Issa Watanabe Illustrator from Perú

Why did you become an illustrator?

I remember a visit from Brazilian artist Vik Muniz when a boy asked him if he remembered when he started drawing. He said he couldn't remember, but he remembered when the others stopped. Like all children, I started drawing when I was young, and I was lucky that my mother was illustrating children's books at that time: Illustration at home was a natural way to tell stories, express feelings, invent, play. I have not lost that.

What does a day at work look like for you?

My work routine depends very much on the type of project I'm in and what I experience during that time. For example, a few years ago, I went to my studio very early every day and worked for hours without seeing or talking to anyone. Now I have set up my studio at home. I live alone with my daughter and it is difficult for me to have a fixed work schedule, especially now that due to the pandemic, classes were interrupted this year and it became necessary to manage many things. But I can say that I really like to get up in the morning, prepare a pot of coffee and sit and draw right by the window. Sometimes I am so engrossed in an illustration that I become obsessed with it. I can sit for hours and even find it difficult to sleep because I feel so much like drawing the next day.

Niña océano

Niña océano

Are there any illustrators who have influenced you?

I think when we create something, we consciously or unconsciously draw on all the influences we have experienced throughout our development. Of course, I admire many illustrators, but I also get inspired by music, books, museum visits, cinema, casual conversation...

What was your very first illustration?

When I was four years old, our teacher put together a little book with the stories the kids told her. And she asked me to do the cover! I drew a giraffe, a flower and a little bird. I still have the book. My mother and father kept all the drawings of me and my sister since we were children.

What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?

I think you can be inspired by anything that moves you: a picture, a text, a poem, a bird outside the window in the morning. But the ideas usually buzz around in my head for months or years. Sometimes they are experiences that I have had and that take time to take shape. And it usually takes just one trigger at any given time for me to feel the need to express these experiences.

Cómo en un árbol

Cómo en un árbol

Do you have a personal favourite illustrator?

When illustrating, do you listen to music or audio books or should it be quiet?

I prefer silence.

La garza (Migrantes)

La garza (Migrantes)

Do you have a favourite place to illustrate?

I lived in Mallorca for 15 years and spent most of that time in a house that was practically by the sea. It looked like a small boat. That was my favourite place. Now I live in Peru and have more than one favourite place. I need certain conditions in a place that will help me to work comfortably. For example, natural light is very important for me. I also need solitude. I don't like to share the moments of drawing with someone other than my daughter. The tables are also important: very smooth and the bigger the better. I'm very chaotic when I work and I start to conquer all the space around me. I like having my books close by, a coffee machine and a sofa.

Is there a story you'd like to illustrate?

There is a theme that was very present in my life and that I am trying to create now. It has to do with objects, memories and absence. It will probably also be a silent / wordless book like "Migrantes".

El largo camino (Migrantes)

El largo camino (Migrantes)

Is there an illustration that you are particularly proud of?

The illustration of "Migrantes", where the whole group marches and the little death runs behind it. This illustration has a special value for me.

If you're not illustrating at the moment, what do you like doing?

I am slow and not a very active person. I enjoy the silence and being at home, although I love to travel. I read a lot. I enjoy spending time with my daughter. I like going to the cinema, to a café with a friend, and lately I work with modelling clay to form or build small stages.

What defines the profession of an illustrator for you?

It's not easy to adapt to the demands of reality. By illustrating, I can transform this reality a little and symbolically build another one. On the other hand, my approach to illustration is mostly intuitive. It's like having a few small pieces of Lego and spreading them all out on the table. The possibilities to combine the pieces are endless and by assembling and disassembling you discover the world like a child at play.

La barca (Migrantes)

La barca (Migrantes)

What do you think makes a good illustrator?

I wish I had an answer to that! I don't know what the recipe is, but I'm sure it has to do with honesty, even more so when you are illustrating for children.

Do you sometimes just not feel like drawing/painting? Do you have to motivate yourself? And if so, how do you do it? Is there something like writer's block in illustrators too? A creative block?

Oh yes! Sometimes when we publish something there's a lot of ballyhoo and distraction and it's very easy to get lost in it. Then it helps me remember why I do what I do and where my motivation comes from. In other cases the voice comes from within. This voice that judges us and tells us that what we are doing is not good or not enough. I mean, it was Schiller who said something like, "reason is an annoying witness during the poetic process". We have to learn to recognize this and to stay calm. I worked as an art director for a content production company for several years. It was a job I liked and it gave me great financial stability, but I didn't have any free time left. I wanted to illustrate, but under these conditions it was impossible. Two years ago my mother had a terrible accident in Brussels from which she was recovering very slowly and we supported her. Although we are aware of the fragility of life, we often forget it. When I came back, I quit my job and started to create "Migrantes". At the beginning I had a lot of doubts and fear, of course, but now I have no doubt that it was the right decision.