Puerto Rican illustrator Krystal Quiles recently worked on her first-ever book about a fellow Puerto Rican from the Bronx — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The ABCs of AOC is a children’s book written by feminist activist Jamia Wilson and highlights AOC’s career as a U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional district that includes parts of the Bronx and Queens.
“I can’t help but be inspired by AOC’s strength and ambition. Growing up in this city, coming from a hard-working family and working in the service industry are all things I can directly relate to but to be so young and have already made such an impact on the world, has me in awe,” Quiles, 28, told HipLatina. “As an illustrator, I’m motivated by AOC to find a way to bring light to topics that are important to me and that I think can help people be more accepting of each other. This is the power that art has.”
For each letter, Quiles drew illustrations to exemplify terms like “feminist,” “human rights,” “Queens,” “advocate,” and “Latinx” that Wilson chose because of their connection to AOC.
Her favorite letter to illustrate was “B” for “Bronx” where she intentionally avoids referencing landmarks like Yankee Stadium and the Bronx zoo opting instead to highlight a community garden, something AOC partakes in. “I wanted to show the beautiful family gardens that exist and wanted to highlight that there’s a powerful community-based vibe,” Quiles explained.
The most challenging was “H” for human rights, which features a mix of ages, races, religions, and sexuality standing together. “Knowing that I’d have to include a diverse group of people, it was a lot of pressure because I wanted to make sure everyone felt represented. It was important to show different backgrounds can come together and carry one message because to me this spread also embodies the intention of the book, to come together despite differences.
My community garden plot is doing well!
I was nervous checking up on it today, because Congress has been out of session for 2 weeks for district work. I left it with a bunch of watering stakes/bottles and hoped for the best.
They blew up! Peep the collard greens! 🥬👀 pic.twitter.com/QvBEX85eAd
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 30, 2019
The book also includes an index that explains in more detail each word and exactly how it relates to AOC. “AOC’s standpoint [on immigration] is that people who come into the United States must be rated humanely,” Wilson writes. The artwork for the term “immigration” has AOC holding hands with children as a diverse group of adults embrace and hold U.S. flags.
Wilson and the creative directors came up with the concepts for each letter but Quiles says they were open to her ideas and the direction she wanted to take. The executive art director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers reached out to her about illustrating the book because of her artistic work displayed on her website and shop.
Her online shop features an array of items featuring her artwork including her love of ’90s/ early aughts nostalgia evident in her TLC-inspired pieces including tees and stationery cards and artwork inspired by a line from OutKast’s “Roses” available on pillows and blankets.
Quiles studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and originally focused on printmaking and then went on to communication design. She continued to work as a teacher’s assistant in the printmaking department to integrate fine art with illustration work and those elements continue to show up in her work.
Also influential in her artwork are her Puerto Rican roots and how she was raised. Her parents are second-generation Puerto Ricans and she shared that she grew up with Nuyorican pride listening to salsa music and pasteles which “no doubt had an effect on my creativity.”
The artworks available in her shop vary from home decor to prints and she admits she has no preferred medium but prefers mixed media, a form of art that includes a combination of different materials or mediums.
She explained the intricate process she used to develop the illustrations in the book:
I start out by drawing things by hand, I don’t get into color yet, I focus on the line quality with ink and brush strokes. Then I bring the work into Photoshop and move or fine tune the drawn elements, play with color and [I] may use collage or textures. I have a catalog of paper textures that I scanned into Photoshop, so this adds another design element to the piece. Digital brushes are so good these days, that I use them to touch up my work and in the end it’s a perfect blend of digital, color and good old fashion illustration.
She hopes to continue working on children’s books and her dream project would be to highlight legendary and contemporary dancers, but for now, she’s focusing on freelance assignments including “Migrant Voices,” a recent project she worked on for The Nation magazine. Her illustrations include one of a farmworker named Omar who migrates to the States from Mexico, leaving his family like a quarter-million other Mexicans who do farm work. There’s also one of an undocumented woman who was brought to the U.S. as a baby and fighting to stay in the Bronx. She also worked on an illustration to go with High Country’s review of the novel Sabrina & Corina, about indigenous Latinas of the Southwest.
In addition to her work in the book, she considers “Under the Flamboyant Tree” her favorite piece. It features a young girl sitting contemplatively under a tree surrounded by fish and a monkey hanging from a limb.
“It’s a piece I created as a homage to my younger self when making art was the most care-free experience,” she says. “It’s a reminder to try and make art without taking myself too seriously and remembering what is fun about it, because if it’s not, why do it?”