NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL: Rafael Lopez

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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Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.
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