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Posted at 02:02 AM ET, 09/22/2012

NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL: Artist Rafael Lopez shares a step-by-step peek at how he created the official poster

Is Rafael Lopez better off than he was four years ago?

The short answer: Definitely. His career has especially soared since the California-based artist created election art, titled “Nuestra Voz” (“Our voice”), that caught the eye of the Obama headquarters and became an official campaign poster. Lopez was already an award-winning illustrator and muralist, but the poster helped open up new business opportunities. (For the the U.S. Postal Service, for example, he created a series of five stamps celebrating “Latin Music Legends”; and in 2009, he was hired to make three paintings for Oprah Winfrey’s children’s school in South Africa.)

Most recently, Lopez created the official National Book Festival poster for the Library of Congress. The artist himself will be on hand during this weekend the two-day event (Sept. 22-23) on the Mall, signing and shedding light on his creative process.

Beneath the poster’s elegant simplicity and playfulness lie layers of thought. Lopez may paint on wood, but he delights in going against the grain. “I tried to come up with a completely different look for this year’s poster,” Lopez says by phone from his San Diego studio.

The Mexican-born artist first applies paint to board, then uses metal to scrape out the second layer before it dries. “Some of the color gets caught in the grooves of the wood, so you get this really interesting texture,” he says. “You take what the wood offers you. . . .You never know exactly what you’re going to get until you drag that metal across.” Lopez’s tools include masking tape, tissue paper (on which he drew the poster’s animals) and even a hair dryer as he “molds” the acrylic.

Given Lopez’s balance of precision and spontaneity, Comic Riffs asked Lopez — in his own words — to take us step-by-step through how he created this poster:

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. (courtesy of RAFAEL LOPEZ - .)
STEP 1 : “This first draft was drawn quickly while talking on the phone with [the Library of Congress’s] Jennifer Gavin and getting a feeling of what they liked about my work and the feeling they wanted to get on the poster.”.

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STEP 2: “On this second step, I tighten up the original concept that was quickly accepted by the committee. I use tracing paper and draw the animals separately, then I use my copier to enlarge or reduce the scale of each animal. And then like a puzzle, I start playing with each piece until I like the way they relate to each other. I make sure the elements work together well with the text. It's like trying to choreograph all the elements together.”
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STEP 3: “The next step is to transfer the final drawing into a selected piece of wood, and mask the whole drawing so that I can selectively paint each element.”
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STEP 4: “The largest area to paint, and the one that will influence all my other color decisions, is the background. So I mask everything out except the background, and I'm ready to apply the color to the background.”
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STEP 5: “Here I have painted the background in shades of blue and turquoise. Darker at the top and lighter at the bottom, where I want to create the main focal point.”
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. (Courtesy of artist RAFAEL LOPEZ - .)
STEP 6: “Here I begin to paint the animals where I already know the colors. I leave the other animals, where I'm still undecided, for later. As I continue to paint, my mind continues to solve the color puzzle.”
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STEP 7: “I like to also juxtapose or contrast lighter color with darker tones — as you can see between the lighter dinosaur and the hedgehog.”

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STEP 8: “I want to make sure that my kids can represent many different ethnic groups even, if they are only three in these poster.  
I want my audience to see themselves in my illustrations.”
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. (Courtesy of artist RAFAEL LOPEZ - .)
STEP 9: “I continue to check the placement where the final text will go, to make sure I'm not painting something that will interfere with it. Sometimes I add things next to or around the type. It's kind of like a choreographed ballet between my painting and what the graphic designer will do with the type.”
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STEP 10: “I also like to combine realistic animals, with more whimsical and even fictional animals like the Unicorn. Just like a good book, there is plenty of everything on it.”
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STEP 11: “This painting is ready to be shipped. They will apply the type once it arrives in Washington. I can hardLy wait to see the final product!”
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STEP 12: “And here it is!”
(*Although some type is still to be updated from 2011.)

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By  |  02:02 AM ET, 09/22/2012

Tags:  rafael lopez, national book festival

 
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