Illustrator Isabel Roxas Reveals the Secret to a Successful Children's Book
When people first meet Isabel Roxas, many of them marvel at her job title as a children’s book illustrator. When this happens, Roxas and her colleagues just give each other a look that telepathically sends the message, “Oh, you have no idea…”
The New York-based illustrator and artist treats her work as she would a typical nine-to-five job. She arrives at her studio at 10 a.m., tries her best to honor deadlines, works on replying to e-mails in the afternoon. “It’s got its high points but it’s got low moments, too. It’s riddled with its own challenges but as a whole, it’s a pretty nifty gig,” she tells Town&Country.
Despite the challenges, Roxas is doing immensely well, supplying popular children’s books, magazines, and comic books with powerful illustrations. With something of a Midas touch, she recently worked on Hello, Universe, authored by Filipino-American Erin Entrada Kelly, which won the Newbery Medal. Before that, there was the release of Let Me Finish! by Minh Le, which was selected as a Best Book of the Year by National Public Radio.
With each book release, a pattern has become apparent to Roxas. “If it’s honest and from the heart, it usually succeeds,” she says. Truth and heart. Those are the elements that Roxas believes to go hand in hand with producing a children’s book. There's also the aspect of having fun with the book, its story, and its pictures.
Her love for illustrating began early in life, during her childhood in the Philippines that she describes as “pretty ordinary.” Like other mothers, Isabel’s sent her to after-school programs. There were piano lessons, then violin ones, but none that “really stuck” except the drawing. On Saturday afternoons, Roxas attended drawing classes at a small studio called Artists’ Forum, where she, one of two children in the class, was surrounded by adult students. She was fascinated by this crowd but also very grateful that her older classmates wouldn’t baby her. “They would just treat us as fellow artists,” she explains.
It was at one point in high school that she first thought of illustrating as a profession. “There was a picture book store called Young Minds. It’s gone now but I loved it. I would hang out there all the time.”
As an artist living in New York, Roxas draws inspiration from a tireless city. She allows time for seeking out this inspiration by perhaps attending a children’s film festival one day or visiting a museum another. She spends her weekends navigating through new neighborhoods. Her unique remedy for conquering an artist’s block is either to “change it up or keep at it.” Through her ceramics hobby, which she mentions she finds relaxing, she was able to create an army of turtle figurines and a new character called Il Pinguino, which are now for sale on her website.
Next up for Roxas? Illustrations for a picture book, Life is Good, written by Yvette Fernandez and her late sister Jackie Fernandez
Life Is Good: A Tale of Two Elephants, coming soon to National Book Store.
Also, Roxas is looking forward to an all-new byline that lists her as both author and illustrator. Last year, she released a self-published comic entitled Squid Happens, and is conjuring up its sequel.
“Many people write and illustrate their own stuff nowadays, and that’s a dream project that I’m currently working my way toward,” says Roxas. In the meantime, she’s honing her writing and assigning herself homework, such as sitting in a café and listening to strangers’ conversations, sharpening her ear for dialogue.