Most children’s book illustrators just have words to work with when they create artwork. At The Secret Mountain, they also have music. Spanish illustrator Lucía Cobo takes us behind the scenes of her art process on Music All Around and shares how she brought the music and the story to life. What is your studio setup like? My studio is a rather small and tidy space (thankfully!), with a beautiful large wooden table where I work both in analog and digital. On the walls, I am accompanied by the artwork of several illustrators I deeply admire, such as Isabelle Arsenault and Simone Rea, and also some of my own work. There are also several shelves full of illustrated books, as if a small library surrounds me while I work. I have my back to a window, unfortunately, the composition of the space does not allow me to place the table under it, but it is still a bright and warm place in my home. How do you start a project like this? My work process usually begins with a thorough reading of the text, while at the same time I make notes in my sketchbook, and I start to ask myself questions and try to answer them. In this way I connect some ideas, others fall by the wayside, and I find small threads in the plot. Actually, this whole process of internal research, reflection, and reasoning is unconsciously based on my life experiences, memories of my childhood, which, in some way, justify the decisions I make when illustrating. What types of art tools do you use? I like to work in an analog and traditional way, although I also work digitally. I am passionate about coloured pencils and acrylic paint. In many of my books, I use a combination of both techniques, although Music All ARound was created entirely with acrylics. Your illustrations are so detailed and magical! What is your creative process like? I have to say that I am an illustrator who spends much more time thinking about the story than drawing it. After the first phase of reading, reflection, compilation, and connecting ideas, as well as spreading the text across pages (which is an arduous task, by the way!), establishing the number of pages, and defining the format, I finally start drawing the storyboard. My first sketches are very small, about the size of a postage stamp, and extremely schematic, only I can understand them. These are sketches of the double-page spreads so I can take the format and junction between the two pages into account, which I think is very important. I draw simple ideas inspired by the text, starting with a literal interpretation and then moving to ideas that are more conceptual and poetic. Sometimes I have a very clear image for a specific paragraph, which helps me to draw the images before and after it. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) Once I have several approaches where the composition works, I make a “mobile” version of the storyboard by cutting out little pieces of paper and placing them stretched out on the table. This allows me to see if I need to add new pages, remove them, modify them, invert them or even switch them up. It’s essential to work on the sequence and rhythm of the visual plot so that it makes sense and tells the story on its own. When this phase is complete, I then go on to define the characters, although in the case of this book, I have to admit that I didn’t spend too much time on it as Sofia is inspired by me when I was a little girl (except that I gave her sea-coloured eyes). Afterwards, I make elaborate and detailed illustrations in my sketchbook in pencil, to later scan and retouch to fit the text. When I’m satisfied that everything is in position, I print the illustrations at the size they will be in the book itself and then I trace them. This is the part I like the least, it’s drawing the same thing several times, it’s exhausting! Finally I paint them, then I scan them again and retouch them digitally with small detail and colour adjustments to finish. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) What inspired the style, colour palette, and textures you chose? The story gave me the keys. The blue of the sea and the green of the forest are two major elements of the book that are in constant union throughout the pages. It is the communion of nature itself, land and sea intertwined. I try to make the textures as faithful as possible to reality so that just by looking at the images, readers are transported to those spaces and can almost touch them, perceive the smells, hear the sounds… just like Sofia, who at times almost mimics her surroundings. What is your favourite page or part of the story? Inevitably, the illustrations I like the most are two inseparable images in the book. The first shows all the animals and the protagonist standing still listening for the arrival of the wolf. Only the most observant will be able to spot the silhouette of the wolf himself hidden among the leaves. The second is the image of the big black wolf, whose silhouette is “mirrored” with the previous illustration. I always like to hide games of this kind in the books I illustrate so that readers can play with me and learn to look with different eyes. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Secret Mountain (@secretmountainpublishing) Gema Sirvent’s story is all about music, which is hard to illustrate! How did you approach the challenge? It was a challenge, precisely because of the intangibility of music. The key to the illustrations came from thinking of a humble pentagram, which is the starting point, the beginning, five parallel lines where the notes are placed in order to write a melody, and from there it occurred to me to play with the idea of parallels in the broadest sense of the word. That’s where the game comes from, to find parallels in ideas, expressions, attitudes, and compositions, sometimes more explicitly and sometimes less. Music is something that always accompanies us, either in a melodious way or sometimes with unconnected sounds. It runs parallel to our lives at every moment. While we walk down the street we can find music in the rhythm of our steps, in metal doors opening and closing, in children running and laughing. We can find music while we eat, when the fork bumps into the plate, when we chew… and so on. Perhaps we don’t always appreciate it, see it, or pay attention to it, but it is always there accompanying us, in parallel. I also believe that, undoubtedly, music conveys emotions, and that it can evoke aspects or moments in our own history. Our subconscious somehow links those things or moments with objects, people, and places that may be more tangible. For example, the tinkling of a bracelet may remind you of your mother. For that reason alone, that sound ceases to be intangible and is immediately linked to that object. I applied this approach in Music All Around, which can be seen for example on the front and back cover with the shell and the leaf. In my childhood, my pockets were full of shells from the beach and leaves from trees, and I unconsciously associate each element with the sound of the sea and the sound of the forest swaying in the wind. Music All Around is available now. Read our interview with Gema Sirvent, author of the story. ABOUT LUCÍA COBO: After graduating as an engineer, Lucía Cobo made a radical career change and worked for several years as a graphic designer. She then chose to study illustration at the Pablo Picasso School in A Coruña and has since created several picture books for children. Her most recent publication, A furgoneta branca, was released in 2019.