When did you know that you wanted to be an illustrator?
Probably around midway through my undergraduate college experience. I went to San Francisco State, which has one of the most amazing Ethnic Studies Departments in the U.S. (the first college to have one). But, back in the year 2000, they didn’t have much of an illustration major program. It was either graphic design, industrial design, or painting. I leaned towards painting, and since I loved graffiti as a kid, and grew up around a lot of murals, I leaned towards mural painting, then illustration.
In addition to being a book illustrator, you have also authored and illustrated Furqan’s First Flat Top. Can you tell us what the book is about?
Furqan’s First Flat Top is a story about getting your first haircut and the nervousness that comes with that. It is a father and son story and it is about being multicultural, as Furqan Moreno is a mixed kid. The book is bilingual in Spanish and English. I came up with the idea for the story in 2012 and it took me about four years to self-publish it and it now has a life of its own. Public libraries and independent bookstores in at least 25 states have it in their collection. It has been reviewed many times, and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from real families about how it has affected them, which is pretty fresh.
Are you planning to author more children’s books in the near future?
Yes, most definitely! I am working on several right now and hope to do many more. I started in children’s books because I didn’t see books about children like me or my son. When I entered the field, I discovered many people felt the same way and I became a part of a larger community of children’s books makers. And I have a lot more stories to tell.
Which artists and authors have influenced your work the most?
As a child and as a teen, I was definitely influenced by the graffiti artists Mike Dream, Spie, Crayone, Reminisce, Twist, Mode 2, Skeme, Toons One(Los Angeles), Daim, Chaz Bojorquez, and many more. As I began to study mural-making, I learned a lot from artists like Yolanda Lopez, Juana Alicia, Judy Baca, Diego Rivera, Nelson Stevens, Brett Cook, and Jorge Gonzalez Camarena. As an illustrator, I really love Kadir Nelson, Shaun Tan, Leo and Diane Dillon, Rafael Lopez, Yuyi Morales, Maya Gonzalez, Yuko Shimizu, I have so many influences!
You tell us you are the child of student activists who brought you to many demonstrations as a child. How did your activist upbringing influence your art and the types of subjects you choose to work with?
Well, I always loved artwork and I always wanted to speak about issues that were important to me and my family. As a young man, I got together with several artists and formed an artist group called the “Trust Your Struggle Collective”. We made artwork that spoke about police brutality, racism, environmental justice, housing, education, social justice broadly, being antiwar, revolutionary uprisings, ethnic studies, and so much more. I don’t think an artist has to speak about every single thing politically. I think you should do your thing. But for me, personally, I believe that art has the power to inform and inspire in a way that no other thing can. It synthesizes statistics, oral history, and facts into feelings that people are drawn to or repelled by.
Favorite Bee paper product and why?
I love the Super Deluxe Mixed Media sketchbook. I picked one up 4 or 5 years ago and have stuck to that sketchbook since. I use a variety of mediums such as markers, watercolor, pen, and ink and when I want to just do my thing, I use that sketchbook. I like spiral sketchbooks because they are easier to scan and I like the idea that I could take the pages out and re-bind them if I needed to. I have others for client work but the Bee paper one is where I play! It would be dope to have some limited edition covers designed by artists.
As a father of a teenaged son and infant daughter, how important is it for your children (and all children) to understand social issues?
Good question! And this relates a lot to children’s books. We’re all connected and the more we understand those connections the better. If you think of history like a tree, we are now at the branches, twigs, or leaves. But the trunk of the tree, the roots, and the branches are what the rest is built on. So much of history is a small slice of a much larger pie and if we, as adults or aware people, don’t share the entire history with all of its flaws, triumphs, and questions, we are doing a disservice to young people. So, I think it’s really important. It is important that, whatever the issue is, you don’t just hear views that you agree with. It’s also important to recognize when there has been a dominant view point and when other viewpoints have been purposely omitted or excluded.
Do you have any advice for artists wanting to do children’s book illustration?
Yes, read. Read lots of children’s books. The more you read picture books, middle-grade, comics, or graphic novels, the more you’ll understand all the techniques used to make it look beautiful. I would say to take care to build a community of friends or fellow creatives who are also interested in your story style or art of choice. I’ve learned so much from friends, more than any class. I would also suggest thinking outside of the box. Typically, kids’ literature is illustrated with watercolor or digitally, but there are so many other ways to do it; paper cut, sculpture, photography, murals, charcoal, colored pencils, etc.
Where can we find your books?
You can find links to the majority of the books I’ve illustrated on my website at robdontstop.com or you can just look up my name. Thank you, Bee Paper, for welcoming me with open arms. I love the products you create because they allow me to play and have fun while learning. Peace!