Creative Space: Frances Alvarez
Get to know the talented artist behind the beautiful illustrations in children's books. This week, we talk about ladies in jeepneys, illustrating for books, and more.
- Introductions first. Who are you, how old are you, and what do you do?
My name is Frances Alvarez, and I'm 28 years old. I'm a graphic designer and illustrator currently working with Studio Dialogo. When I'm not in the office, I am mostly drawing children's books.
- How did you get into art?
I don't think it was a conscious effort in the beginning. I was into all sorts of things growing up, and although I remember being very enamored with visual art at some point, I never really thought I'd actually end up doing what I'm doing now for a living.
Some people dream about being artists since they're young. But for me, some days I still get surprised that I'm in here now.
- Is illustrating for children's books something you've always wanted to do? Who are your favorite artists who illustrate children's books?
In high school I knew I wanted to join Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan, though I think that was mostly because I was a fan of the people there than anything else. I studied to become a designer but I also liked drawing very very much, and I think that was how I got into illustration. I liked the science of it all, using drawings as a way to say what I wanted and to tell stories. As for picture books, I do remember being so happy with books as a kid, and I can't say it's something I've always wanted to do, but I find it super exciting that I now get to be the one that makes the books for other children.
I like so many illustrators! But right now, some local favorites include Liza Flores, Abi Goy, Rommel Joson, Jamie Bauza, my friends from Speculiars, Aldy Aguirre, Sergio Bumatay III, Electrolychee, Aaron Asis, Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, Kora Albano, Isabel Roxas, and Robert Alejandro. Foreign ones include Lisbeth Zwerger, Beatrice Alemagna, Isabelle Arsenault, Maira Kalman, Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, the Provensens, Matt Forsythe, and Shaun Tan. They're excellent visual storytellers.
- You interned in Cornell for a Scientific Illustration program. How did you go about it and what did you do during your stay there?
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is currently helping produce multimedia materials for the Philippine Eagle Foundation, to be used for conservation education purposes. Their projects include filming a documentary on the Philippine Eagle, making field guides, and a revamp of the existing children's book the teachers in Davao have been using when they go to different communities and teach about the Philippine Eagle. Making that book in particular was my main project during the internship. The Lab helped revise the manuscript for the new book, and I made the illustrations. 14 spreads of big, watercolor paintings, whew. We're still wrapping up the whole project, but I'm excited to see the book finished.
It was overwhelming at first, but I enjoyed my stay there and I really learned a lot from my experience. It gave me a new perspective on how far illustration can go in terms of being more than just drawings on a page. When you're on the production side of things, sometimes it's easy to forget about how other people will be affected by what you make because you're so busy and focused on the tedious task of actually making the thing. The people I met during my stay at Cornell were very dedicated in using their time and skills for something so much bigger than themselves, like conservation. That's something I'll always remember and be inspired by.
- What's one of your favorite projects and what's the story behind it?
I enjoyed working on the book Can We Live Without Trees? (text by May Tobias-Papa, published by Adarna House) because I got to draw LOTS of plants, and other things that grow out of the ground. I especially like it because it was also a design project of sorts as it was a science reference book. I just really enjoy drawing plants and animals. I grew up and still live in the city, so I guess as a reaction I am very much drawn to nature because of the lack of it where I am now.
As for my personal side projects, my Ladies in Jeepneys drawings are really close to my heart, too. The whole thing just started as drawings in my sketchbook for the 100-day Project. It was part-diary, part-documentation of other people's fashion sense and the things we ladies do in such an uncomfortable setting. I spend too much time in traffic and I refuse to come out of the struggle empty-handed! Haha.
- What medium do you usually work with and do you have go-to stores where you stock up on supplies?
I like watercolor and gouache a lot, but I also like playing around with whatever I can get my hands on or whatever I feel like using. I make collages sometimes, and ink prints, embroidery. When I stay in new places I also try to take home a skill of some sort as a souvenir, so during my stay in New York, I learned woodburning and knitting. Recently, I got a set of water-soluble crayons and I love them so much. I mostly get my supplies from National Book Store, Deovir, and Art Whale. I draw really small so my materials last me a long time and I don't really buy new stocks often. When I am traveling and encounter interesting materials I've never seen before, I sometimes get a few tubes of paint or a couple of brushes to try out, too.
- Any dream project or collaboration you want to work on?
A few things I would love to make: an illustrated encyclopedia of Philippine flora and fauna, more books for non-profits especially those that deal with children, and maybe a couple more volumes of my Ladies in Jeepneys zine! My friends and I have also been wanting to produce a podcast for children's book art and illustration, so that's another project. Other than that, I'd love to find future work opportunities with people from other fields besides visual art and illustration.
- Who are the people you follow on Instagram for inspiration?
Some of my current favorites are Tiffany Bozic @t.bozic, @michelle_morin, @jill_bliss, @fayemoorhouse, @katiekatiescott, Yas Doctor @sarisariproj, and @juliarothman. I like how their posts are a good mix of both art and their real life inspirations from nature and culture. A couple of book illustration and design inspirations include @picturebooksblogger and McSweeney's @mcswys
Whose creative space do you want to invade next?