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Leo Espinosa
A Magical Book Indeed!
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2012 came with a good deal of adventures and milestones. This children's book I worked on at the beginning of the year was definitely both.

A follow-up to a children's music album I illustrated back in 2008, The Magical Book of Pombo is a compilation of popular fables written at the turn of the XX century by one of Colombia's most famous poets, Rafael Pombo.
Many generations of Colombians have grown up reading these fables, and they are deeply embedded in our culture; However, I've seen just a few illustrated versions that truly reflect the magic of the text -The one
I remember from my childhood being one of them-.

Different from the previous music project, this time I was challenged to create something that would appeal not only to children, but to a multigenerational audience that still feels connected to these stories. At a personal level,
I needed to do something better, or at least as good as the Pombo book I had as a child.

But that wasn't all. The Magical Book proved to be one of the largest, most complex and demanding projects of my career: About a hundred and fourteen illustrations, mostly spreads and full pages for which I cared to render with all my heart, needed to be delivered in a record time of less than three months. Luckily, I worked with a superb creative team that kept revisions at a minimum and trusted my vision.
    
Early spring went by with very little hours of sleep and excruciating back pain, but soon after, when I went down to Colombia for the book launch at the International Book Fair, it was all forgotten. The Magical book of Pombo became the #1 best seller children's book and made it to the Fair's Top 10 list, competing with adult literature.

I have put together a series of sketches and some of my favorite pages from the book with a few notes I consider relevant to the process
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Preliminary sketches of the book jacket and character design were done simultaneously to maximize time. As characters became better defined they where tested over potential background colors for cover. Fourteen of those characters along with an illustrated Rafael Pombo run across the book jacket
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Once I felt a character was fully designed and ready to play into the story, I did fast action scenes that I later matched with the verses. Same thumbnails were used as a base for the final color illustrations, avoiding doing any refined sketches in order to preserve the looseness of those first drawings
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Another big challenge were the stories themselves; Because they are so old, many use elements that are far from PC in today's children's literature: Guns, drinking, stealing... whatever makes those little rascals happy!
The above four pieces belong to The Wondering Tadpole, a charming tale of a -too cool for school- amphibian who at the end of the story gets eaten by a duck. Humor and bold drawings became my best tool in those tricky sections (phew!)
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The different moods of these fables also allowed me to slightly change the way I drew them while still maintaining a classic feel throughout the book. Above, Shepherd Girl, below, The Mischieivous Cat
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Did I mentioned back pain? Just after one of the first all-nighters that came with the project, I threw my back out playing a quick soccer game with my son. A torn disc made it really hard to remain seated at my desk for more than a couple of hours at the time. Depression and anxiety creeped in fast and I became a wreck. Here's where I thank my brother-in-law for going into medical school and becoming a spine specialist. Little by little I regained flexibility, pain was manageable and I was able to finish up the project (If anybody thinks colors turned out a little whacky, I would blame the painkillers)
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Besides really loving drawing this crazy cat party, the spreads above -from Mirringa Mirronga, Coquette pussycat- are good examples of how I mixed elements from different eras. You can see it in the line of antique cars, sports cars and chariots arriving to the soirée.
Below you can also see that pretty much in all the fables I drew the characters with clothing from different decades. Some wear stuff from the 50s or the 20s, some are very contemporary and some others are dressed in classic Colombian outfits. Again, the intention was to give a timeless feel to these old tales.
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I got a kick out of looking for reference of old mansions, parks and streets from Bogotá I needed for The Poor Old Lady story. Furnishing her house with classic and modern furniture was fun too!
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These three last pieces are from Tía Pasitrote. She is the aunt that's constantly in a rush to spoil her precious kitty. By the time I got to work on her story, I was feeling very comfortable with my drawings, the colors and simple compositions. Even though I was exhausted, I really enjoyed drawing her (and her cheeky kitty, of course)
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The morning I finished the book I collapsed in bed, only to wake up in a cold sweat half an hour later to check my e-mail and see if everything was okay. There already was an message from Lucho Correa (designer of the book) asking me for a vector version of a bird from one of the fables he could use to create a pattern for the endpapers. Once the bird was done I slept for an entire day
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Now, here's some people I would like to say gracias to: Obviously to the mastermind and creator of this project, Grammy winner and all-around good karma guy, Carlos Vives


To the amazing Claudia Vasquez for making it all possible and to my my good friend and designer of the book, Lucho Correa. You are a pro and it's always a pleasure working with you, pal!


To the cast of Pombo Musical for feeding my brain with inspiration. You kids put up a brilliant show!


And finally, to all the people that have supported the book. Thank you for your kind messages, sweet picture and for sharing the magic of Pombo with your loved ones. Every single line I drew in it, I did with you in mind
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