Today I caught up with Martina Peluso, the enormously talented illustrator of Phoenix Song. I asked her about life in Italy, her thoughts on illustrating a Malaysian story, and her tips for aspiring illustrators. I also discovered her next holiday destination…
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello everyone! My name is Martina Peluso and I am an illustrator of children’s books. I am Italian. I was born in Naples – a beautiful city where the sun always shines and the people are very friendly and welcoming. I always wanted to draw and, above all, I wanted to illustrate books for children. I consider myself a very lucky person because I was able to realise my dream.
Do you think you have a particularly Italian or European illustration style?
I do not consider my style purely Italian. I studied with some Spanish and Croat masters, and I’ve always loved illustrations from all over the world, so I think my style is more European if anything.
Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?
First of all, I read the text. Then I go for long walks to try to imagine the characters, settings and colours – walking always helps me concentrate. After I design the sketches, my table and everything around me is taken over by paper! But the moment I love best is when I start to colour the sketches. I mainly use acrylic colours, but sometimes I also like to use inks and oils.
Did you enjoy illustrating Phoenix Song, written by Tutu Dutta? What did you like about the story?
I loved illustrating Phoenix Song! The most interesting part for me was working out how to illustrate a different culture, so that I could imagine and draw different landscapes, buildings and dresses from those I usually draw. The part of the story I like best is the message of respect for nature that it conveys to the readers.
How did you approach illustrating a story set in Malaysia? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Malaysian culture in some way?
Yes, I was a bit nervous. It is not always easy representing a different culture. Fortunately, the publisher and the author were very patient with me and helped me on this path. But in the end, the colours of Malaysia are so beautiful that they gave me a great head start!
Have you learnt anything about Malaysia that you didn’t know before?
I have certainly learned this: I absolutely must take a trip to Malaysia! Unfortunately I haven’t yet visited it, but I’m sure it must be a wonderful country with wonderful people.
Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?
Absolutely yes! I think it helps increase our respect for all peoples. Indeed, I believe that children should read many books from cultures other than their own.
What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?
At this historic moment, I would be very happy if children could read more books about Syria and about all of the countries that are at war. This would help to create new generations that are more supportive and ready to help the children of the countries in difficulty.
When you are not illustrating picturebooks, what other type of artwork do you create?
I always try to create something every day! I love creating objects: jewellery, ceramics, three-dimensional pictures. I also love to cook – it is a delicious art form!
Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
My most valuable advice would be to always draw. You should have paper and pencils with you at all times! The second advice would be to not get disheartened – it is not an easy job, but it can be full of great satisfaction.