Green Bean Books

Q&A with Raquel Catalina, for Benjy’s Blanket

1.  Benjy’s Blanket is based on a Jewish folk tale – when did you first hear the story?

I read the story for the first time when Miguel Gouveia offered me the opportunity to illustrate it. I immediately felt in love with it.

2. Are the two main characters – the boy and his grandson – based on anyone?

I like to use friends as a reference for my characters. That makes them more consistent for me. But the reference is just the starting point, by the end of the process some bear little resemblance to the original, others will be very close – it depends. 

3. The book was originally published in Portuguese. Do you think anything has changed for the new English edition?  The text has changed into English but does it change in any other way?  

I read an English version for the very first moment! I can’t speak Portuguese.

4. How long does each illustration take you to plan, sketch and complete?

There’s a lot of invisible work that has to be done before I can begin the final drawings. A lot of research, sketching, making decisions about colour, about characters, about so many things that shape the personal view of the author. That takes about half of the time of illustrating a book. 

5. Do you display all your illustrations on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? Or give your followers sneak previews? 

I only have an Instagram account and I have to confess I don’t have any specific plan to show my work. It works as a diary for me. I regularly post what I’m working on, and the overall view of it gives me a kind of self-portrait. If I can’t show what I’m doing for a client, then post a mock-up or a little piece of it. 

6. Are there any books, or particular illustrations, that you are particularly proud to have completed?

Benjy’s Blanket is a good example, I’m very fond of it. I love La mejor jugada de Madani (Madani’s Best Move), the text, written by Fran Pintadera, is a beauty. 

7. Have you won any awards: which is the most important?

I haven’t won awards, but I have been selected to take part in exhibitions in Mexico, Portugal and Madrid with other illustrators whose work I really admire. 

8. What would be your dream illustration project? For a children’s book or something else.

I don’t know. What I really like about my work is the diversity of projects you get involved in. Every work is a challenge. 

9. What tip would you give to aspiring artists?

I suppose the one I would give to myself: read and draw every day!. 

10. Do you think it’s important for Jewish stories to have a Jewish illustrator? (Similarly, for a Buddhist tale do you need a Buddhist illustrator or writer?) Do you need an intrinsic understanding of the topic or can an artist research everything?

Having deep knowledge of a subject undoubtedly helps an illustrator or a writer … But if an artist could only speak in the first person, many of the main literary and artistic works wouldn’t exist. 

11. What is your next project?

I’m working right now in a picture book that I am writing and illustrating myself. 

Benjy’s Blanket is an incredible, moving book with lovely illustrations. Thank you.