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Studio Views: My Next Medium

sv_morales_arsuppliesverticalWhen I was growing up in Mexico, pencil, eraser, and paper were my media — and my favorite technique was copying. Copying gave me guidance, and the results from moving the pencil across the paper constantly amazed me. The more lines I drew, the more things appeared in front of my eyes. It was like magic!

Years later, as an adult — and after I had emigrated to the USA — when I decided that I wanted to be an illustrator, I realized that I was going to have to do more than just drawing. I would have to learn to paint. What medium to choose? Everything was new to me. My father-in-law took me to an art store, and with hand signals and his English that I barely understood, he offered me my choice of art supplies. I took home a set of crayons that turned into watercolor after adding water to the paper. Magic again!

Some time later, this time using my own money, I bought my first set of paints and brushes. I chose acrylics. My technique hadn’t changed; I copied from picture books I liked, trying to emulate the painting styles of the illustrators I most admired. Acrylics were exciting! I found out that, depending how I used them, they could be made transparent like watercolors, thick like oils, and even soft like pastels. I also discovered that they could be forgiving when I made mistakes. All I needed was to have faith that if I kept adding layers of paint, a soft stroke there, a furious scrubbing here, I could actually transform my hopeless mess of plastic paint into a real image. And inevitably it happened! Ah, how I love magical moments.

But acrylics and their challenges were also just the beginning. There were so many media I hadn’t explored. Every art medium was a mystery for me: paper cutouts, handmade stamps, sculpting, photography, digital art, you name it. My experience as an artist — still so new — made everything surprising.

So, after having tried my hand at anything that finds its way to my studio, what is my favorite medium? It is always the one I have currently on my table, and which I am about to attempt for the first time. My favorite medium is the one I know nothing about yet, and that at first glance seems crazy, crazy to me. If I find myself saying, “Oh, I would never use that, I don’t even know how to work with such a thing,” I know that is my cue! There is my next medium. Why not? My favorite medium is the one I am about to try, inevitably fail at, anguish over, and eventually marvel with.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

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