Maria S. Costa is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book How to Find a Friend.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for How To Find a Friend?
A: Sometimes, when I start thinking about a new project, I doodle or I write phrases that come to my mind, waiting to see if an idea interesting enough shapes up.
In the case of How to Find a Friend I started by writing a bunch of sentences, mainly thoughts about loneliness. Those sentences evolved to a dialogue between two lonely persons. Or should I say instead, two monologues, like when you have two persons who talk about their own problems but don’t even care to listen to what the other is saying.
This gave me the main idea of the story: two lonely animals so immersed in their own thoughts and busy lives that they keep missing each other and the opportunity to start the friendship they both wish.
By now this must look like a depressing idea for a children’s book. However, I related the subject to what a child must feel when it is hard finding new friends after moving to a new neighborhood. I tried to create a cheer-up story to show that to find a friend could be easier than we think if we keep alert to the opportunities in front of us.
Q: Did you write the text as you drew the illustrations, or did you do one part before the other?
A: I first wrote the text of How to Find a Friend. Then I started making character studies and sketches of the scenes. But along the way the text suffered changes.
Also, I cannot say that the illustration work was secondary to the text. In fact, the book has a strong correlation between text and pictures as we cannot understand the story without both.
That is because text and pictures show us different things. What we see in the illustrations is even the opposite of what characters tell us. And that creates the dynamic and humor of the story.
Q: What inspired your style as an artist?
A: My inspiration comes from several places. I love, for instance, the graphic look and colors of vintage posters, Miroslav Sasek vintage travel books or the use of color in David Hockney’s art.
The current rediscovery of old printmaking techniques, and their mixing with new digital techniques, was also an inspiration to me. I started doing monoprinting, and then I was attracted by the boldness of linocut prints and that persuaded me to try this technique.
Q: What do you hope people take away from the book?
A: How to Find a Friend intends mainly to convey a positive message about life to its readers, whether they are children or adults, using humor to create great moments of fun.
In the meantime, it would be wonderful if it would be able to help lonely children or adults to feel more confident that somewhere there is a friend waiting to meet them, as long as they don’t give up. And to remember that sometimes a friend may be nearer than they think.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m always thinking about ideas for new children’s books and I work on several projects at the same time. Those projects are not necessarily limited to picture books. For instance, I’m developing a project for a novelty book, but I have also in my mind an idea for an early reader/chapter book that I would like to develop in the near future.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Well, I can tell you something about me: I like to hum while I’m illustrating, I’ve already slept on the top of a volcano and I would like to have a chameleon but I’m afraid to lose sight of him.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb