7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #424: Featuring C. G. Esperanza

h1 March 22nd, 2015 by jules

“With her trunk she grabbed a brush and joined my little game.”


This morning at 7-Imp, I welcome artist C. G. Esperanza (Charles, pictured right), whose newest book is from Sky Pony Press. Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White, Too!), a promising author-illustrator debut, was released this month. Charles has previously illustrated Tania Grossinger’s Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship (Sky Pony Press, 2013), a story that is partly about famed baseball player Jackie Robinson, and he lives in the South Bronx. He tells me and 7-Imp readers more about himself below, and we get to take a look at some more art from Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White, Too!), as well as some early sketches from the book and a few of his other portfolio pieces.

For those who want to see even more of Charles’ work, his Instagram/Twitter handles are both @CGEsperanza.

I thank him for visiting.

P.S. If you want to read Charles’ thoughts on why picture books are the new Hip Hop, head over to his piece at Afropunk.


Jules: Can you talk about the seeds of this story, Red, Yellow, Blue … and how the story came to you?

Charles: I actually thought of the story back in my art school days, when I realized a lot of my non-artistic friends didn’t know the primary colors and how to make secondary colors. So I decided to make a picture book about the primary colors that would be cool enough for adults to read and would perhaps inspire people to express themselves artistically. I decided to design the main character after my sister Crystal, who was seven years old at the time, after I saw her running around the house with her gigantic afro and writing her name on everything in crayon. For the first version I created in Eric Velasquez’s picture book class, I used her as a model. Since then, I’ve revised the story multiple times — and added her big blue elephant friend, Elebooyah.

(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“Like a PINK dinosaur that can bite!”
(Click to enlarge spread)

“BLOOO BLOB BLUB! This mix made a muddy GREENISH GRAY
Like an ugly mud monster!
GRAAAAH is all he could say.”
(Click to enlarge spread)

Jules: You live in the South Bronx, yes? How do you think the Bronx has influenced your work, if at all?

Charles: I do live in the South Bronx. So does most of my family. For a long time I was ashamed of being from there. I didn’t learn to appreciate it till I met people in college from around the world, who had never been there before and were fascinated that I was from there. I became more interested in the history of these neighborhoods. They were once filled with beautiful mansions owned by the famous Tiffany heirs — and meadows that were demolished, burned, vandalized, and now rebuilt. I couldn’t help but let it all inspire me! My art is influenced by the hand-painted Bodega signs; the beautiful, vintage, abandoned architecture covered with colorful burners; the colorful bottles that sit on top of the old Puerto Rican dude’s Piragua cart; and all of the other untold stories waiting to be told.

Early sketches from Red, Yellow, Blue …
(Click each to enlarge)


Early cover
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Who are some artists/illustrators who inspire you?

Charles: Jerry Pinkney’s amazing drawings full of imagination and color; Kadir Nelson’s stylized, powerful expression; Adam Rex’s edgy, whimsical characters; and Ezra Jack Keats’ gritty, simplistic, yet complex execution and ability to see the world through a different perspective all inspired and shaped my voice as a picture book illustrator.

Nelson Mandela, a 2012 piece from the Paint It Black series
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: What else inspires you?

Charles: There’s something inspirational about things like a dirty ice cream truck loudly playing a slightly warped, melodic tune, as children chase it down the street, or a beautifully sculpted statue, decorated with bird droppings, that really gets me going. The undiscovered beauty of something that is ugly or imperfect. I like to see the potential and emphasize its beauty.

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Explain how you’re a “Visual Emcee,” as mentioned in the AfroPunk piece.

Charles: I once had a vision of Sam I am and Will I am eating green eggs and ham and then BAM! Hip Hop and street art were the fists of a Bronx-born spawn; with one fist the message was shouted and with the other it was drawn. Nothing Gold can stay, especially when it turns Green. So Hip Hop and Street art parted ways at the seams. Or at least that’s how it seems, until you take another look! I’ve brought Rhythmic poetry and Art back together in Picture Books!

Jules: I see at your blog that your father is West Indian and your mother is Puerto Rican. Do you think that (or they) influence your work in any way?

Charles: My parents are very Americanized, so they never really introduced me to their native cultures. But Heriberta, my grandmother who grew up in Borinquen, definitely inspires me. Her chairs are decorated with the finest wood-carved rococo designs and floral patterns on the cushions. Her wardrobe is filled with art nouveau textiles and pastel colors. She’s always loved collecting dolls and listening to Celia Cruz. She’s also very funny!

Percy Julian, a 2012 piece from the Paint It Black series
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: When did you know you wanted to illustrate picture books? What are the biggest joys of it for you? The biggest challenges?

Charles: Fortunately, I met Eric Velasquez while taking his Picture Book Illustration class. He reintroduced (or, in some cases, introduced) many of the students in his class to Jerry Pinkney’s, Shel Silverstein, David Wiesner, and E.B. Lewis. But it was after I saw Eric’s work in the book The Rain Stomper [by Addie Boswell] that I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.



The greatest joy of making picture books is making books that change people’s perspectives on what a children’s book should be. Also, being able to tell stories is great. The biggest challenge I’ve faced is trying to do things the way I want, while still pleasing my mentors, editors, peers etc. Thankfully, they all seem to love what I’ve done so far!

Jules: Any new projects you can talk about and/or anything you’re really eager to do next?

Charles: The boom bap beat in my head continues to loop, just waiting for a new rhythmic stanza that tells a story everyone can enjoy. I am having discussions with a couple of popular rappers about possibly collaborating on a fun story, using hip hop style rhymes that speak to the new generation of kids who love hip hop — and the older generation that loved Dr. Seuss and Slick Rick.

— From Tania Grossinger’s
Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship
(Sky Pony Press, 2013)

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Anything else you want to add? What’d I forget to ask you?

Charles: I am very honored to contribute my voice to the amazing culture of picture books and to be talking about my work on Seven Imp! I consider this blog to be the best for discovering how awesome picture books can be. I hope to inspire everyone, especially people in the Bronx, where few are exposed to the visual arts. Also, I would love to adapt Red, Yellow, Blue (And a Dash of White, Too!) into a film. So, if Alejandro Jodorowsky or Ben Zeitlin are reading this, call me!

(Click to enlarge photo of Charles)

RED, YELLOW, BLUE (AND A DASH OF WHITE, TOO!) Copyright © 2015 by Charles George Esperanza. Published by Sky Pony Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Charles.

Photos of Charles taken by Manny Sy and used by Charles’ permission.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I appreciate Charles’ kind words, and his art woke me RIGHT UP before I even had coffee.

2) Starting a project I should have started a good while ago.

3) My girls and I are reading Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird. We are enjoying it, and check out the beautiful cover art from Sophie Blackall:

4) Laura Marling’s South X lullaby at NPR.

5) Laura’s new CD is playing in its entirety here, and it’s good stuff.

6) We saw Song of the Sea on the big screen. Holy WOW, such beautiful animation.

7) We also saw What We Do in the Shadows. So funny, this movie.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

14 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #424: Featuring C. G. Esperanza”

  1. What a wonderful way to begin a Sunday! Enjoyed seeing the artwork and reading the words of C. G. Esperanza. I’ll be checking out his new book.

    I have Nighbird on my stack Jules. I need to reorder what comes next. There are always so many good books to read.

    My Kicks:
    1. I inhaled Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan yesterday. This book is marvelous.
    2. Sunshine
    3. Bouquets of tulips
    4. Potted bulbs
    5. The robins are back
    6. Tales of incredible heroism on the Iditarod trail this year
    7. Walking with my sweet Xena

    Enjoy your first full week of spring.

  2. Margie, you read Echo in one day? Wow. It took us months. Such a good book.

    I’m very happy to read you have tulips already — and robins! It’s actually Spring where you are!

    Hugs to Xena.

  3. I enjoyd reading about C.G.Esperanza. The artwork is so much fun. I want his book.
    Jules, looking forward to reading Nightbird. And song of the Sea looks good as well.
    Margie, happy to hear robins are back with the tulips.
    My kicks:
    1. Time with friends last night.
    2. Reading.
    3. Two days at a tech conference with my peers. So good to hang out with teacher librarians.
    4. Daphne in bloom.
    5. Grand girl time.
    6. Bookclub tonight
    7. Student poems.
    Have a great week.

  4. I couldn’t help myself Jules. I could not get enough of her storytelling. Sorry to admit the tulips are from the grocery store. We still have piles of snow. *sigh* The robins are a huge boost. Xena sends hugs back.

  5. Welcome, C. G. Esperanza! I like the bright, primary colors. They pop off of the page.

    Good morning, Imps! Hope you are enjoying the weekend. Happy spring!

    Jules: Good luck with the new project! I want to see Song of the Sea. What We Do in the Shadows also sounds like fun.

    Margie: Hello to Xena and the flowers and the robins!

    Jone: Enjoy the conference and the time with family, poets, and peers.

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Views
    2) Infusion
    3) Cats
    4) Moving forward
    5) Forward motion
    6) Arts & entertainment
    7) Be

  6. Hi All,

    Gorgeous art work as always! I love all the colors.

    Jules: I didn’t realize that Sophie Blackall had illustrated Night Bird- love that!
    Margie: Our flowers are all from the grocery store right now too but you gotta do what you gotta do, right!?
    Jone: I love book club night!
    Little Willow: I love ‘moving forward-forward motion’. I may need to embrace this one!

    Ok… Kicks.

    1. Grocery store flowers! Daffodils in our house.
    2. One or two robin sightings making me believe that spring will come despite the snow we got on Friday!
    3. Traveling to warmer climates next week. I can’t wait to feel warm sunshine!
    4. Reading Gretchen’s Rubin’s latest book on habits and it’s explaining a lot about why certain habits are really hard for me to embrace.
    5. Our elementary school’s performance of Little Mermaid. So much amazing talent!
    6. Finally putting together our 2014 family photo book thanks to a great on-line class that I am taking called Embrace.
    7. Roasted broccoli.

    Have a good week fellow Imps!

  7. Oh! I LOVE the use of those colors, and I’m especially attracted to the mosaic looking dinosaur and elephant! Thanks for sharing this interview and beautiful artwork.

  8. I love the colors and energy in these illustrations and in Charles’s instagram pictures as well! Such a joyous energy! (I started following his instagram – such a fun account!)

    Jules – that Alice Hoffman is being added to my list, and Song of the Sea looks lovely. Reminds me a bit of the movie The Secret of Roan Innish.

    Margie – tulips, sunshine and walks with Xena sound lovely. I have some tulips in a face in front of me now.

    Jone – enjoy the book club! I’m trying to appreciate this rain since we do need it.

    LW – I like kicks 4-7 most this week! Especially 7.

    Stacey – Daffodils are so cheery! That performance of the Little Mermaid sounds sweet. Enjoy the trip to warmer climates!

    My quick kicks this week:
    1) working this weekend – glad to have the work.
    2) Finding @the_blueboys instagram account. Darren & Phillip are 2 of the silliest, cutest pups from Australia I have ever seen! They make me smile.
    3) Read Meg Cabot’s Airhead and called my niece to read her the paragraph about dating – luckily I know my audience and she loved it, and is now going to read the book.
    4) Having a life goal realization while on the elliptical yesterday.
    5) Only You with RDJ and Marisa Tomei was on last night – how I love that movie.
    6) Refinding little Capucine – who Jules introduced me to via video many years ago “le popotame et allergie a la magie.” Her mom is still photographing her and she is still as charming as ever, 6 years later. http://www.thislittlesoul.com/blog/
    7) I’m still in my March Madness bracket, so there’s that.
    7.5) Really grateful and happy to have so many fun, interesting, and wonderful young women in my life. They aren’t my kids, but they’re my girls and I adore all of them. Lucky lucky me.

    ok, off to work again, have a wonderful warm and cozy Sunday all!

  9. Jone, looking forward to getting my poem in the mail. Enjoy your book club tonight!

    Margie: OOF! I thought maybe you were snow-less. It’ll happen soon enough, though. It will.

    Little Willow: As always, your kicks leave a lot to the imagination. Which is good.

    Stacey, you got more snow too? Oof again. Well, enjoy your trip next week, where it’ll be warmer.

    Hi, Christine!

    Rachel: A friend was telling me recently to see The Secret of Roan Innish. Have never seen that one. … I love the idea of you booktalking via phone to your niece — and successfully! And, wow, I’d forgotten about Capucine. … Good luck getting work done today. I also have been working today. My work schedule is never normal, but I like that.

    Happy week, all!

  10. Hello All!

    So fun to see these lively and colorful pictures here today. Almost makes me feel like Spring. Thanks for sharing. I love the layering that’s happening in the images.
    Jules – I agree with Charles, Seven Imp is the best! Go Jules!
    Margie – Hooray for Spring!
    Jone – Enjoy Book Club. What are you reading?
    LW – I’m all about the forward motion this month.
    Stacey – Enjoy the warm weather.
    Hello Christine!
    Rachel – Everyone with great girls in there life is lucky. I’m glad you are one who knows it.


    1. Had a fun St. Patrick’s Day, bagpipes and all.
    2. I was featured on Miss Marple’s blog http://joannamarple.com/2015/03/moira-swiatkowski-illustrator-interview/
    3. There was a day off from school for teacher in-service but there were no snow days.
    4. House of Cards!
    5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
    6. I put some new kidlit work on my website. http://moiraswiatkowski.com
    Read my recent blogpost to get the story of why it’s been so long since I did that.
    7. Time to comment on Seven Imp. today!

    Have a great week everyone and keep up the great work!

    Exclamation points!!!!!!!

  11. Moira: Ooh, a website reboot! Love the new images too. Exciting.

    Last night, I saw the Kimmy Schmidt episode with Jon Hamm’s character in the court room, and I laughed outloud in spots.

  12. Jules – if you wind up liking Roan Innish you should check out Into the West (the 1992 one with Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin) My nieces are used to me calling/texting/emailing about books and movies I think they might like. And I love the freedom of working for myself, and the flexible schedule it affords. I do still work a lot of weekends, but its so much more satisfying now.

  13. Moira – congrats on the feature at Miss Marple’s! One of these days I will start House of Cards.

  14. I love the flexible scheduling too, Rachel. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for it.

    I meant to congratulate you, too, on the Miss Marple piece, Moira!

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