We had the good fortune of stumbling upon Sonja’s marvelous work by way of a tiny publisher, Cuento de Luz, in Spain. Her work takes the differences of the world in stride, and her books — for all their unique places, faces, and stories — are ever so easy to adore.
In preparation for working with Sonja on the last experience of the year, we spoke with her about what and who inspires her, her artistic challenges and revelations, and the world of global freelance.
When did you begin drawing, and what was the thing you love most about it that got you hooked?
I think every child loves drawing already, and so did I. I just never stopped doing so!
What I love most about it is that while drawing or painting there are no limits to your imagination. Everything can happen and the most magic things may appear on the paper.
We are so drawn to the warmth and whimsy in your work! Which artists do you admire?
Oh, there are a lot of wonderful artists — both modern illustrators and classical painters.
I admire the work of Alfonse Mucha, Joe Sorren, Oliver Jeffers, Paula Bonet, Joanna Concejo, Rebeca Dautremer, Shaun Tan… just to mention some of them.
Of the books you’ve both written and illustrated, did the images or words come to you first, or did the book come about some other way?
I think first there was an idea of the story in my head, like a little spark, and from there on words and images started spreading and evolving together.
You have worked on an incredible number of books across several languages. What has your experience been like as an international freelancer?
Oh, I feel really grateful to get the opportunities to work on so many wonderful projects around the world. Every book is new and interesting. And it is amazing to imagine that children all over the planet may hold the books in their hands and may enjoy, dream, and imagine along with the story and with my illustrations.
What has been your most challenging project, and why?
Not long ago I did the illustrations for a biographical story about the Jewish musician Flory Jagoda. She was a really awesome woman who escaped the Nazi regime of the Second World War and brought her music to the United States. In the illustrations, I had to find an adequate way of visualizing the dramatic things she experienced as well as and the magic of her music. And since it was a story based in true events, I had to research for myself regarding the locations, clothing, and traditions that appeared in the paintings.
Is there a project you’ve worked on that remains especially close to your heart?
I think one of the projects that is still very special to me — even though I think I would do the illustrations completely differently now than I did eight years ago — is The Word Collector, because it was my first book ever. In fact, I developed it as the final project of my studies.
If you could illustrate any classic story, what would you choose?
Oh, there are a lot of them I’d love to illustrate. Maybe The Emperor’s New Clothes, from Hans Christian Andersen, Three wishes for Cinderella, or Alice in Wonderland.
What has been your favorite interaction with a child about your work?
I illustrated a book called Walking Through a World of Aromas (2013, by Ariel Andrés Almada) about a blind girl. Together with the author we did an activity around that book with a group of children in a library. They had to close their eyes and guess different objects we let them touch and smell. I really enjoyed that experience. I also love to paint with my little daughter, who is four. And apart from the fun, it gives me wonderful inspiration for my work!
What are you working on next?
At the moment I’m working on a kind of magical legend about a seal and a turtle who transform into human beings. I’m also thinking about a new story, myself, that I’d like to realize next year… But it still has a little more to grow before I can talk about it.
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