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the field: an interview with baptiste paul and jacqueline alcántara
The Field by Baptiste Paul, pictures by Jacqueline Alcántara (March 2018).
I love how this picture book begins the way it ends, with “Vini!” (Come!)—the field itself beckoning. Indeed, The Field calls out to both its characters and its readers: come, be part of play and life and friends and home.
Chronicling one day spent joyfully playing futbol despite obstacles, it’s full of dynamic action and camaraderie. Both the text with English and Saint Lucian Creole words, as well as beautifully vibrant, varied illustrations, make this fantastic story truly move. It’s a standout.
And I’m so lucky to be able to share an interview with the author, Baptiste Paul, and illustrator, Jacqueline Alcántara with you today so you can hear more about them and their process! They both answered the same set of questions, so in a true treat, we get to hear both their perspectives.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
This Picture Book Life: What is your own experience with futbol/soccer and how did it inform THE FIELD?
Baptiste Paul: As a child, I played futbol/soccer a lot. I always played barefoot — not by choice but by circumstance. Soccer was my escape from my reality — the poverty I faced as a child. It was my safe space. It was a place where my friends and I learned to navigate and solve problems. Sometimes, we got into a few scuffles but always found a way to solve our differences before the game ended. It was the place where I was the happiest — the place where the hardships magically disappeared and where Creole came to life. I am a believer in you write what you know and writing about futbol while speaking my native language was a natural fit.
Jacqueline Alcántara: While I didn’t play a lot of soccer growing up, I did play some pick-up games with friends throughout high school and in my backyard, with my dad when I was younger. But I love the universality of the game and it’s one of the only sports I can tolerate watching on TV! (go Barça!) One of my favorite memories from visiting family in Honduras is a nighttime soccer game in the mountains with a few cousins and some little kids from the neighborhood. We played in cowboy boots with a beat up old ball, on a field, just like the one in this book and under a huge night sky with stars so big it felt like you could pull one down. I definitely reached back into that memory to remember what that place and time felt like, and just the humor and excitement that goes along with any impromptu game.
TPBL: This story is so full of joyful action. How did you go about creating that kind of action? Baptiste, how did you develop and craft the story to be so active and Jacqueline, how did you accomplish that dynamic movement through the illustrations?
Baptiste Paul: The game I played as a child was jam packed with fun. We made the most out of every game — even on rainy days — we were unstoppable. We played for hours. The use of Creole words, adds that joyfulness and makes the story complete. When we played, these were the words we yelled out and being authentic to the story meant I had to use creole words. The Creole words in the text might look simple but they are alive and they have emotions.
Jacqueline Alcántara: Well, I absolutely love illustrating action / movement sequences. I did a lot of figure sketching to start – gathering imagery from movies, photos, youtube videos, etc., of people playing soccer around the world, then deciding which movements worked for each character. I tried exaggerating some of those movements to create an even more dynamic composition. I think it feels joyful as well because the nature of a pick-up game is so different than something organized – there’s more unity and camaraderie amongst the players and I tried to portray that through everyone working together, helping each other, and celebrating each other’s victories regardless of the team they were on.
TPBL: What was it like seeing the artwork or text for the first time?
Baptiste Paul: I was very emotional. My world, the one I envisioned and the one I wanted to share with the world was now a reality. As I flipped through each page, I kept stopping to wipe the tears and to revisit my childhood. I saw myself chasing the animals off the field and that brought back special memories.
Jacqueline Alcántara: As I read through the manuscript the first time, I had a strong vision of the whole story – character setting, colors, everything! I instantly loved the language Baptiste used and after a few more readings, I realized there was a real beauty in the specific words and phrases he chose that allowed me a very clear direction of his vision, but it also left a lot open to my interpretation – which made it such a fun and gratifying process.
TPBL: Please tell us about your process from concept to finished product. Where did you start? How did the project come to be? How were you paired and did you collaborate at all?
Baptiste Paul: I always start with a memory or an idea. The Field as a children’s book came on a day that I was playing outside in the rain with my kids. Realizing the importance of a moment or an idea and applying universal themes is powerful. I realized that the moments I spent playing in the rain (and mud) brought back happy memories. My process involves, a pencil, memo book, asking lots of questions like who, what, why where, when and how and pacing back and forth talking to myself.
Pairing was completely coincidental and yes we collaborated only once during the entire process. In fact, I included only one illustrator’s note in the text.
Jacqueline Alcántara: Once I got the green light, I started by writing out some really rough ideas for the narrative of the illustration and sketching quick compositions. I knew I wanted the illustrations to embrace that super fulfilling feeling you get after having the best-day-ever playing with friends. So, I decided I wanted the illustrations to go from one character playing alone, to seeking out friends, to ending with that feeling of friendship, love and exhaustion! And I knew I wanted the cast of characters to be somewhat diverse in age and appearance – after all that’s the fun of pick-up!
I then worked on sketching out ideas for characters; pulling ideas from stories my dad told me about people he grew up playing soccer with in Honduras, and incorporating random personal memories of people or outfits or attitudes that popped up while sketching. It wasn’t until I spoke with my mentor, Carolyn Dee Flores, that I starting really thinking about the storm and the field as key characters themselves! It felt so obvious after she mentioned it to me – after all “The Field” is the title of the book and therefore the main character right?!
After sketches, I played a lot with color, even though I had really clear ideas of the colors I wanted to use, I experimented with which medium (usually I use a combination of marker, gouache and photoshop) would be best suited for the different elements. I experimented a lot while creating the final illustrations to get the feel of the setting, the lighting, and the relationships as they all looked in my imagination. I think I got close!
TPBL: How would you sum up the spirit or theme of the book?
Baptiste Paul: It’s a celebration of friendship and play.
Jacqueline Alcántara: The book reminds me to never let anything get in the way of having fun, always being open to making new friends, and to jump over, slide under or dive straight into any obstacles!
Big thanks to both Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara for speaking with me, and to Nicole Banholzer for images!
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