DPI MAGAZINE Interview | Taiwan 2010 | Poetry of South America Illustration
Valeria Docampo was born in 1976 in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she continues to live and work today.
After several years of studies at
the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (the National School of Fine Arts), she began looking into other artistic disciplines in order to enrich her knowledge.
She was accepted into the University of Buenos Aires, where she pursued her studies in Graphic Design. One of her elective courses, Literary Analysis,
aroused her latent interest in literature, as well as her love of books.
In the year 2000, together with her partner, she established her own graphic design studio, DocampoScalise, and began creating illustrations
for magazines and commercial packaging. During this same period, she developed a secondary passion for the cinema and embarked
on an autonomous course of study in cinematography. When she received her first commission to illustrate a children's book, she realized that
she had finally found what she had been looking for all along: a discipline that encompassed literature, visual arts, design and the cinema.
As of 2006, she has devoted herself exclusively to illustration, specializing in picture-books. Since that time, she has worked on projects for the US,
Latin America, Europe and other, more distant countries, which have fired her imagination.
She was privileged to be among the Select Argentine Illustrators who were chosen to exhibit their work at the 2008 International Book Fair in Bologna.
One of her most recent books, La Grande Fabrique de Mots, has earned international acclaim and has been translated into nine different languages,
including traditional Chinese. Today, she continues to experiment with various materials and media, seeking new forms of creative expression to enrich her books.
And she still dreams of being a film director one day.
Is there any particular period or style of art that has influenced you? How would you describe your creative style?
There are many! I have learned something from every period of art I have studied, but as I developed as an artist, I became increasingly interested in
the older schools of art, which combine complexity and realism, as opposed to the type of synthesis found in graphic design. During this quest, I discovered the
Flemish School. I believe that the artists of this period have exerted and continue to exert the greatest influence on my work as an illustrator.
It has never been my goal to achieve a definitive style. On the contrary, upon seeing my work, I would like the readers to find something new
and surprising each time. I believe that my illustrations have a somewhat classical appearance in their formal aspect, with an emphasis on light and shadow,
as well as strong attention to detail. Conceptually, my aim is to create a romantic universe where sentiments triumph over reason.
I like to immerse myself in the subject matter of my books and leave the reader clues suggesting alternative interpretations and value judgments.
What materials, tools and techniques did you use and why did you choose them? What is your usual creative process?
In some books, I use a single medium, such as oils, acrylics or gouache, while in others, I may employ a mixture of these.
It all depends on the look and
I am trying to achieve for each particular book. Oils help me impart a certain patina to the images. I don't especially care for acrylics, but I will use them
when there isn't sufficient time for oil paint to dry. I use gouache because of the vibrancy of the pigments and, as it is the only medium that is always active,
I also prefer to use it when I'm not completely clear on the direction the work will take. I devote a lot of time to technical experimentation during the sketching phase,
always searching for something new. I use brushes to superimpose fine layers of paint in order to gradually achieve volume, light and shadow.
I mount the paper on a board and always use a small easel. As for my creative process, my work method tends to be rather unscripted and intuitive. I read and reread
the manuscript many times over and then, I may begin drawing immediately or I may spend additional months researching, taking pictures and sketching.
I approach a book almost as if I was creating a short film and in this respect, I devote a good deal of time to editing. I want the images to interact with the text and I take
special care as to the rhythm and overall design of the book whenever the project allows me to do so.
We have found that a naive, poetic atmosphere imbues much of your work. Could you tell us a little bit about the aesthetic or philosophy behind it?
My main objective is to portray the poetry that exists in the invisible world: in silence or in contained emotions. I immerse myself in the feelings of the characters
to communicate how they perceive themselves and the world around them. This is why it is very important for me to give a lot of attention to the expressions on
their faces and the atmosphere of the scenes. I try to make the very air they breathe palpitate with sensation, as an added element. My greatest wish would be the ability
to see the world again through the ingenuous, wonder-filled eyes of the child I once was, which now in my adulthood is a distant memory. Perhaps the melancholy
that pervades my illustrations is a result of my desire to recapture that child-like perspective.
Please tell us about your books, La Grande Fabrique de Mots and The Lady of the Birds. The scenes and characters in them are gorgeous and the perspective is fantastic.
What imagery did you use?
La Grande Fabrique de Mots, (The Great Word Factory) is a wonderful tale by French author Agnès de Lestrade, what the belgian publisher Alice Jeunnese propose to me.
It recounts a love story that takes place in a country that reminds us of the society in which we live, where the gulf between the rich and the poor has become increasingly wide.
It uses language as a metaphor for these societal differences, because in this country, words are very scarce and costly. Phileas is a poor boy, who is in love with Cybelle
and wishes to tell her, "I love you!" but doesn't have enough money to buy those very expensive words. Therefore, he has to adapt three little words he found blowing in the spring
breeze and somehow use them to express what he feels. In the end, true love transcends the boundaries of language and wealth. I love this book! The Lady of the Birds,
although it isn't a published book, is one of those beloved off-and-on projects. I am certain that one day it will be a lovely book. I don't intentionally try to make my work
look glamorous. In the case of The Lady of the Birds, the imagery arises from the portraits of the Flemish School. The nature of this rather solemn style imparts a certain history
to the character before you read even a single word. On the other hand, in La Grande Fabrique de Mots, when the wealthy characters appear dressed in black with monocles and top hats,
this serves to accentuate the differences between them and the poor characters, who are dressed in simple, white clothing. The perspective is sometimes the result of rhythm,
while other times it is used to emphasize a concept, as is the case with the stairs in La Grande Fabrique de Mots, which are used as a metaphor for each character's social status,
calling on the reader to look at things from that character's point of view.
Could you share something with us about your books, When San Pedro Traveled by Train? What is the storie about?
Cuando San Pedro Viajó en Tren (When San Pedro Traveled by Train) is a tale filled with nostalgia, written by Liliana Bodoc, one of the most talented Argentine authors of our time.
It tells of a train ride that a young boy and his mother must take in order to move from San Pedro, their small, native village, to a big city. During the night, the boy walks through the
locomotive and observes how the other passengers sleep and dream until he comes across the guard, who tells him that sometimes the train is loaded down more than usual,
which makes it go more slowly. That is exactly what is happening on this night, for among the passengers there is one who is moving away from his home, taking "his whole village
with him in his suitcase." It's a book that speaks of being uprooted and of those little things that make a place feel like home from our childhood to the end of our days.
As an artist, have you been influenced by your own country, Argentina? Could you tell us about the creative environment or art phenomenon there, as they relate to illustration?
It is difficult to live in Argentina without being influenced by it in some way. It is a country with a very intense and, most of all, passionate culture,
which makes it extremely enriching for an artist.
Argentina has always had an effervescent artistic culture and has produced excellent artists in every discipline. Personally, I have been influenced by writers, such as Julio Cortazar and
Ernesto Sabato, as well as by film directors, such as Lucrecia Martel and Pablo Trapero. As for the creative environment in the field of illustration, Argentina boasts a large community of professionals,
who work all over the world. In recent years, children's illustrations have gained increasing recognition due to their quality and stylistic range. This has been borne out by the recent inclusion of
Argentina as an Honored Guest Country in the 2008 International Book Fair in Bologna.
Which of your projects is your favorite or the most special to you and why?
The projects that are most special to me are those that present the
greatest technical or conceptual challenges. This usually happens in the case of manuscripts
that I don't completely understand on the first reading. They are texts that are open to reinterpretation, where the work of the illustrator is really that of a coauthor.
This is true, for example, in the books that I mentioned previously. I also thoroughly enjoy the breaks between one book and the next, when I can work on illustrations
without a specific commission. I have several series of illustrations done in gouache that are very dear to me. During these periods, I generally focus on portraits
where I try to work in a small format with a limited color palette. It's fun for me!
Could you tell us about your creative plans for the future?
At the moment, I am working on books that will be published in 2011: an adventure book for the UK, another one for the US, which will be very entertaining,
another poetic book by Agnès de Lestrade, which I predict will be my favorite. I enjoy working on several diverse projects at the same time. I have also begun to work
with several authors whom I really admire, as the result of an idea that sparked our mutual interest. This is very new and stimulating for me, as it entails creating a
book from scratch. I hope that these little ideas will soon be turned into beautiful books.
. DPI MAGAZINE 2010