Today is National Weatherperson’s Day and the perfect day to talk with Helena Perez Garcia.
Why? you may ask.
Because Helena has brought to life America’s first female meteorologist in a picture book that celebrates her life.
Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson will be released in a month’s time, on March 8. However, today I not only have the honor of chatting with Helena (something I am very excited about since I authored the book), but I also get to share three sneak peeks of the rich and beautiful artwork Helena created.
Breaking Through the Clouds by Sandra Nickel, illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia
When Joanne Simpson was a girl, she sailed her boat beneath the puffy white clouds of Cape Cod. As a pilot, she flew her plane so high, its wings almost touched them. And when World War II began and Joanne moved to the University of Chicago, a professor asked her to teach Air Force officers about those very clouds and the weather-changing winds.
As soon as the war ended, Joanne decided to seriously study the clouds she had grown to love so much. Her professors told her to go home. They told her she was no longer needed. They told her, “No woman ever got a doctorate in meteorology. And no woman ever will.”
But Joanne was stubborn. She sold her boat. She flew her last flight. She saved her money so that she could study clouds. She worked so hard and discovered so much that—despite what the professors said—she received a doctorate in meteorology and changed everything we know about weather today.
Helena is a Spanish illustrator whose work has appeared across an extraordinary international range of media and packaging—Heritage wine labels in Australia, documentary illustrations in Hong Kong, Body Shop Advent Calendars seen worldwide. And this is only the tip of the iceberg! She also illustrates books, with Breaking Through the Clouds being her twenty-fourth.
After receiving a master’s degree in Illustration and Design, Helena lived and worked in London for six years. As she absorbed the artistic history and cultural influences of Great Britain and merged them with those of her native country, she developed her characteristic style, which is rich in detail and color—just see below!
To create Breaking Through the Clouds, Helena primarily worked in gouache, finishing things off with colored pencil. What I’ve been dying to know is what attracted Helena to Joanne Simpson’s story and what inspired her illustrations. So, let’s turn things over to Helena, who joins us from Seville, so that we may find out What Was On her…
Mind When Signing on to Breaking Through the Clouds: I was thrilled when the lovely people at Abrams Books contacted me and proposed that I illustrate a story about Joanne Simpson. I must admit that I had never heard of her before. That is one of the reasons I felt it was so important to tell the story of this amazing woman. There are so many pioneering women whose achievements are still unrecognized. I believe it is important to provide girls with role models, and women like Joanne are perfect examples of this. She had to work harder than her male colleagues for her work to be valued, and still she struggled and fought for what she loved. It is such an inspiring story!
Research List: I looked at photos of Joanne and her work. Particularly fascinating were the photos of her notebook with her notes and comments. They were so interesting, even though I couldn’t understand a thing! I also looked at pictures from when she lived, searching for inspiration of how people dressed. Weather graphics were also important when looking for inspiration, as they are a key part of the book.
Palette: I wanted the colour palette to be vibrant to reflect Joanne’s tenacious and strong spirit. Different hues of blues colour the pages, reflecting the lovely and intense tones of the sky. To this core palette, I added intense oranges, yellows, greens, and purples to complement the turquoise and teal shades. My intention was to make the palette look modern and fresh, contrasting with the fifties and sixties aesthetic.
Studio Walls: I moved quite recently to a new apartment in Seville, so most of my walls still remain blank and pristine. However, I have three lovely little pieces in my studio by two illustrators I really admire: two prints by Kaye Blegvad and an original painting by my friend, the talented Chilean illustrator Luisa Rivera.
Worktable: At the moment I’m working on three books: a book for children that will be published in the UK and will keep me busy for a whole year, another book for children about an amazing woman who was part of the suffragette movement in the US, and a book for young adults that will be published in Spain in April. In between these big projects, I’ve also been busy with smaller projects, like book covers, editorial illustrations, and personal work.
Seville Street: I live in the centre of the city, in a narrow street that bustles with activity from quite early in the morning. I enjoy the buzz of the neighborhood and feeling the heartbeat of the life around me: older people going out for their morning walk, kids going to school, the postman delivering the mail… I enjoy living in the centre of the city as I can walk everywhere. Having lived in very big cities like London and Madrid, I really appreciate this.
Mind Today: I’ve been thinking about how books, and culture in general, have been making our lives more bearable during this pandemic. Culture is not appreciated sometimes (especially in Spain). It’s often seen as something superfluous and expendable. While in fact, it’s completely the opposite. It feeds our souls. It makes us grow. It expands our horizons and helps us to be happier and better human beings.
I agree, Helena. If I didn’t have beautiful art like yours and the wisdom and comedy of books and films during this pandemic, my life would have been dreary—unbearable in fact. I’m sending out my gratitude to you and the many other artists among us, whether they are painting, writing, editing, filming, or finding creative ways to get this art to us. And a special thanks to you for giving us this sneak peek at the art you created for Breaking Through the Clouds. Each one is magnificent.
If you would like to preorder Breaking Through the Clouds, click on the book below.