved that scene. Made me want to buy a palayok and play with it!

    Jordan, from now on, refer all your illustrators to this interview and Isabel's creative process. ;o)


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