Our local Angelino and SCBWI member Carl Angel is the illustrator of the beautiful new picture book, The Girl Who Saved Yesterday. In this book, Angel takes on the daunting task of illustrating Julius Lester’s poetic lines in a book that straddles myth, magic realism, and folklore.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! Please tell us a little bit about how you illustrated trees that talk, lights that felt “as thin as a raindrop,” and stones of the ancestors which “glow a pink as gentle and soft as a first kiss.”
CARL ANGEL: The poetic nature of Julius’s words resonates on both an emotional and literal level, and in such a way where both are equally appealing as imagery. As an illustrator, I chose to address, primarily through color and composition, the aspect on which to best focus for the image. The text is rich enough that some of the words, I felt, were beyond illustrating and were best left in the reader’s imagination, which only added to the depth of the book. The way Julius connected those two dimensions so delicately with such great lyricism was so inspiring that I wanted to share that with the reader visually.
CVZ: What helped you visualize the protagonist, a young girl named Silence?
CA: I actually started first with the world that the text inspired, rather than the character. Afterward, I would explore any real-world cultural references that stylistically connected to those initial visuals, redesign them for the story and this world, and eventually Silence was birthed from that.
CA: Typically, I start out with thumbnail sketches, rough sketches next, final sketches, and then transfer the sketches onto watercolor paper and begin the final pieces, usually 10-20% larger than the print size. I primarily work with acrylic paints, and color pencil. Between each sketch stage, the editor, the art director, and I discuss the images and whether they serve the text properly.
CVZ: Do you have a favorite image?
CA: It’s a toss-up between the second spread of Silence being carried by one of the trees or the one with her marching up the hill with the scythe in her hand.
CVZ: How did this project differ from the previous seven children’s picture books that you have illustrated?
CA: It was the most challenging, because the choice of imagery, from concept to composition, had to be considered much more carefully to balance the poetic nature of Julius Lester’s writing, more so than any previous book I had been involved in.
CVZ: What’s next for you as an illustrator?
CA: Trying to spread awareness of this book as widely as possible, through any venue that would be willing to have me! Besides my own humble involvement, it’s been a while since the world has had a picture book written by Julius Lester, and its themes of remembrance and respect for our ancestors couldn’t be more needed today. As for other projects, I’m currently working with Children’s Book Press doing art direction and book design on Family Poems, written by the late Francisco Alarcon and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, and developing some ideas based on Filipino-American history for a manuscript which I intend to turn into a picture book.
Carl Angel is a visual artist who enjoys creating and participating in narrative and storytelling in various forms—be it commercial illustration, children’s books, or book design. He grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii before attending California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University. Angel is the illustrator of numerous books, including Lakas and the Manilatown Fish, Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee, and, most recently, The Girl Who Saved Yesterday. He is also the art director and designer of many books from Children’s Book Press. His art is included in the anthologies Honoring Our Ancestors and On Our Block. He lives with his wife and son in Burbank, California. ttp://www.carlangel.com/