Above: Fran stands aside the mural of an upside down alligator in Atlanta, Georgia—a work of the Belgian artist ROA.
Although she has been dabbling in art since high school, Frances Alvarez never really thought she’d end up pursuing an artistic career, until it happened. “When I was younger and much more naive, I thought I’d have that grand cinematic moment of revelation where I realize where I truly belong, of what I should be doing all my life,” Fran shares.
“The reality, though, is that most of art is work, and it doesn’t present itself in that romantic way most of the time.”
Hard work and talent eventually led her to the artistic path. Since 2011, she’s been honing her craft with Studio Dialogo, specializing in corporate design, while juggling side projects with children’s illustration champion Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK) and the craft group Speculiars.
She’s also a published children’s book illustrator, with a few Adarna House titles under her belt. These include Can We Live Without Trees? (words by May Tobias-Papa), Hating Kapatid (words by Raissa Rivera Falgui) and 100 Questions Filipino Kids Ask Vol 2 (a collaboration between various writers and artists). This list is still short of what she’s done for Anvil Publishing, Summit Books and the BDO-WWF partnership among others.
From once being unsure of a future in art, Fran now finds validation in what she calls “small moments of success”. She counts her blessings through the completion of a project, the joy her illustrations bring to children, and simply being able to pay her bills through her craft. “[These] are when I am assured that a) I can make it work and that b) yes, I quite like all of this.”
On our Take Five with Fran, we’ll explore more of her work and creative process, as well as her internship with Cornell Lab in New York. She also shares her thoughts on the impact of trade fairs and social media to art and makes a book recommendation for the President.
“Before I’m an illustrator, I’m a fan. I get excited when I discover new things that other people come up with.”
How does your creative process differ from when you’re making art for Studio Dialogo, for AngINK and for Speculiars?
F: My work, even though some are more personal than others, are mostly meant to communicate and share ideas, and Dialogo, INK, and Speculiars are three different places where I can do that in different ways. [At] Dialogo, I work with a team everyday, and almost all of our projects are based on what our clients need and when they need it. My process is more systematic working in the office because there are specific things to draw or design, and our projects need to be functional most of all. Working on projects together with other people also require more organization and discipline, which are very good and important things to learn. It’s not a rigid working environment at all and my workmates are fun, but of course we can’t just do what we want and make the projects personal all the time.
With INK and Speculiars, I can experiment more loosely and make more expressive work. With Speculiars, I have to consider the business side of things more closely, but in any case I take INK exhibits and craft fairs with Speculiars as opportunities to try out a new skill set, to learn via trial and error or to just play around. It’s a pretty good deal being part of these three groups because I can work on all the different things I want to make, and have these venues to show them in.
What were your favorite titles (picture or non-picture books) growing up? And, if you could recommend one for the President to read, what would it be*?
F: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorite reads when I was young! I still re-read it sometimes. And my book reco for Mr. President is Fruitcake by the Eraserheads, edited by Jessica Zafra, illustrated by Cynthia Bauzon-Arre.
*This question was borrowed from the New York Times’ By the Book column.
Lately, we’ve been seeing more discussions on art, specifically on the public’s perception of both its monetary and intangible values. Would you say that social media (specifically Instagram) and the advent of [crowd-drawing] art fairs play certain roles in these discussions? And do you see actual improvements happening in the way the general public view art?
F: I think one of the biggest roles that fairs and social media play is that they make art very accessible, and in my book this is a big improvement for society overall. Art reaches more people now more than ever, and people can freely be affected by art and also express their thoughts on what they see, read, or watch, whether they’re artists themselves or part of the audience. Social media and art events debunk the idea that art is this ultra sacred thing that only highly educated people have access to, physically or otherwise. I am personally not a big fan of this way of thinking.
All this buzz also makes for a good starting point for anyone who wants to make things and share their work. Before I am an illustrator, I am a fan, and I get excited when I discover new things that other people come up with. There are so many surprising gems out there and I am happy we have the technology and the events that let us see and experience these new things, as well as get in touch with those who make them.
You recently completed an internship with Cornell Lab in New York. Can you tell us what you worked on, and what your biggest takeaway was from that experience?
F: I worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia department (who is also in contact with the Philippine Eagle Foundation), and made big artworks for a children’s picture book about the Philippine Eagle. We’re actually still wrapping things up, but ultimately the book will be used by teachers to educate children in remote areas about conservation and caring for the environment.
One of my biggest takeaways was realizing how much more important illustration is in the big picture. Making a picture book is a really tedious job that takes up a lot of time and energy, so when you’re on the production side, it’s mostly work work work. Stepping back from that made me realize that the project is so much bigger than just being drawings on a book because of the cause it represents. A simple format such as the picture book can carry so much weight. It was a very humbling experience and I’m grateful to have been part of it. On a more personal note, I think I am also less shy and much braver now because of the whole experience.
Do you keep an art journal? Can you share a page/s from it?
F: I’ve been making small collages in my sketchbook recently, mostly featuring one-liners of thoughts or feelings. ◪
Frances is releasing her first illustrated zine, Ladies in Jeepneys, vol. 1, this Saturday, August 6, at the Komikon Indieket. She is currently part of the group show Never Odd or Even at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. You can also catch her at Ang INK’s 25th year exhibit at the Ayala Museum, which opens on September 12.