As it turns out, Michael Jackson was wrong. A-B-C isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. After a year of hard work and collaboration, I am proud to have finally completed my alphabet book, “Living Letters ABC.” The softcover is out now and available for you to order on Amazon or Blurb.
In the Beginning…
It all started with an ordinary day sketching at the cafe. I was in the colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casa in the Highlands of Chiapas. This town was my home for a heartbeat and a place that will always be dear to my heart. I made my way down the charming cobblestone streets on a daily basis to the cafes where I would take some time for myself and my creative process. People-watching has always been a great inspiration for me – style, behavior, interaction, expression – I find it all fascinating.
On this day, a man passed by me. His face was kind. He cracked a smile at me. His face was familiar. He had the eyes of my grandfather. My grandfather –Gramps, is what I called him – was the most important person in my life.
He was the most compassionate man and always gave all the grandkids the love and attention we deserved. He was also the man who taught me to use my imagination and draw my first typographic forms. His imagination was always at work as well.
Gramps was always tinkering, making ingenious inventions, and drawing in his trusty notepad. There was always a notepad and pen nearby for us to use. But that wasn’t necessary. Gramps couldn’t efficiently use the tip of his finger to create letters and shapes in the air. Objects that didn’t exist, except in reality for me. This reality is where I was happiest.
What I enjoyed was the evolution of these drawings. The letters and shapes eventually transformed into what Gramps dubbed his “Prehistoric Creatures.” These creatures were amalgams of various animals. You know, like a zonkey or liger. I would shout out various animals and a body part. Gramps would add that part to his drawing until the creature was complete. Then it would be my turn to draw as Gramps named out animals. We would continue until I wore him out. He would end the last drawing by saying to me “You Leepy, Me Leepy.” This saying was my cue that I had exhausted him, drawing time was over, and it was now time to close my eyes and rest.
I found myself lost deep within this memory of these moments my grandfather. All of a sudden, I began doodling rapidly in my sketchbook an alphabet – letterforms that had zoomorphic characteristics. Each letterform quickly came to me from A-Z. These were the first sketches of the “Living Letters.”
Something was stimulating to me here. But I was still unclear as to where this was going to go. I knew though that this seed I had planted was about to grow into something bigger. I was eager to head home and explore the possibilities of this project.
Hand to Hand
I wouldn’t even make it home before this idea began to burst in my brain. As made my way home, I took my usual path meandering through the artisan market. The market is always one of my favorite places to be – there is so much to see and absorb – as it’s continually changing. I know many of the local artisans with whom I work or support by buying traditional handmade goods from them. Then one particular artisan who I love, popped into my head – Silvia.
Silvia Diaz is an artisan from Chiapas. Her craft is making plush objects embroidered with a considerable amount of detail and care. Her work is vibrant and beautiful. She makes hearts, animals, skulls and many other things from her imagination. I thought she could be the perfect person to breathe life into my doodles. She could transform my sketches into three-dimensional plush letterforms.
So, with my sketchbook in hand, I stopped by her puesto to chat with her about my idea. I’m pretty sure that she thought I was a little crazy in the beginning. But, she was down to make these creatures. I talked to her for a bit about my idea left her with one ink sketch of the letter “L.” When I returned to pick it up, I was so elated with the results. The “L” came to life like a mini, blue llama.
I decided to make more. We began with the obvious – A, B, and C. I started to post the drawings and images on my Instagram and I was overwhelmed with how much everyone loved these letters. I was getting more excited and ambitious and thought I would make the whole alphabet into plush creatures.
Quickly, that idea blossomed into something bigger. If I could get my friends to adopt a letter from the alphabet, I could afford to create the entire collection and make an artsy typography book as the final product. The support of my friends quickly rolled in as soon as I put the idea out there. I contracted Silvia to make the entire alphabet.
I began to make more detailed sketches of each letter. This time in color with watercolor paints. I would keep my sketchbook and paints with me and create wherever I was – out in nature, at a cafe, or on the balcony of the apartment. Then I got curious about making digital drawings. So with my Wacom tablet hooked up to my laptop, Adobe Illustrator became my new studio space. I could now create color and pattern variations as quickly as they came to me.
Silvia made each letter with embroidered designs combining traditional symbols and patterns with my contemporary take. My collaboration with Silvia lasted a couple of months. I would go to have my digital sketches printed out, deliver them her at the market and pick a batch of whatever she had ready for me. We continued with each letter until the entire alphabet was complete. I found myself surrounded by a menagerie of plush creatures awaiting their next stage of metamorphosis.
Plush to Paper
Now that I had the plush creatures, it was time to make the book. I had several ideas floating around about what this was going to look like in the end. But first, I had to photograph each of the letters to get the digitized and into my machine. I also knew I wanted some hand embroidered typography to play with, so I employed my friend, Martha Meza Gúzman to create an embroidered font for me.
Once in the computer, I created sketches around each letter. I combined the plush images with some digital typography. Once I got the book laid out, I wasn’t happy with this first direction. I hit a creative block. That meant I had to get back to some handwork and my sketchbook. After several weeks, I developed various landscapes and environments in which each creature could exist. I had the idea; now I had to create a style that would work.
Less is more. That always works. I decided the background shapes needed to be simple, monochromatic silhouettes. The forms would define the ambiance for each letter to have an environment, but be left open for some imaginative interpretations. Slowly, these illustrations began to come together.
There were some difficult times. I found myself working with files so large, that my laptop, couldn’t handle them. Sometimes, I didn’t even know if it was working – even though its wheels were spinning. It became discouraging, and I thought I might never get this done. But I persevered as I could see the book coming to full fruition.
Finally, after months and months, I had my file finished. I got some much-needed help from my brother proofing the book. Now it was ready for upload. It was time to press “send.” I was nervous, hoping everything was going to be perfect. The next several days waiting for the FedEx man caused a bit of anxiety. But when he arrived, so much relief!
I nervously opened the box of my first order of books. The first thing I saw was my face on the back cover. Then I turned the book over, and I was so pleased with the front cover. I enthusiastically flipped through the book. Every page looked amazing! I was so proud to finally have self-published this book.
Thank you again to Silvia and Martha and everyone who adopted a letter to make this book possible. I want to express my gratitude to my friends and the people of Chiapas for their inspiration and encouragement.
How to Buy and Support
A portion of the profits from each book goes back to artisans in Mexico!
Softcover available on Amazon in the US shop.
Softcover Available on Blurb for US and International orders.
TIP: If you’re ordering on Blurb for the first time, use this link to get a credit on your first order.
If you would like to make a large order or a wholesale order, please contact me directly.
Gift a Book in Mexico
Giving is good. You can gift a book to an underprivileged community in Mexico. Your book will go directly to a child, family, or organization such as a library or school. I’ll even include a sticker in the front of the book with your name (if you include it on your notes in the cart), so the recipient knows who it came from.
How to Give a Book:
- BUY a book (or books) on Blurb or Amazon
- SHIP to my address: Xhico, PO Box 774, Oakdale, CA, 95361 USA
- I will collect all the books received intermittently on my return trips to California. I will personally deliver the books to a community in need. You will receive an email (if you include it in your notes in the cart) that your book has been gifted.
Show Your Support
Aside from buying a book, support in other forms goes a long way. Here are some other ways you can show your support:
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