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Today, we are excited to share with you an interview with a creative member of the Barefoot Books team. José-Luis Olivares, Graphic Designer, spends his days designing visual materials for our website, our Ambassadors, our studios and even this blog! José-Luis is an innovative cartoonist and illustrator in addition to working in the design team in our US office. Read on to learn more about José-Luis!

What is your most vivid childhood memory?

I have lots of random memories: playing with my sister’s ‘My Little Ponies’ in a dollhouse my grandpa built, eating grass on the playground, winning a coloring contest, losing a Spelling Bee, reading There’s a Monster at the End of This Book. I had terrible allergies as a kid, and I remember sitting in the back of the car while my parents talked about how I needed to “get a shot” for my allergies. I misheard them and thought I had to “get a shark” — I was really worried!

What prompted you to join Barefoot Books and how did you get to your current position?

I have always loved picture books, comics and visual storytelling. After graduating from The Center for Cartoon Studies with an MFA in Cartooning, I knew I wanted to work to help get great books out to kids. I think picture books are an amazing art form that allows kids to really focus and explore a certain theme. It’s an awesome way for kids to learn about the world.  I first started at Barefoot Books as an intern in 2011 and am currently a full-time Graphic Designer.

How would you describe your role? What is a typical day like?

Luckily every day is a little different. I work with a lot of people here at the office to create designs for online and print. I also help out with merchandising the studios. My co-workers often see me at my standing desk working with Photoshop and InDesign to create images for our newly-redesigned website, signage for our Studios, and flyers for our Ambassadors. A few times, I’ve helped organize craft events here at work, like making festive decorations during the holidays and Valentine’s cards for the elderly. I hope I bring a little bit of design and fun to the people at the office!

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

The most challenging — and fun — aspect is creating window displays! It’s challenging because we have to think of a way to interpret a book, theme or season in a 3D way. It’s a lot of fun because it’s a chance to create something unique, hand-made and that will also, I hope , inspire our community to pick up their scissors and try their own crafts. Recently, I created the “Brave Hearts, Strong Minds” window display with the help of our interns Kim and Adriana, who designed the tiles and scanned them in. After trying a few experiments, I decided to tie the tiles together with yarn (as homage to the yarn balls in The Girl with a Brave Heart) and create a tile-curtain that I installed in the window. I’m always learning new things, like which brand of tape or spray glue is best, or which paper fades, and I’m excited to try more ambitious window displays this year.

Brave Hearts, Strong Minds! Our Concord Studio features this beautiful window designed by José-Luis!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I’m also a cartoonist and illustrator on the side, and had a few fun projects last year, like making the cover of the May/June Hornbook and having an editorial cartoon featured in the exhibit, ‘America Votes: Mapping the Political Landscape’, at the Norman Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. This year, I’ve started a new project, #ImaginaryFriends, where I draw a new imaginary friend (almost) every day in 2013. It’s a way for me to experiment with new mediums and write a little. Lately I’ve been enjoying drawing over photos directly on my iPhone using the Brushes app. Follow me on instagram, and tell me about your imaginary friends!

What books are at your bedside?

I always have a pile of books by my bedside, among them a ton of old EC horror comics and our latest book club pick. Currently I have a big book of Jorge Luis Borges by my bedside that Sarah Soldano, Senior Design Manager, gave to me as a present. He’s my favorite author and his stories always confound and entertain me. I first fell in love with his story, “The Library of Babel,” and am trying to read everything else I can get my hands on!

Which Barefoot Books character do you identify with and why?

At the moment I’m really into Shiraz from The Girl with a Brave Heart. I love the way Vali Mintzi draws Shiraz (it’s like Japanese-comics mixed with Matisse!) and I think the heart of the story is very sweet and classic. Shiraz reminds me that folks communicate in different ways and it’s important to help your friends and neighbors.

See some of José-Luis’ #imaginaryfriends project below! Did you have an imaginary friend? Tell us about it in the comments!


Lil’ Chompers loves to go shopping, and has more coupons than you can shake a stick at. Soon my buddy becomes an internet celebrity in Turkmenistan.
Norbert cleans my human hair wigs and documents the creatures he finds.
Meowtro attempts to keep the trains running smoothly — and fails.
Burnard always shows up early to birthday parties, licks the cake and floats away on a balloon.

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