I recently interview Argentinian illustrator Valeria Docampo about her work in Tip Tap Pop - newly released from Marshall Cavendish. What seems like a simple story, written by Sarah Lynn, about a shared love of dance turns tender as a girl's grandfather's memory of everyone fades.
I loved Valeria's thoughtful answers, I hope you enjoy! Oh, and I'll choose one comment at random and give away my review copy of this beautiful book!
1. As an illustrator, I'm always curious about material choices. Would you share some of your specific tools (brushes, brand of paint, pencils, paper, etc.)?
Every project entails its own unique world of sensations. I believe that the challenge, as well as the fun, lies in finding the materials that are most helpful in portraying the emotional climate or atmosphere where the action takes place in each book. This is the part that calls for specific technical requirements.
For example, if I want to emphasize the light, I use oils to create limpid, transparent layers. If I don't have enough time for oil paint to dry, I use acrylics. For Tip Tap Pop, a story that deals very sensitively with a difficult topic, I chose gouache in order to create velvety textures and a sweet atmosphere. Gouache also allowed me to portray a sense of melancholy, whenever the story dealt with memory and the passage of time, or a dynamic atmosphere in the dancing scenes.
The only constant is that I always use Fabriano paper. As for the other materials, they change according to the nature and demands of the project.
2. How much planning went into the color palette for Tip Tap Pop? I appreciated how your vivid colors faded during Pop's loneliest moments on the porch. Was this intentional?
The text of Tip Tap Pop deals with memory and the passage of time. Grandpa POP is losing his memory of the past, a youthful time when he lit up the dance floors as a tap dancer, which he recounts to his granddaughter through dancing. To recreate this past in the present, I chose a palette of colors reminiscent of the American soda fountains of the 50's.
When POP begins to lose his memory, his inner silence adds yet another dimension to the story. To represent this transition, which culminates in the double page where POP is on the porch, I chose more realistic lighting and softer, more subdued colors. The light surrounding POP on the porch instills a sense of emptiness in the story, the silence that begins to take over the grandfather's mind and which is noted by all the other characters.
3. You use pattern and texture in such a smart and unique way. What (or who) are some of your inspirations?
The textures and patterns in my illustrations come about randomly, as the result of improvisation with various types of materials. In fact, this is the part of the creative process that I enjoy most of all.
To create the world of Tip Tap Top, where past and present are woven together, come unraveled and are then woven anew, I searched my memory to find the textures of the lace-edged clothing that I used for the grandmother and the diaphanous tutus that I used for the little girls who are just beginning to learn how to dance. I chose simple textures because my intention was to focus deeply on the facial expressions of the characters and on their interactions with each other.
4. Were there any particular challenges in illustrating this story?
One of the biggest challenges presented by this story was how to portray the internal changes in Grandpa POP, depending on whether he was losing or regaining his memory. This is why I included a character that isn't in the text: the dog.
The dog accompanies the characters throughout the story and establishes a relationship with the reader, highlighting what is taking place. For example, when Grandpa POP begins to regain his memory, the dog has one eye closed and the other one open, looking at POP's foot, which seems to recall a dance step. In the two-page illustration on the porch, the dog is asleep, just like POP's memory. Throughout the book, the dog intensifies the emotions and transitions in the story.
The character of the dog also serves as another way of approaching the story, perhaps a more innocent perspective on the difficult subject matter of the book, which would be easier for children to identify with.
Besides the symbolism, I also enjoyed representing the spiritual connection between the dog and the grandfather.
5. What is your early process like when illustrating a picture book? Do you spend a lot of time on character design or do you dive right into thumbnails?
The character that I spent the most time studying was Grandpa POP. I sketched more than thirty grandfathers. Some looked too serious, while others looked too old. POP is senile, but he is also a dancer, which means that he must be very dynamic. When I gave POP his unruly fringe of hair, he looked like a mad scientist, and I realized that I was onto something.
I then worked on the character of the dog. It needed to be a dog that wouldn't draw attention away from the other characters and one that was also capable of expressing feelings. The long ears that I chose allowed me to portray his emotions in a very entertaining way.
The little girl and the grandmother came about the very first day I read the story.
Once all of the characters had taken on a life of their own, the challenge was to unify their features, giving them some family resemblance.
6. What is your favorite spread in Tip Tap Pop? (Mine is her 6th Birthday. I love the shift from the 5th Birthday in so many details, including the sad doll in the box and the strong composition isolating Pop in the background. <see 2 pictures above>)
My favorite double page is the one with Grandpa Pop on the porch. As I mentioned earlier, when Pop begins to forget, silence becomes another dimension of the story, a sort of ambiguous, internal setting. When the past that lives on in our memories begins to fade, it leaves behind an indescribable sensation, a static emptiness while the world around us goes on about its business. I tried to represent this as the flight of a dragonfly on a sunny day, a sleeping dog and a pair of gazing eyes, lost somewhere in time.