Ni . Me

Elena Odriozola (Donostia - San Sebastián, 1967)

Betidanik bizi izan naiz Donostian. Publizitateko agentzia batean lana egiten nuen bitartean testu liburu gutxi batzuk hasi nintzan ilustratzen, orain dala 20 bat urte.

Hortik ipui bat ilustrateza pasa nintzan, eta gero beste batera... eta orain ehun bat liburu ditut argitaratutak, gehienak haur eta gazte literaturan.

San Sebastián es la ciudad en la que he vivido siempre. Mientras trabajaba en una agencia de publicidad empecé ilustrando algún que otro libro de texto, de eso hará unos 20 años.
Luego una cosa llevó a la otra y ahora tengo unos cien libros publicados, la mayoría de literatura infantil y juvenil.

__________   .   __________

The importance of encouraging children to read the
visual has increasingly been gaining recognition, and picturebooks that play a significant role in this important area are garnering the acclaim they deserve. The process is slow – too slow – nevertheless it is underway. The power of Elena Odriozola’s work and her evident commitment to her art ensure her place among the best of twenty-first-century book illustrators. While not widely translated into English, Odrizola’s books have won international acclaim, including a volume of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, a Noah’s Ark created with Stephanie Rosenheim, and Pablo Nedruda’s Oda a una Estrella for which she was shortlisted for a Ragazzi Award at the 2010 Bologna Bookfair. She has also illustrated text books, theatre programmes and posters for reading promotion campaigns.
Odriozola’s outlines are often spare, relying on a curve or an angled body or a tilt of the head to show character or emotion, and the way she uses line to suggest these is evident throughout her work. She tends not to fill the space on the page, one of the reasons why the colour, quality and texture of the paper in which she works is very important to her. She doesn’t like working on a computer, preferring the physical contact with paint and ink on the page. She used to favour watercolour paper and sketching paper, but now prefers Japanese paper which is intended for ink. Acrylics used on this paper make it wavy when the paint dries, giving her work a particular texture. Sometimes she presses pages together for particular effects, and she frequently uses her fingers as well as paintbrushes to achieve a less structured look. When she started work as an artist she usually painted in watercolours and also used sepia inks. Now, however, she much prefers acrylics, since one day she ‘realised the watercolour box was closed’.
The colour of the paper is important also; she likes paper that is white, but not too brilliant or too yellowish. Not surprisingly, Arthur Rackham, Quentin Blake and Lisbeth Zwerger are the three illustrators she most admires. Zwerger is respected by many picturebook artists, partly for her deployment of negative space, and mastery of the line hallmarks the work of Rackham and Blake. Odriozola shares with Blake a fluidity of line, seemingly effortless, but derived from close observation of their subjects and complete control of technique.
Odriozola says she likes ‘everything in its place’ in her pictures; well-defined line is the means of achieving this, giving her work its recognisable look. Bodies are often rounded, and faces may be shown as child-like circles or ovals with dots for eyes, and noses and mouths represented by the simplest pen stroke. Yet this cartoonish approach does not reduce the way in which features express feelings; instead their very simplicity intensifies what Odriozola wants to portray.
'Supersonic Tonic (text by Stephanie Roseheim) and Vegetable Glue (text by Susan Chandler) both feature a similar looking little girl in domestic situations that take strange turns. Madeleine Daisy in Supersonic Tonic creates a special potion to restore her ailing grandfather to good health, but the power of the tonic reinvigorated Grandpa too much. The first-person narrator of Vegetable Glue tells a moral tale about the importance of eating vegetables – otherwise various body parts fall off and have to be stuck back with the eponymous glue. Grandpa is shown leaping over rooftops, ‘doing the limbo under the door … press ups … sit ups, cartwheels galore’ in vigorous style that distribute the elderly man’s activities all over the pages, intensifying the sense of movement. In Vegetable Glue the ridiculous rhyme is echoed by the drawings:
Oops, pardon me
I’ve made a rude sound. My bottom’s dropped off
And is now…
… on the ground.
The girls and her dog are shown gazing in bemusement – and on her part – embarrassment – at a bottom lying on the grass.
Odriozola’s liking for double-page spreads is shown in both the scenes described. She also considers that the physical layout of text and illustration are integral to one another. The overall design of her books is important to her; this is very evident in The Opposite (text by Tom MacRae), where The Opposite is integrated into wallpaper effect endpapers. In Cuando Sale la Luna (text by Antonio Ventura) the spare text is matched by sharp angles and large spaces and characters that are only partially on the page or appear small in proportion to bigger objects. When drawing characters, Odriozola likes them to remain the same size throughout the story. This she feels gives a structure to what she is showing, and provides stability, especially when lower parts are cropped out of the picture. Frequently, her people have elongated necks, thick and almost part of the torso. This is very apparent in a picturebook for adults, Aplastamiento de las Gotas by the avant garde Argentinian writer, Julio Cortizar. This story of a lonely woman who is comforted by a man who brings her flowers allows full rein to Ordriozola’s liking for suggesting rather than showing too much. The woman’s emotions are all suggested in the curve of her neck and upper body, capturing the spirit of Cortizar’s text, the English title of which means ‘the crushing of drops’, signifying the woman’s observation of raindrops on a windowpane, all of which eventually drop to their ‘death’.
In other cases, characters’ heads seem directly attached to their bodies, like that of Nate in The Opposite or the children in The Story Blanket (text by Ferdia Wolff and Harriet May Savitz). Here Odriozola shows a group of children sitting on the ‘story blanket’, but mostly her pages show individuals or at most only two or three people together. Some of the spreads, however, typify the way in which she often emphasises the curves of characters or gives them extra stability by setting them against perpendicular objects, frequently trees.
Odriozola claims that she is an observer within her own work – she likes the main focus of the action in a story to happen off the page leaving her free to suggest the unseen and show participants reactions rather than actions. It is certainly true that many of the stories she has illustrated have a quirky quality which is intensified by her ability to capture odd angles and aspects, asking the viewer to look, but then to look again to verify what is perceived. Within the English speaking world The Opposite was the book that first drew attention to Odriozola. It is the story of a boy who woke one morning to find The Opposite ‘standing on his ceiling, staring down at him.’ Of course Nate’s injunctions to The Opposite to go away lead to the opposite happening, but when his dad enters the room and Nate tells him there is an Opposite on the ceiling, as one would expect, there is nothing there. Throughout the day Nate is plagued by The Opposite reversing everything he does: carefully poured milk splashes up to the ceiling and drips down again, and a school painting session results in Nate’s paint spattering over everything and everyone, including his teacher. Odriozola shows Nate’s reactions to his perceived messiness – the opposite of his usual neatness – and his mother’s and teacher’s disappointment rather than The Opposite actually causing these occurrences.
In Un Secreto del Bosque (text by Javier Sobrino) a squirrel falls in love, but not until the final pages is the object of her affections revealed. Odriozola hints at the identity of the mysterious one here and there, but never undercuts the text by telling too much. Also by Javier Sobrino, El Helo de Ariadna shows Ariadna running in fear from an unknown threat that only in the closing pages is revealed as ‘a minotaur’ outside her house door - her metaphorically conjured interpretation of an upset with her father. Sobrino’s story, a modern play on the myth, in which Odriozola is complicit as she shows the little girl escaping from her worries and into an imaginative world by means of a piece of thread found in her pocket. The thread leads the reader through the story also, lying on the right-hand page turn, as if asking to be followed overleaf. The thread becomes a ball, a tightrope, a fishing line, and a swing, sweeping Ariadna up in the air, from where she observes the city below spread out like a maze through which she must pass to overcome the monster of her concerns. At last she meets her friends, and the thread becomes a skipping rope, suggesting perhaps that Ariadna is becoming more grounded and is ready to return home, to safety and the end of her adventures.
The visual simplicity of El Helo de Ariadna belies the complexity of Ariadna’s emotions and her inner journey through her maze of fears, led only by the thread of her imaginings. She is suggested rather than depicted in detail and shown small on the pages, most of which are mainly left white, and, as such, left to the reader’s imagination to fill. Illustration is an international language, but sometimes it is necessary to be guided through its intricacies and Elena Odriozola can be trusted to be an excellent interpreter.

‘Odriozola’s outlines are often spare, relying on a curve or an angled body or a tilt of the head to show character or emotion, and the way she uses line to suggest these is evident throughout her work. She tends not to fill the space on the page, one of the reasons why the colour, quality and texture of the paper in which she works is very important to her.
Valerie Coghlan  ´2010

She was born in San Sebastian in 1967. She studied art and decoration and worked in an advertising agency first. In 1997 she started to work as a illustrator, mainly of books, and she is now a successful illustrator of children's and young people's books. He creations are translated into several languages and she is often selected to take part in prestigious illustration exhibitions. 

Her main skill is that she is able to reinvent herself while following a very personal and consistent style, and her work has great narrative potential. Her style is characterised mainly by her interpretation of each book and her illustrations that tell the story. They are apparently simple illustrations, with well-defined lines and not many colours.
National Illustration Award (2015)
Mikel Zarate Children's Literature Award (2015)
Junceda Illustration Award (2014)
Basque Literary Illustration Award (2013 and 2009)
Highlighted works
  • Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.
  • Mundua baloi batean.
  • Aplastamiento de las gotas.
  • Tropecista
  • Oda a una estrella.
  • La princesa que bostezaba a todas horas.