The Making of Viva Frida: Yuyi Morales’ Photo Essay

h1 October 27th, 2014 by jules


Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida, released by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook in September, has been called “an ingenious tour de force” (Horn Book) and a “haunting beauty” (Publishers Weekly) and has been described as “resonant” (School Library Journal) and “luminescent” (Kirkus). The book is a visually rich tribute to artist Frida Khalo. As the starred Publishers Weekly review notes, in this book Frida is presented “less as a historical figure than as an icon who represents the life Morales holds sacred; Frida lives because she loves and creates.” (I’m quoting that in particular, because I think that reviewer really nails it there.)

To call the illustrations multi-media ones somehow seems an understatement: Yuyi used acrylic paints, photography, and stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool to create these vivid 3D tableaus. To pull it all together, she relied on her computer, but then you can get the details on that below, since I had asked Yuyi a while back if she wanted to share a bit of behind-the-scenes images on the making of this beautiful book. I’m so glad she obliged. As you can see, she sent what is essentially a spectacular photo essay—her words and her images—on the creation of this book, one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve seen all year.

I thank her for sharing.

Yuyi: Hi, Julie.

After you contacted me about sharing images and insight into the making of Viva Frida, I went back to my files and found myself inundated with the images of a most beloved journey. From the very beginning, I started to document the process as best I could; however, most of the time the hands I needed to hold a camera and shoot the pictures were the same hands I had full with materials and work, so it wasn’t always easy — and I wasn’t as thorough as I had wished.

Nevertheless, the images are plentiful, since the process of the making of this book has taken several different ways of creating. I have assembled a few images from some of the different works I did when creating the illustrations. The images are just a few of many different things that were done.



Viva Frida, like almost anything, started as a small idea. My writer’s group, The Revisionaries, had its end-of-the-year assignment in which we chose an idea to trigger the creation of a new book. This is an annual assignment we have been giving to ourselves for years, and that year the assignment was based on the words “baby book.” As you can imagine, every creative person will come up with a different way to use those words to create. In my case, I decided to make a book that could be told to a very young child, even though the subject I chose was one I had had a hard time understanding when I was a kid myself. I chose the Mexican painter Frida Khalo.



Why Frida? Since I emigrated to the United States, Frida became to me a symbol of self-exploration and a symbol of self-love. Do you know that Frida celebrated—in her work, in the way she dressed, and in the way she lived—her own indigenous ancestry at a time when most Mexicans dug hard into their genealogical trees to find the slightest sign of European blood? In my own struggle to become proud of my identity as a Mexican immigrant, in the process to find my value, and in learning to believe that, no matter the shortcomings, I had everything I needed to be joyful me, Frida has been a beacon.

And so I very much wanted to celebrate her.



In the creation of the images of these book, I decided to dream beyond what I thought I was capable of. I had been musing about what big productions—with big budgets—some art projects can be, such as movies. And I kept thinking, why don’t we have “big production” children’s books, too? If I were making a movie, I would surely have to learn some things I had no idea how to do, and I might even have to hire some people that were experts on their field so that we together could tell the story. And yeah, I didn’t have a big budget, but nevertheless, I would even make a musical theme for my story like in the movies! My New Year’s resolution that winter had been that, when in doubt about choosing from different creative paths, I would always choose the one that stopped me hard and made me say, “Oh, I would never do that. That is too crazy!”

And so I began Viva Frida.


(Click this image to see it much larger)


As you will notice in some of these images, the making of this book comes to completion with the work and inspiration of my whole community. My husband, Tim O’Meara, photographed with me the scenes; Daluvia, a textile artist from Oaxaca, made me the first prototype of Frida’s dress, which later I used to learn how to do the embroidery and crafting of the final dresses myself. Camilo, who usually sells his metal creations at the Coatepec street market, made the hand earrings I wanted for Frida. When la comadre Linda heard I was making a Frida doll, she brought me from her house a tiny piece of striped fabric that much resembled the colors of the traditional rebozos women wear in Mexico, and with that material I crafted the one Frida wears in the book. Mike Emiglio is a Canadian artist that makes some of the finest stop motion armatures, and he created the “skeletons” that would become Frida, Xolot the Dog, and the monkey Fulan Chang. My son Kelly fed me and loved me while I worked long hours. Even my puppy Mojo lent me his nose to add it (digitally) to Xolot’s face, because Xolot the puppet didn’t have one. And finally, I also made our book’s theme song! My beloved friend Miguel created the music to the words I wrote to the song “La Venadita.”


Yuyi: “A photo of me that my husband took
when we visited Frida’s Blue House for the first time …”


(Click this image to see it much larger)



As you can see, at the end I managed to make a book that would usually make make me say, “Oh, I would never do that. That is too crazy!”

P.S. “La Venadita” can be played here.



Neal Porter’s photos of Yuyi at Casa Azul, Frida’s home
(Click the last two to enlarge)


Thumbnails from Viva Frida


“siento / I feel”
A final spread (without text) from the book

(Click to enlarge)


“que amo / that I love”
A final spread (without text) from the book

(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

VIVA FRIDA. Copyright © 2014 by Yuyi Morales. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here used by permission of Yuyi Morales and Neal Porter.

15 comments to “The Making of Viva Frida: Yuyi Morales’ Photo Essay”

  1. Incredible! Marvelous! Thank you1

  2. That was supposed to be an exclamation point, not a 1.

  3. It’s so fascinating to see all the different ways Yuyi created this stunning masterpiece! As an artist who also photographs three dimensional objects to serve as illustrations, I know how challenging a book like this can be. Yuyi has done a phenomenal job of blending the various art forms in a way that the book absolutely evokes the magical dream world and essence of the icon Frida Kahlo.

  4. outstanding background story, thank you for bringing this to us. the book looks like it will be very engaging.

  5. I’m just flipping out over here. There’s nothing I love more than seeing the creative process unfold. Such a captivating glimpse we have into Yuyi’s process we have here, thank you!

  6. I have always loved Frida and her story and when I read about Yuyi’s book I pre-ordered it and was thrilled when it finally arrived. This capsule of the making is so enlightening and only makes the final result more of a treasure. Gracias Yuyi de mi corozon !!!!

  7. Wow! This is gorgeous!! I can’t wait to see this book. I love Frida and I love that this subject is being brought to younger children.

  8. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary creative journey with us, Yuyi. Your work is outstanding, La creme de la creme we would say in my native French. Best to you.

  9. Incredible book, incredible art, and amazing generosity on your part for letting us peek behind the curtain and see how the magic is done, which only makes us realize it truly is magical.

  10. I love your story of the creation of “Viva Frida” I can picture you in your studio creating your fantastic characters for the book. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Innovative and inspiring. Can’t wait to see the book for myself and our community. Wouldn’t thus make a compelling exhibit?!

  12. […] Morales put together a fantastic photo essay about her process for creating Viva Frida, one of my favorite picture books published in […]

  13. Hello! This blog is quite the wonder in the information that it is presenting on
    Frida Kahlo. Quite fascinating as a subject of a biography and more so as an artist, she becomes more unusual an individual the wider the information that is written about her is printed. ATK

  14. […] The making of Viva Frida photo essay […]

  15. […] with a photo essay on the making of Viva Frida on Seven Impossible Things. There’s also a short video of the process on the MacMillan Kids publishing […]

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