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Taking with Illustrator Eric Afuso about the Art of Storytelling



Great storytelling is a gift, whether it’s done with words, or art – or both. “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” written by Jennifer Carson and “Song of the King Salmon” by iconic writer Wang Ping are examples of both, with the extraordinary, yet very different, art bringing the stories to life in each of these books having been created by Eric Afuso.

“Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet,” Afuso’s first book, was a phenomenal success with readers and reviewers, and there is no doubt that this will be the case for the much awaited “Song of the King Salmon.”  In reality “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” and “Song of the King Salmon” are destined to be classics that will stand the test of time. If you are looking for stories that will keep your children enthralled from beginning to end then these books are for you.”

Recently we caught up with Afuso to talk about visual storytelling, finding inspiration, and becoming a highly sought after illustrator.

What was it like for you on a personal and creative level when you were asked to illustrate the wildly popular “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet,” the first children’s book you have worked on?

I felt very fortunate that Brett Axel, my editor, had enough confidence in me to illustrate “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” even though I had no previous experience in children’s book illustration. It was also a stroke of luck that the book’s message of following your dreams against all odds directly reflected my own journey as a children’s book illustrator. I had my own doubts whether I could make my dream of becoming a published children’s book illustrator come true. There were many times in my life when I nearly gave up on following my dream, but I had to tell myself to persevere, keep trying, and to give it everything I got. I felt truly inspired to illustrate “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” and it was the perfect book to set off my career.

While working on this book did you learn anything new about yourself, and/or your creative process? How did you bring this new self-knowledge into creating the illustrations for “Song of the King Salmon”?

Yes, I learned so much while working on “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet.” Since the book was the first one I have ever illustrated, everything was a brand new learning experience. I already familiarized myself with the steps for illustrating a book by reading and listening to other established illustrators write and talk about the process of illustrating books, but it was very exciting and a bit overwhelming to actually experience the process myself.

Once I was able to get my initial experience of illustrating a children’s book, the next book “Song of the King Salmon,” was much easier to illustrate. The lessons I learned from my first book were carried to this next book and actually made it so that I could finish illustrating the book faster than I expected. I learned how efficient time management could help me get better results in less time.

 “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” and “Song of the King Salmon” are very different, yet both tell brilliant children’s stories, and you illustrated them both so beautifully. How did you go about getting into the groove so you can capture the heart and soul of each so perfectly?

I made many character sketches and sketches of their environment for both books. Only after drawing these characters and their environments countless times will I get to be immersed into the characters and their world. I imagine the process comparable to finding a precious gem in a stone. I would have to keep digging and digging until I find the beauty of the gem within, just waiting to be discovered. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, but at the end of it all I uncover hidden gems of art that illustrate the beautiful soul inside each book.

Each of these books is amazing when it comes to both the storyline and the art so it might be hard to answer this question. What are your favorite aspects of each book?

For “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” I really love the main character, Esmeralda Dragon, and how she challenges body image expectations. I really believe we need more books that helps children deal with body image expectations and I thought using Esmeralda to highlight these issues worked perfectly. I had a lot of fun illustrating her and capturing all her boundless energy and enthusiasm for ballet.

I was really excited to try illustrating something new in “Song of the King Salmon.” I’ve never had a chance to illustrate fish or their underwater environment before. It was like a treasure hunt to find the best techniques and best ways to artistically capture this new world. I felt truly challenged to create these illustrations, but the whole experience made me a better illustrator. In the end the illustrations turned out better than I expected with the words and the art of the book in harmony with each other.

I know you have just come off creating illustrations for both these books, but do you have another project you can tell us about?

I do have some books that I am illustrating right now. I am excited to announce that I will be illustrating a follow up book to “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” that will also be written by the talented Jennifer Carson. Later on, I would love to write and as well as illustrate my own children’s books. I have more of my work and upcoming projects at my website

For more information about “Dragons Don’t Dance Ballet” and “Song of the King Salmon” head over to the Vinyl Publishing website.