In this installment of Meet the Illustrator, we chat with Juana Medina, the talented artist behind 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book. Little kids will love this creative romp that features vegetables transformed with line drawings into adorably expressive animals — and they’ll learn some valuable counting skills along the way! We chatted with the Colombian author and illustrator about her early memories of exercising her artistic expression on toys, the unlikely inspiration for her book, and how travel — big and small — is a surefire way to help kids get creative.
What first made you excited about art?
I think the first time I was excited about art was when I drew long eyelashes on a doll — I felt I enhanced its looks greatly! Even as a child, I was moved by the power to create things to my liking.
I was lucky to grow up in an artistic family. My grandfather was a surgeon who used to explain many things through drawings or diagrams, my grandma was a carpenter, and my aunt was a potter; everyone seemed to have some kind of creative inclination. This not only ensured my early access to all sorts of art materials, but for a long time I thought drawing was just another way for everyone to express themselves.
Also, going to a school (from pre-K through high school) that valued arts greatly made me believe for a little longer that everyone drew, since I was surrounded by people who thought of art as one more way to communicate. It wasn’t until my first round in college, studying Physical Therapy, that I realized not everyone draws. It was then that I recognized how fortunate I was to have grown up immersed in a world where art was considered an essential part of life.
What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
There have been many illustrated books that have marked me in a very special way. Nicholas, illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé and written by René Goscinny, and Me and My Sister Clara, written by Dimitar Inkiow and illustrated by Fritz Goller, are especially memorable.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
Oh, everywhere! I do a lot of people watching, particularly while on long walks. Some inspiration comes from conversations, reading books, and listening to interviews on the radio. Sometimes inspiration will come from looking at things as simple as my lunch — next thing I know, I’m using vegetables as part of my drawings.
What does your workspace look like?
Depends on the day and it depends on who you ask. To me it looks quite organized, to my partner … not so much. I currently have a small studio at home where I do mostly digital work and a small studio in a co-working space for artists, where I can get things a little messier while working with ink. I’m still quite new to the common studio space, but it’s certainly nice to be around other creatives while working.
What materials do you most like to use?
Ink on paper. I like the contrast of a dark, velvety ink on a stark sheet of paper.
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
Books! Visit libraries, because they are the perfect way to stumble into the unknown. So is traveling — be it taking an uncommon route back home or traveling to a new continent. The journey is often humbling and inspiring.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
Since English is not my first language, I’m still learning many names for colors here. “Tan Hide” or “Judge Gray” are particularly intriguing to me. In Spanish, it would be “Azul Papaya” (blue papaya), which doesn’t actually exist but is often used to describe off-colors.
Juana Medina was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia and came to the U.S. to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She now lives in Washington, DC, where she teaches at the Corcoran College of Art. Visit her at juanamedina.com.