Jill Arwen Posadas is the illustrator of HALU-HALO ESPESYAL. It is her first children’s book, written by Yvette Fereol and published in 2006 by Adarna House, the Philippines’ first and largest children’s book publisher.
Jill graduated with a degree in Communication Arts from the Center of Research and Communication (CRC), now known as the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P). She went on to the University of the Philippines in Diliman to finish a second degree, in Fine Arts. Encouraged by her grandmother, Jill joined Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan, the Philippines’s first and only association of children’s illustrators.
We sat down with Jill last Monday August 10 at McCafe in Greenbelt 1, Makati. She was the featured guest for our monthly Booktalk on Children’s Literature, hosted by our organization the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
How did Jill get to illustrate her first children’s book?
“It all started with the Barlaya Workshop,” said Jill. She and other aspiring children’s illustrators applied to attend the workshop conducted by Adarna House, the first and largest children’s book pulisher in the Philippines. They were asked to submit “audition pieces” based on THE CAT PAINTER, and whoever did the best at the workshop got to illustrate the book. It was, in effect a “Show Us What You Can Do” workshop.
The end result was, Jill was invited again by Adarna shortly after that. This time, she was asked to “audition” for a specific story. The story was HALU-HALO ESPESYAL. For those who are not familiar with this favorite Filipino dessert, “halu-halo” is made of ube, shaved ice, langka, nata de coco, green and red gulaman, bananas and red and black beans -- all piled into a tall glass shaped like an inverted cone, and topped with a matchbox-size slice of sweet custard called leche flan. Jill understood: without a doubt, food was a major star in the book.
There were two other illustrators who auditioned as well, said Jill. She remembered feeling a bit daunted by the style and skill of another illustrator who was very good at rendering highly realistic illustrations of food. Compared to that, Jill was afraid her illustration style did not stand a chance. But then, Adarna subjected all their illustrations to a test with a focus group of young children, in much the same way that advertising agencies pretest their ads on their target audience. To Jill's surprise and delight, her illustrations were the ones that the kids liked best.
That’s when the real work began, says Jill. She was given barely a month to finish the illustrations: all twenty-two spreads for the book. Adarna had a set number of spreads and had chopped up the text accordingly. They also specified what they wanted to see in each spread, and Jill made the thumbnails. Once the thumbnails were approved, Jill did the final art in her chosen medium, which was pen and ink and watercolor.
Jill said it was a real challenge finish the twenty-two spreads in barely a month. Not to mention the research that she had to do: What, for example, does an aluminum hand-held ice shaver really look like? (So as not to lose more time, the publisher's rep working with Jill took pity on her and roughly sketched the ice shaver for her.)
That's not all. Jill also had to redo her rendering of the "turon" -- slices of banana rolled up in thin rice wrapping, sprinkled with red sugar, and then deep fried. Jill was asked to show the "turon" as if they had been bitten open, with the banana filling clearly showing. Otherwise, Jill admitted, the unopened "turon" was indistinguisable from "lumpia" or fried spring rolls. "But this is watercolor," Jill recalls whining. Fortunately, she did not have to do the whole spread from scratch. The spread was corrected, overnight, as requested.
Make no mistake though. Jill was not complaining, even though she averaged only three or four hours of sleep at night while working on her first book. Despite her shock and horror at the tight deadline, and her love-hate description of the travails of working with watercolor, Jill was just like most children’s illustrators: she was thrilled to the bone to be actually working on her first children’s book.
Jill showed us three pieces of her book’s original art, which she brought framed and bubble wrapped. We could see that she made the art same-size. That only meant one thing: Jill drew all the teeny tiny details in the pictures with the steady hand of a brain surgeon and the mind-numbing concentration of a watch repairman. But, that did not in any way dull the sense of fun and playfulness that showed through in the finished art. Take the spiral squiggles, for example, that are less than half and inch in diameter and only about four points thick, rendered in rainbow colored hues. “And look at all those pots and pans hanging on the kitchen wall!” we exclaimed. “That’s exactly the way our kitchen at home looks like!” Jill crowed.
Finally, we asked Jill to show us more of her other artwork. We pored over two of her portfolios: she had monsters -- mermaids, centaurs, dragons, tikbalangs and others. Some were done in oil, some in acrylic with Cray-Pas oil pastels, but most of them were in her favorite medium, watercolor. We thought that there several pieces in there that were pregnant with a story. Jill agreed that all she has to do is create the pieces before and after and there you have it -- a story told in pictures. For a start, or as an end in itself.
- By Beaulah Pedregosa Taguiwalo, 2009 Aug 13 (The author is a book designer and children’s illustrator. She is an SCBWI member and Regional Advisor for the Philippine chapter.)