This month we welcome illustrator Carlos De la Garza to our series. Please enjoy this interview, filled with candor.
Carlos has been an elementary school art teacher for over two decades. He credits SCBWI for connections leading to his debut as an illustrator in Daddy, Can You See the Moon? (written by Gayle C. Krause, Clear Fork Publishing, 2019).
“I remember painting way back in kindergarten, and I’ve never lost that love to make art. Even at my most frustrating moments, I’d rather be making art than doing anything else.”— Carlos De la Garza, TheChosenDiego@gmail.com
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in Brownsville, Texas, the southernmost tip of Texas, but I loved going to South Padre Island and cities near the border in Mexico. I loved to draw, but art wasn’t offered in my elementary school. By the time I took my first art class in middle school, most of my friends were band geeks. After some negative criticism from my art teacher, I decided to join band and didn’t take another instructional art class until college. Luckily, most of my friends played a variety of role-playing games, so there was always demand for drawings of characters, battles, and the like. One of my friends was an outstanding artist. Once I got over the disappointment of being a distant second, I pushed myself to learn on my own and work harder to keep up.
Did you always want to be an illustrator, or did that come later?
As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I remember drawing on the end-pages of my picture books trying to copy the illustrations inside. When I was in high school, I became really interested in comic books. I followed Spiderman, the X-Men, and the occasional Marvel limited editions like Secret Wars. That hooked me on wanting to illustrate stories.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
A guy who over-schedules his day. I’m up by 6:00 AM and head to work by 6:40. I teach all day, pick up my daughter, work out, take care of the household essentials, and, time permitting, work on freelance drawings.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I’m an art teacher, so it helps me quite a bit. It gives me reason to work on art consistently, be a model for my students, and gain exposure to local artists (both contemporary and historical). When I do get time to work on my own projects, it’s so very precious to me. I feel like I have to utilize it. This is a double-edged sword, however. When I struggle, it is extremely frustrating, and I have the double bogey of not advancing my work and losing precious time.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I’m proud of illustrating two books (only one of which was published). However, most of my proudest accomplishments don’t have to do with highlights, but rather with tenacity and grit. I’m extremely proud that I stuck with finishing that first book, even though I knew nothing about illustrating or publishing and I was working with a first-time author who was likewise oblivious. I was proud of finishing the proof page and the cover for my second book, as well as all the pages that followed with each one being a milestone to be completed. I’m proud of belonging to SCBWI and attending meetings, going to conferences, and trying to make contacts with well established and successful artists/illustrators. Of course, I’d like to be proud of a successful book or even recognition for my art. But for now, I’m proud that I can be a role model for my students by sticking to something and seeing it through to the end.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I’m always surprised by the creative life. What surprises me most is my exposure to more and more art by a greater breadth of artists. So much talent. So many avenues for people to be recognized, to promote their work, to be successful. I wish I could be like so many of them, even with each being so vastly different from each other. I’m surprised that no matter how much I practice, I always feel like an amateur. I always feel like I have so far to go to improve my work.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Like any illustrator, I hope they find a story within the picture. I hope they try to discover it before they read a single word. But secretly, I hope they discover that I care a lot about the content of each illustration.
3 Quick Fire Questions:
Would you rather teach your students to draw or to paint?
Drawing is the basis for all other art. As an art teacher, drawing is more fundamental, but I have to give that painting is usually more fun (especially for youngsters).
Would you rather stay in a treehouse or an underground cave?
Treehouse. Better view and way better smell (I’ve done both).
Would you rather be able to go back in time or have the power to stop time whenever you felt like it?
I’d much rather have the power to stop time. As tempting as it is to go back in time to change mistakes, get the girl, etc., it’s a deceptive temptation. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the mistakes I made in the past. If I fixed them, even with the best of intentions, it might end up having a worse outcome, or I might become a lesser person for not experiencing the mistake.