We were thrilled when John Parra, the illustrator of Gracias/Thanks, said yes to an interview. John is an award-winning illustrator and designer. His artwork has been showcased and displayed in numerous gallery shows in New York, Los Angeles and throughout the United States. He has illustrated two other books for children.
LC: Tell us how you got started as an artist. What drew you to painting?
JP: I always loved drawing and creating art as a child growing up. An early influence for me was my father who was an artist. He would draw for my brothers and me while telling us stories. My mom also influenced and inspired me through weekly trips to the local museums and galleries. As I got older I began to take my art more seriously and soon realized: This is what I need to pursue in life.
LC: You had a flourishing art career before you illustrated your first children’s book in 2005. How did you get involved illustrating children’s books? Did a publisher approach you?
JP: For my first book, I was approached by the publisher Luna Rising to see if I would be interested in doing a bilingual children’s book. I jumped at the chance, especially after reading the beautiful story about Gabriela Mistral, a Noble Prize winning poet from Chile.
LC: Reviewing My Name is Gabriela, a reviewer observed “The illustrator’s portfolio seems a cross between Diego Rivera, Marc Chagall, and your child’s best refrigerator art.” What do you think of this description? How would you describe your style?
JP: I had read this review before and liked it very much. It struck me as quite accurate. Both Rivera’s and Chagall’s work are big inspirations to me. I also love the refrigerator art reference which I think represents that childlike optimism and view of the world which is so unique. As for my perspective, I would like to add that my art has a heavy Latin folk art design with influences of family stories, philosophy, surrealism and scientific exploration all added to the mix.
LC: What medium do you work in?
JP: Acrylic on illustration, masonite, or wood boards. I also occasionally work in oils and pastels.
LC: You’ve taught art at the primary level. Do you have a favorite story from when teaching art with children?
JP: I don’t really have a specific story about teaching art to kids, just a general and wonderful observation that kids never suffer from artist block. They are so free with their inventiveness and creativity. It’s amazing.
LC: Besides children’s books you’ve created paintings, posters, CD covers, and editorial illustration. What’s your favorite?
JP: I love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be posters. I just love seeing a poster or print of something I worked on framed and hanging on the wall.
LC: We’re interested in your upcoming projects. What are you working on?
JP: Right now, I just finished a big art show/event at the Indianapolis Art Center for a Day of the Dead celebration that happened at the end of October. There were workshops, lectures, music and art throughout. It was an amazing experience. As for the next project, I have another children’s book to begin at the start of the new year with author Monica Brown.
LC: I always ask this question when interviewing for Pat. What’s your most memorable Bookjoy experience as a child or adult?
JP: When I was young, story time at my house was special to me. Just before heading to bed my mom would call my brothers and I into her room to read us a book. It was usually an old classic novel, yet nothing too heavy. She would read out loud with a great voice, always describing the people and events from the story so well.