Ana Ochoa was born and raised in Mexico City. She studied Graphic Design at the national University of Mexico, with an average of 9.2.Â She started working as a designer and illustrator after college, and after a while she decided to concentrate on illustrating childrenâs books.
In 1994-95, Ana received a scholarship from the French government to study in Strasbourg, France, at LâEcole des Arts Decoratifs, at the illustration department with M. Claude Lapointe.
In 1996 she was chosen for an encouragement prize at the Noma Concours for childrenâs Books in Japan; with âLa vaca queridaâ; and in 1997 she was chosen for the illustrators catalog at the Bologna Childrenâs Book Fair, with âLas Tormentas del Mar Embotelladoâ.
Her work has been exhibited in Mexico, Tokio, Taiwan, Bratislava, Bologna, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia). These last three exhibits sponsored by IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).
Ana has worked with most publishers in Mexico (both private and government), doing picture books as well as school text books.
Here is Ana explaining her process:
I first drew a clean pencil in tracing paper.
I traced my drawing with a B pencil on Arches 300gr. watercolor paper, to take advantage of the texture.
I scan my image and tweak the color a bit with the Adjustments/Variations tool. Add textures to the whole page.
I add color in different layers; later I come back and add midtones and highligts once I have all the color added. I also add textures (with fabrics, etc) Also added the photos.
I copy the original drawing and add it on top in Multiply to add more pencil texture and give it depth. I play with Photoshop and I find new coloring ways every time!
How long have you been illustrating?
Something like 17 years, I thinkâŠ
How did you decide to study Graphic Design at the National University of Mexico?
I wanted to study History or Biology, but I decided on Graphic Design since I already had so much âexperienceâ. You see, I sort of always knew I wanted to draw and write and paint and create. I painted my bedroom walls when I was about 8, and I got a professional drafting table for Christmas when I was 9. I suppose I did get some toys or something else too, but itâs the table that I still remember. My mom also used to buy me glue and paint in big bottles; she made sure that I never ran out of supplies. Still now, I am never out of supplies!
Can you tell us a little bit about that school?
UNAM is State funded and therefore tuition free, but itâs independent from the government. Itâs truly an honor to be a âuniversitarioâ. Itâs the most important University in Latin America; the best artists, writers, architects, philosophers, scientists, have studied and worked there. I studied Graphic Design since there was no Illustration and that was the closest I could get. But it was really good, and school taught me a lot. After finishing I got a scholarship from the French Government to study Illustration, and I was on my way.
What were you favorite classes?
My favorite classes were photography and silkscreen printing. Probably because those were hands on and we worked in a workshop kind of space, not so much a classroom. I also liked certain Graphic Design semesters, for the teachers who taught them. I liked those that let us experiment and find our own ways to learn. I still sometimes come across one in particular that remembers me because I âdid not like to follow his rulesâ. By the way, itâs probably rude to say, but I hated my drawing teacher. Even the little kids thought she was a witch; she even looked the part, no kidding! (There were little kids because on Saturdays she ran the Childrenâs Workshop, and I did my social service there, with her.)
Did the School help you get work?
Not really. I got my first job because I knew the ladies who ran IBBY Mexico. Back then, they had all kinds of connections, they knew everybody.
What did you do right after you graduated?
I wrote my thesis. I went looking for work. And I did two horrible little books.
Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced you style?
I donât think I had a style when I started college. I never had illustration (at least as I know illustration now) classes, only techniques. And I did not find those techniques we were taught interesting to illustrate for kids. I think what they taught us was aimed for more commercial work. I learned a lot more from looking at illustrators I discovered back then: Ulises Wensel, Carme SolĂ©, Fulvio TestaâŠ.
What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
Two logos, one for a coffee shop another for a restaurant. My debut and goodbye from the Graphic Design world.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
I think I knew when I realized I too could draw and write just like those who drew and wrote the books that I liked so much.
What was the first illustration work you did for children?
Those two little books, they were so horridâŠI still have them, and they have kept me grounded. They remind me that I am no genius, and itâs only that trough hard work you end up doing good things. Right after that awful experience, a book called âLa Guayabaâ. Itâs a book part of a collection about the fruits that Mexico gave to the world.
How did that come about?
I met this lady editor trough IBBY. She was quite fearless, I thinkâŠ I did not even have a half decent portfolio, honestly! Her name is Rosalia. I later did another book with her, âLa pobre viejecitaâ.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
In Mexico? About 17, I thinkâŠ
What was the first picture book you illustrated?
âUna vaca queridaâ
How did that opportunity come about?
I knew about this publishing house and just asked for an appointment to show my work. I probably was a bit fearless too. I am usually very shy.
Have you worked with a lot of educational publishers?
Yes, I have. Here in Mexico and in the US.
How did you get those jobs?
In Mexico, just asking and meeting with people and showing my work. Nowadays they know me, and they call if they think my style is what they need. My work is mainly suitable for little kids.
In the US, though Chris, my rep.
What was your first big success?
It should be âLa Guayabaâ, my first real illustration job. But honestly, for me, everything Iâve done is a BIG success! Getting a new assignment, mastering something new, everything is big.
Do you think you will ever try to write and illustrate a picture book?
A few years ago I took creative writing courses. And I wrote and wrote. And then 2008 happenedâŠand no one had money. I took my stories to several editors in Mexico, and even though some did like them there was no money. When I found one editor, she lost her jobâŠ And there is also something: editors in Mexico want it all done and finished. No one wants or has the time needed to take a story, and idea, and guide it to be a finished book. At least I have not found the one who does.
But, wait! There is a story of mine published, âEL niĂ±o de chocolateâ (âThe chocolate boyâ). I did not illustrate it, someone else did. The first edition came out in 2009. Then ACNUR (thatâs the UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) published it again, sadly just in time with the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The main character is a Haitian boy who goes to live in a new country.
Have you done any illustration work for childrenâs magazines?
Yes. I worked for a now defunct childrenâs magazine called âChispaâ. I also illustrated a literary newspaper supplement for children.
What types of things did you do to find illustration work?
When I started, I just called editors and publishers and asked for appointments. Now, first and foremost there is Chris Tugeau, my incredible AND patient agent. She is constantly giving advice, organizing mailings and asking for new samples, published or not. I try and participate as much as I can on what she calls âimage blastsâ, a very fun way to keep clients looking at you even trough little images. I love her blasts!
How did you hook up with Chris Tugeau and get her to represent you? How long have you been with her?
I met with Chris by chance, really. I went to a SCBWI Conference in LA, and I was translating for a friend. In the end, Chris took us both. Iâve been with her since 2001.
What is your favorite medium to use?
I donât think I have a favorite. Iâve used watercolor and pencil, acrylics, collage. Iâve used all kinds of different materials for my 3D: wire, paste, yarn, rocks, fabric, etc. Right now I am experimenting with Photoshop. I also use traditional mixed with Photoshop. Iâd love to get a commission to work on 3D! I think that ideally, every project should have itâs special medium. Iâd love to embroider a book!
Â Has that changed over time?
Yes, these past few years, Iâve had to become more time efficient, and Photoshop was the way to go.
What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?
Music and my light box. And my library, of course.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
Well, my craft is my life, so I am always working on it one way or another. As part of my creative process, I also design and make jewelry (in silver, copper and enamel), dabble a bit in ceramics, (to complement my jewelry) sew, knit, bake, embroider, write and build stuff.
Once, for the Childrenâs Book Fair in Mexico City, I built a 25 meters long 2.5 meters high set of a book I illustrated, âLa pobre viejecitaâ.
Right now I am preparing the images that resulted form a workshop with Spanish
illustrator Javier Saez. What happened is that the texts that I got to work on (he first worked with school children who wrote their dreams, then we got those dreams to illustrate) were a bit bland. So, when that happens, you have to make up with a really interesting graphic representation technique, and I chose to make 3D maquettes. So I am constructing/building two little fair booths.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
Actually, that is where the Internet comes in handy for me. Lately, Iâve been doing educational work, and itâs quite straight forward, I think. But I do use the Internet to find things I am not all too familiar with, like baseball or other sports, for example.
For the two personal projects that I am working on now, I do go out on the street and take pictures and notes. I canât find the info I need for these books anywhere else but in real life.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
I never got around having my own web site because it was so expensive. So I really donât know if it would have worked for me in the past. On the other hand, I have found tons of information on the illustration world, for sure! Itâs also taught me that you have to BE out there, present at all times.
Are you planning on creating a website to help promote you work?
Yes. Things have changed and now there are ways for you to manage your own site, without having to rely on someone else. Internet is so huge and absorbing! Everything is in there, the whole World at your feet, and I know I have to take advantage of that as a working tool.
Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?
Oh yes. And I am experimenting more and more with it. Itâs a great tool! I just hope I never stop drawing by hand, though.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
Yes, I think a tablet is a must. But I still draw by hand and scan; then add color with Photoshop.
How did you get the scholarship with the government of France?
Well, my mom saw to it that I learned French since I was quite young, so I always thought Iâd go over to France some way or another and spend a decent amount of time in that country.
The story is that one day, I was walking back from meeting with an editor, and I passed by the Foreign Affairs Cultural Exchange office. I went in and asked for information and right then and there they gave me the papers and all of the instructions that I needed. I got everything together, all of the signatures, the recommendation letters, admission to a couple schools in France; I was diligent and fast. I turned in my dossier and forgot about it (I did not want any suffering or hand wringing or worries or any of that). Then one day they called to inform me that I had been accepted and that I had an interview with the French Cultural AttachĂ©. Then I got nervous! It felt so good to get the scholarship; they even arranged my change to Strasbourg, to this more amazing art school, LâEcole Superieure des Arts Decoratifs. It was great! I once told my teacher, Monsieur Claude Lapointe, âI canât drawâ. He answered: âThen donât drawâ. It was the first time someone told me I could illustrate away from a piece of paper. It was a really great time of learning and experimenting.
How long did you study in France?
Do you think that experience changed your style?
Well, it let me dream and experiment. Open my mind and really look at all the possibilities around me. Like I said before, illustrating not only happens on a flat piece of paper. I loved what Monsieur Lapointe told me, you can NOT draw. And it taught me to be an illustrator, to narrate, tell a story trough images; I really learned the how to over there. I think my style has changed over the years because Iâve worked and learned with every new assignment. I feel my style is evolving, changing, growing all the time.
How did you end up doing art exhibits around the world?
In 1997 I got selected in the Bologna Childrenâs Book Fair Catalog (the book name is âStorms in a Bottled Seaâ). After being exhibited in Italy, those illustrations took a tour to Japan and Taiwan. After, IBBY asked for them to be shown in New Delhi and Brazil.
Another book, âA loved cowâ was granted an Encouragement Prize at the NOMA Concours in Japan. Then those images were taken to Taiwan. I also participated in the Golden Apple in Bratislava.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
Of course! Illustrating a book that I will also write! Having my ALL MINE book in a bookstore, that is my BIG DREAM!
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on two personal project dummies. Of course I also wrote the stories! They are both inspired by my two youngest nephew and niece. They are my biggest source of inspiration.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love â the best place to buy â a new product that youâve tried â A how to tip, etc.
Get notebook and bring it with you all the time. And a small pocket camera, if you can. Right now, for the two dummies that I am working on, I go out on the street a lot, take pictures, notes. You canât rely on your memory alone, you need to keep a log of everything you see, everything you find. I am also a big stuff collector. I collect everything: stuff from nature, stuff I find just lying about. I love old things; I love flea markets, old bookstores. I keep all kinds of stuff because you never know what youâll need for a project. Any project.
As for proper materials, I like Winsor and Newton watercolor paper. I also love Arches, because of the textures. I used to like smooth papers, but now I want them to have texture. I also like Dr. Ph Martins and Ecoline watercolors.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
This is a tough question, I think.Â It depends on what every individual thinks success is. For me, success itâs being quite happy with what you do. I know Iâve had to be patient and Iâve developed what you call a âthick skinâ. You have to be strong. In this profession you find more than enough cruelty and negativity, so donât lend your feelings to those. Keep working, keep learning; never ever think that youâve finished learning! Â Also, and this is a BIG one for me: READ. Read as much as you can. You canât illustrate if you donât absolutely LOVE reading.
A few other covers from picture books Ana has done.
Ana thank you so much for sharing your talent, process, and journey with us. Please keep in touch. We would love to hear about all your future successes.
You can contact Ana through Christina Tagueau: www.catugeau.com Please take a minute and leave a comment for Ana â Thanks!