• Fabi Santiago

    Fabi Santiago



    JULY 2018

    FABI SANTIAGO, whose picture book Tiger in a Tutu was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, creates picture books that are full of character and humour with a very real glimpse into children's young lives.

    In I Really Want that Unicorn, Chloe the crocodile is desperate to win a unicorn (a very special unicorn!) in a talent contest; but she is up against some serious competition. The picture book plays with children's obsessive desires for 'that' toy - and their competitiveness when a special toy is involved. It also shares the realisation that we don't always get what we want...

    Here, FABI SANTIAGO tells us more about her approach to creating picture books and her latest title, I REALLY WANT THAT UNICORN:

    Q: How did you begin creating children's picture books?

    A: I started when I was about six, when my sister and I wrote, illustrated and 'self published' our own stories. After a very long break I decided making art was my dream career. In 2012 I took the MA in children's book illustration at Cambridge School of Art.

    Q: Do you do other work with your art, apart from your children's books?

    A: I also make screen prints that I sell in my online shop and at crafts fairs. I still want to try other things with my illustrations like applying them to textiles and ceramics.

    Q: Did being shortlisted for the Waterstones Award for Tiger in a Tutu inspire you to continue in this area or have any impact on your career to date?

    A: I think being shortlisted for a big prize makes you think you're doing something right, and that's definitely encouraging!

    Q: What sparked the idea for children competing for a (fabulous) prize in I Really Want THAT Unicorn?

    A: When I was little, I wanted the 'My Little Ponies' SO BADLY - and so did all my friends. They are the inspiration behind the Mellow Yellow Unicorn - I still have some of my ponies today. Growing up with siblings and having epic rows over toys that we were supposed to share may also have had something to do with it.

    Q: How hard is it to create a character like Chloe the crocodile in so few words and pages?

    A: The characters are actually very easy, they just show up like that, frequently unannounced, then I kind of know what they would do and the sort of trouble they'd get into. The word-trimming and page count bit is a lot harder but I have the best editor and an art director in the galaxy to help. Thank you Emily and Grahame!

    Q: There are lots of funny details in the drawings and the text - how important is it for you to have humour in your picture books? Do you have a favourite moment?

    A: Yes! Humour is super important, there's no reason to take life so seriously. I suppose I have a strange sense of humour, my favourite moments are usually the ones where things go very wrong. I think it's very funny (SPOILER ALERT!) when neither Chloe or Veronica get the prize. I always really like ambiguous endings so the last page is a favourite moment too.

    Q: How - and at what stage - do you create the images?

    A: My characters always come first, sometimes I have a scene or two very clearly in my head. But the final illustrations are always the last thing, after we're all happy with the layouts and text.

    I make my illustrations by screen printing, which in a nutshell is: I draw and ink acetates, expose them onto a silk screen and then push the different colour inks through the stencil on the screen. Each layer is a different colour. It takes a bit of time and patience but I love working by hand.

    Q: Do any of the spreads stand out for you?

    A: It took so much hard work and love to make this book that it's hard to choose one. Hummm... The last double spread looks very magical with Chloe and Veronica playing in the castle under the stars, and Fabrizio flying to the moon on his balloon and penny farthing, holding the Mellow Yellow unicorn.

    Q: How does your working day go? What are you working on now?

    A: I get up at 6'sh and have breakfast in bed, then it's time to make my cats' breakfast. I go to my home studio at the back of the house, I sit there for many hours and look out the window to the fields - and daydream a lot. I draw and paint things or write stories.

    There isn't much structure to my typical day, the only rule is no emails in the morning and no mobile phone. At the moment I'm finishing a picture book about going to the cinema, doing the illustrations for a dinosaur book and working on the text for a shark story.

    Q: What are your top tips for children who like the idea of being an illustrator?

    A: Keep illustrating, keep drawing and make art that you love!

    Q: What for you are the best things about being a children's books author and illustrator?

    A: That I get paid to draw dancing tigers and upside down giraffes, and write things like 'The Mellow yellow Unicorn looked very shiny in the toyshop window, with its glow-in-the-dark horn'.

    Q: Where do you go to escape the studio?

    A: I love the studio, I don't really want to escape! But when I need a bit of a break, my favourite things are camping and going to the sea. If I have a weekend or a short break, I go to Cornwall. A typical week-day escape is something like a walk in the park or popping in to a local cafe to meet friends.