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An Interview with Flavia Z. Drago, winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2021!

A huge congratulations Flavia Z. Drago, the winner of the 2021 Klaus Flugge prize for the most promising and exciting newcomers to picture book illustration! Read on to find out more about this wonderful author-illustrator and her process…

Big congratulations on being shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge prize this year for your fabulous book ‘Gustavo the Shy Ghost’, you must be thrilled. I’d be so grateful if you can take the time to answer these five questions for the readers of Armadillo magazine:

Can you tell us where you were when you heard the news that you had been shortlisted, and what your reaction was?

I was in my flat, and when I saw the email, I felt, happy, incredulous, shocked, grateful, and definitely lucky.

I couldn’t be happier to have been shortlisted among amazing illustrators whose work I admire so much. I felt incredulous, shocked and grateful because I think that in illustration contests anything can happen, it’s a mix of the things that the judges happen to value, the books that were published that year, and perhaps even the weather, so, in that sense I felt very lucky!

Whereabouts do you work when writing and illustrating, can you paint us a picture of your studio set up?

Since 2016, I have been living between Azcapotzalco (Mexico) and Cambridge (UK). I made Gustavo partly in both countries. Because I have been a nomad, I don’t have yet a set studio space. I enjoy having plants, little toys and art from friends around me – it’s very good for the soul and the inspiration.

I’m sure your beautiful story will resonate with many people and their pathway to making friends. Where did the inspiration for Gustavo and his story come from?

The idea for the story came from a Tweet I wrote in 2016 when I was thinking about the reason behind ghosts wearing sheets ‘It must be because they are shy’, I thought. And so, the idea for a picturebook popped in my head.

When I started working on the book, I didn’t notice how much I had in common with Gustavo, but the more I got to understand him, I realized that telling this story was important for me because I wanted to show that being shy doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy the company of people -or in this case, monsters! - It just means that you find it difficult to reach to others, especially for the first time.

Some of the things that happened to Gustavo were based on some of my own experiences. When I was in kindergarten – just like Gustavo – I sat by myself during lunch breaks and watching children play while being amazed by the fact that they seemed to be completely happy to talk and play with each other.

The illustrations you have created for the book are really wonderful and full of character. I especially love the colour palette you have chosen. Can you tell us about your illustration process, and how you settled on the colours you chose?

First, I started by making loads of tiny drawings with all the ideas that came to my head about Gustavo. I drew the things that he liked and disliked, his friends, his family, his house, and the world in which he lived. The more I drew, the better I could understand how his story was going to develop.

Once I had all my sketches, I scanned and organized them into a pdf, where I mixed the images along with the texts. This gave me a more accurate sense on how the images and words could interact with one another. Sometimes I can have many ideas, but only when I see them on paper, I am capable of really knowing which ones will work, and which ones won’t. Also, I got a lot of support from lovely team in Walker Books.

For the final artwork, I created my images with pencil and ink, then I scanned and coloured them on Photoshop. With this process I can get the lovely textures from the traditional media, but also, I can control and edit as much as I like. Creating the final artwork is always my favourite bit of the process because I get to listen to loads of podcasts, music, and even TV shows or movies as I draw.

When I was planning my colour palette, I went through some failures. The first blend I tried was too limited; the second one was too colourful and there was nothing really magical about it, so I had to stop a bit, and think about the world I had just created. In one hand we had the black and white Universal Monsters tribute and a nostalgic ghost, which made me think of vintage pictures in sepia tones; on the other hand, we have the really bright Mexican colours. I did another experiment trying to mix both worlds and it turned out that the muted tones worked very well with the bright pink and orange. I hit the Goldilocks zone of colour.

Finally, can you tell us about any new projects you’re working on, and what we can keep an eye out for in the future?

In October 2021, my horror board book collection called ‘Monsters Play’ will see its first two books, ‘Peekaboo!’ and ‘Counting’ (Walker Books). This collection aims to be a playful introduction for babies into the world of horror.

In October 2022, my second picturebook as author and illustrator ‘Leila and the Witchy Cake Off’ (Walker Books) will be published. It will follow the story of a little witch called Leila and her journey into learning how to bake along with her family.

In the future, you can definitely expect a lot more books with monsters!


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