"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

9.22.2015

A Conversation with José Lucio

Jose Lucio
Photo credit: Stephen Boatright
Jose Lucio is an illustrator living and working out of Savannah, GA. Heave Ho! Is his first picture book.

As I pointed out in my review, he has a great eye for design which elevated the simplicity of the story.

Where do you see the connection between telling a story and your design work?

Yes, first and foremost I am a visual artist, so keeping true to the design principles is always at the top of the list for me.

When I wrote the book, I did the whole thing visually first, and then brought in the text to supplement the visuals. Each page needed to be able to stand on its own as an independent composition, but in addition to that, they had to all relate to one another with a very cohesive aesthetic. Any bigger messages or ideas would be lost if the kids were never captivated by the images to want to read the rest of the book.

What was the physical process of designing the book? It looks to me like cut-paper..?

It is all designed digitally, but of course in a manner to replicate cut paper design. I use vector shapes in Photoshop and then layer up textures and filters to get the proper effect.

One part I really enjoy, and often spend too much time on is figuring out what texture will best portray the subject I'm working on. For example, with the worms I used facial wrinkles from humans to create the wriggly worm essence.

Another key to my style is keeping it educated yet rudimentary. It needs to have a bit of that quirky clunkiness to keep that lighthearted feel. If it gets too polished it tends to lose that visual punch; I feel that way about most art in general.

Heave Ho! almost felt to me like a flipbook. Flipping through it, the illustrations become almost animated.

It was indeed a choice to have the setting in the book remain the same, and all of the characters pile into the frame until the page is just bursting with all that's happening. I really enjoy working in this manner, because it allows young readers to really chart the progress of the story as it works toward the climax. Then they can also see the story wrap up as all the characters leave the pages.

Heave Ho! by Jose Lucio
Babyworm. 
You've been doing quite a bit of promotion for the book, including cardboard cut-outs of the characters. I'm sure it's a lot of fun to do, but do you think that's the sort of lengths that a self-published author/illustrator has to go through in order to 'get noticed?'

Self-publishing actually wasn't my first choice; I reached out to quite a few publishers, but never got any leads. After that I took a little while to regroup, do tons of research, then decided to self-publish, and then still did a whole lot more research. It is a very hands-on venture, or at least, I feel that it should be. I've always been one to take the Do-It-Yourself approach generally, and once I realized that I was treating the book differently than other creative projects I've worked on, I had to ask myself why that was? I guess I just got hung up on the idea of industry standards, and it was hindering the whole process for me.


In my recent interview with Emma Walton Hamilton, she said that she does not recommend self-publishing - yet - for picture book authors, and speaks of 'the gatekeepers.'

I agree with her completely, Self-Publishing can leave authors missing out on vital experience and understanding that the Traditional Publishing route has engrained in its process. With all of the advancements in technology and social media these days, there is this general vibe that you can do anything you set your heart to... and you can! But along with that we have to subject ourselves to critique, and compare our work with many other works before we push it out into the world.

First off, we as creatives must make sure that we truly understand what quality work looks like; this is very important, and not always as easy as it sounds. It's more that just saying "I like this," or, "I like that"- we have to break things down to the basic principles and get to the psychology of why things resonate. To get to that understanding means studying Color Theory, Design, Creative Writing, Rhythmic Prose, subjecting yourself to critique on a regular basis, studying other writers and illustrators, oh- and of course lots and lots of practice!

As Emma had mentioned, there are still the "gatekeepers" in the Publishing industry who serve to make sure the author's work is ready to be presented to the world. A Self-Publisher must also act as all of those "gatekeepers" initially, and then find others to comb over the work in the same manner. I guess what it comes down to, is that the Self-Publishing author has to replicate the rigors of the Traditional Publishing world, and subject the book to those standards. 

To comment on her thoughts about marketing, it is so true that the challenge of getting the work out there for a self-published author is far greater than the task of creating the book. I've been stumbling through the process for the last 10 months, taking on new challenges as they come, and just like the Heave Ho! worms, trying to use that outside-the-box thinking whenever possible. It's easy to try and rely on the internet to do everything for you, but I've had much more success (and fun) by actually getting out there in front of people. 

This industry, like any industry, is full of standards. Standards about writing, printing, publishing, and marketing. My absolute favorite part about self-publishing has been the creative control. I can put those industry standards to the same critique that I have been subjecting my work to for so long, and then decide what to adhere to, and what needs a more unique touch.


Heave Ho! by Jose Lucio
At the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair

You even went on a 13-city book tour, doing readings at bookstores and participating in bookfairs, including my fair hamlet of Philadelphia.

https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifI stayed at a great hostel in Philadelphia! It was on the west side of the river in Fairmount Park. The second day I was there I walked from the hostel and toured all over the city on foot.

I camped as long as I could, which lasted up until Louisville, then it started to get a little chilly. I would always stay out exploring the city I was in until fairly late, then have to drive out to the edge of town in the dark and set up camp to the chirps, hoots, and howls of all kinds of creatures, the whole time hoping I was in the right area. It was always hard to tell because it was so late and dark.

Thank you for noticing and addressing the dedication I put into the tour; I would actually hear that quite often from other authors and folks I would meet along the way. It surprised me that they were so surprised about what I was doing. For me as an artist, it's not just about making a book and putting it into the book industry, or making a painting and putting it into a gallery- there's a need to play with ideas and concepts, mixing genres and fields together to suit the project. 

We were driving the whole time, the car packed up with lots of books, art supplies, and a big worm and bird cutout. The whole tour went pretty smooth, no big mishaps except racking up a ton of tickets from toll booths and parking meters in PA, man they were draining us!


Heave Ho! by Jose Lucio
...dogworm?

How did you come to make the decision to offer the entire book for free on your website? That seems like a tricky business decision!

I just want to get it out there- that's what the tour was all about, selling enough books in Birmingham to make it to Athens, and so on all the way down the road- but getting people to talk about it and spread the word is the real payoff from that venture. In any creative field like this, you have to be doing it because you love it, and that's not to say: set your sights low because you'll never make a living, but to say: it takes a lot of time and effort. You need to have that creative drive to be able to stay with it during that process.

I really just see the online version as a preview of the book. I suppose there are some folks out there who are content to just read it online, but they're really not getting the whole experience, and kids, if your folks are only reading you books online, it's time to speak up and say, "Take me to the library! Please!"

Visit José at his website and order Heave Ho! directly from him!


Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.

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