To be an illustrator, or many at one time, to work for different mediums, to be loyal to texts and at the same time enrich them with a new reading through images; to form and learn, to take advantage of the growing editorial availability of picture books and illustrated stories, play and work with the image and, of course, to keep drawing. These are some of the key considerations veteran illustrator Juan Ramón Alonso offers on what it means to be an illustrator. He is a teacher at Bellas Artes, author of tens of illustrated books and covers for well-known authors, and he is still working.
What does Juan Ramón Alonso (Madrid 1951) ask from a text, to illustrate it? ‘To be captivated, to be moved, to be able to catch the atmosphere, the rhythm, lighting and ambience of the story’. He also adds, ‘for me, the text and the illustrations make up a whole’. ‘You have to be loyal to the text, but an illustrator has the great luck and ability to play with the image, there are some very visual texts that leave a margin to explore ambience and very different spaces; there are others that aren’t as visual. With these last, you have to work with the intangible: with tenderness, fondness and sadness. Each story has its own register’.
Ramón Alonso started drawing almost four decades ago, with the collection of books Austral Juvenil. He has been very generous with the writers he has illustrated, never forgetting that an ‘illustration is a drawing that goes with a text’. Amongst his work we can highlight Tom Sawyer detective and La vuelta al mundo, both of which carry texts by Javier Villafañe. He has received various awards and recognitions for his work.
Triunfo, Cuadernos para le Diálogo, Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, El País…Ramón Alonso has worked with all these mediums and many more. He has made covers for Mario Benedetti, José Luis Sampedro, Fernando Savater… he has illustrated texts by Arthur Conan Doyle, Fernando de Rojas, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Lope de Vega…
‘There was one phone call that really moved me, from José Luis Sampedro, who called me to say he really liked my cover for Alfaguara, and he said he could tell I had read his book and had illustrated with fondness’ says Juan Ramón Alonso in an interview for Barbar magazine, 1996. ‘I think that in general, I have been lucky and most of the things I have done have worked.’
Ramón Alonso: 'To be captivated, to be moved, to be able to catch the atmosphere, the rhythm, lighting and ambience of the story. For me, the text and the illustrations make up a whole.'