Behind the Book: THE VAST WONDER OF THE WORLD, Illustrated by Luisa Uribe
last updated 06 December 2018
Bright artist Luisa Uribe is at the beginning of her career, but it’s safe to say that she is already making quite a mark. Her illustrations for The Vast Wonder of the World, a picture book biography of biologist Ernest Everett Just, won the Dilys Evans Founders Award at the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art show 2018. Named after The Original Art founder, this prestigious award celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration and is selected by a jury of established luminaries in the world of children’s publishing.
Luisa receiving her award for The Vast Wonder of the World, left.
As the end of 2018 draws near, we thought it would be a good time to catch up and talk with Luisa about the whirlwind year that she has had, and her process for creating the illustrations for this gorgeous book.
What was your path to becoming a children’s book illustrator? Were you interested in illustration from an early age?
I was always interested in drawing; I would not pay attention in class and would either read or draw if I could get away with it. Illustration was not something that I knew people could do for a living. I only learned this when I started studying Graphic Design in college, which was definitely not what I wanted to do.
Ernest Everett Just, the subject of the book, was a pioneering African-American biologist who faced prejudice in the academic community throughout his life. To this day, he is not a household name despite his significant contributions to science. What are your thoughts on the role of books like The Vast Wonder of the World in teaching children about historical figures that may be overlooked?
I think they’re perfect for first introductions! They are able to open a door, instill curiosity, and add diversity so that children have access to role models and figures they can look up to that look more like themselves.
You very much delved into the process of researching Just, who led a fascinating life. Can you tell us a bit more about what that process was like?
Before I started working on the book, Carol Hinz recommended I read Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just, and it was an amazing book! I read it in one sitting (and then reread it just to take in all the details, references and mentions), and it gave me a very complete picture of Just‘s life and a great place to start my research.
After that, I tried to find as much visual material as I could, and surprisingly, there was a lot available online. I kept most of it in a Pinterest board, which I now treasure. With all of this information floating in my brain, I started sketching and making progress on the spreads.
I was also lucky because due to a personal coincidence, I had to travel to Charleston, South Carolina, which is the birthplace of Just. I had the opportunity to take in the landscapes and history of the place, and visit the place where the house he was born in once stood.
I loved doing research for this book. I feel like I got to immerse myself in the story, which helped so much when it was time to draw.
The house where Ernest Everett Just spent his early years.
A plaque honoring Just.
This was your first nonfiction project while at Bright; how did your approach for this book differ from others?
Well, I mostly felt that I should be more careful with what I was representing, and that I could not rely so much on my own imagination for fear of showing something too anachronistic or inaccurate. However, this also helped me focus on making the pictures more engaging, while working with the story and information I had.
The palette of The Vast Wonder of the World is extremely distinctive; a gorgeous range of complementary blues and teals, corals and reds. What is your process for choosing the colors in each spread, and in the book as a whole? Was the palette inspired by the book’s subject matter?
As water is a constant presence in the book I wanted to use it as a reference, and thought that building the color palette around it could work. I realize that water is not always blue or green but it was also meant to be a space of safety and wonder for Just, something bright and alluring, as pictured in the spread where he looks out the window at the water. From there, I followed my usual instincts and taste, as I like to use teals, corals and other similar tones.
I try to keep a file with the color thumbnails for each spread, so I can see the book as a whole and check that each spread goes well with the others while keeping in mind the tone of the story in each moment.
What was your process, from early sketches to finished color spreads, of creating your illustrations? Do you work digitally, by hand, or with a mixture of both?
My teachers in college suffered a bit because of me, as I have the habit of doing a lot of the exploring in my head, and only sitting down to draw when I have something specific in mind.
I usually start by sketching any ideas I have on paper; somehow it’s more comfortable that starting directly on the computer. When I feel that I have a clear picture I move on to digital, where I clean up and add detail to what I had before. After sketches I color everything in Photoshop, I’m very indecisive when working so doing it digitally helps me change my mind and try different options quickly.
Your artwork for the book was honored with the Dilys Evans Founders Award at the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show this year. What was your reaction when you found out that you were the 2018 Founders Award honoree?
Disbelief! I seriously didn’t not expect such an honor. I literally could not comprehend it. This book was special to make; it’s one of those books that you have a good feeling about from the beginning. I felt that I had a personal bond with the story, so I was surprised and happy to see that it was special for other people too.
Do you have any upcoming illustration projects that you would like to share?
There are some lovely things scheduled for next year, but they are still in early stages. I’m working on a manuscript of my own, and making progress slowly. I also worked on editions of The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables that I can’t wait for everyone to see, and there’s a book with Editorial Ekaré called Mamá Adivina which was a lot of fun to illustrate and is also coming out soon.
Luisa’s studio, complete with feline assistant.
View Luisa’s full portfolio here.
Interested in working with Luisa? Reach out to her agent, James Burns.