Far from the busy streets of Manhattan, lies a part of Brooklyn where quiet cafes are lit till midnight. Outside the terrace of a place called ‘Milk and Roses' sits Esme Shapiro surrounded by dim lights, brickwork and and a window full of vines. The Brooklyn based illustrator's wide set of eyes greet me in the friendliest way as we begin to order drinks. Confused as to whether it was a place that offered only alcoholic beverages or not, Esme still took the option of getting a cup of hot tea instead. Although it wasn’t on the menu option, she knew she wanted it, so she had it; by then, I already knew I was in for a treat as I came to the impression to see she was an illustrator sure about what she wants.
To describe Esme it would be as if I was describing a character from a children's book, with a lot of her own unique quirks. As I interviewed her, within the first ten minutes that passed by, I realized her answers were not only elliptical, but truly abstract as they were transparent. Building such a vivid and imaginary character started by having come up to be raised on a creative household, as she began to tell me, "having parents who are both in art and film, is what made me come up to illustration so naturally". Its also quite an opener she originally wanted to figure out ways she could create a narrative, ways of storytelling that could eventually lead her to have more of a vitality towards the kind of art and illustration she wanted to create.
It is certainly true that the people you meet throughout your life will define what you will eventually do, and that’s exactly what happened to Esme. It was family that lead her to be effortlessly inspired and mentored. In its most efficient way, Esme was lead to a world where she would be able to be a storyteller herself, having had film and art industry impulse her to form her own unique path - the path of illustration, particularly, children's book illustration.
"My parents gave me the freedom to do the craziest things," said Shapiro, "my mom would let me wear three skirts on top of my pants."
Since then, she came up to translate art in terms not only of experiences, but through her own personality. Aside from the signature she has graciously developed throughout these set of years, she has also been able to understand through her handicapped aspects of decoration, literature, and personal sense of style. Her 1950's dolled up features, carry a playful tone on her voice both through seriousness and sense of humor. As she unconsciously presents herself to be a modern day version of Betty Boop meets Peter Pan, meets Marilyn Monroe, she adds its because she is in “this very hybrid world".
As Esme tells me this on our one-on-one chat, I'm found frequently unsure if I should be laughing or taking notes; however, I manage to swamp into her particular world, as to what her set of illustrations truly mean. In part, acknowledging her decorative shapes ranged on walls and her quirky animals placed on books. So persuasive is the feeling of being driven into a domestic scene whispered by its creator in front of you, that you can’t help but sink in.
As Shapiro has evolved through time by having done animated stories, books, and many different collaborations, she has been able to sustain her ultimate signature style. The sense of having symbolism on her work set as priority for everything she creates, is one of the things that truly define her, from each emotion, to particular thought, it all lies to take part as a corresponding beauty; ultimately following to be one of her greatest progressions on her career.
"I like that people that can be able to project what they see on my illustrations," she says, "That's is why painting and drawing for me is found to be kind of like a muscle. As if there is a harp and then there's a harpist, their instrument ultimately becomes an externalization of their body. For me is the same, its my antenna - this external part of me."
This bright young artist is even more remarkable as she carries the essence of having a certain contrast on her drawings. Her rare feeling of having varied color relationships, keeps in a certain obsession of obtaining lots of black for the desire of having a bit of 'sad art'.
"So many of the stories are kind of out there and they make you think like - what?," she says, "this darkness that's also being shed on the lightness? But I think that you are always craving that because there are so many books which always have a light in its surface."
And she's talking about the kind of light which gives her the ability to see and accept the nature of materials, something of which is one of the strongest claims of attention in artists today. She utilizes feelings, enjoying time by herself, and the love of nature as a source of weapon to be able to be a better writer too.
"I would really like to get to do two books a year, but my ultimate plan is collaborate with one of my friends on making a children's show - so, I am interested in eventually both on animating one and do live action," Esme said.
As her activism towards children is at heart a philosophy of "going beyond" the ordinary world of 'the world itself' as well as the world of illustration; it turns out to be, at its root, the strategy for transformation and maybe even a path to making history.
By the time I realize how quickly this interview went by, I close it with a favorite question of mine, as to 'What would you tell your 15-year-old self now?' Without hesitation Esme answered, "to read more". Simply so, with a more serious voice coming out of her, she tells me, "I think that reading while you are growing up, is important because you are wiring your brain. Its important to get some perspective in terms of ways you cannot receive in your life - for yourself. And I have had experiences in life that I would mirror to what was happening in a book."
So where does the execution of writing a book start for her, where does it end? Its these questions in which reflective thoughts of life come in through illustrations transmitting through writing. Its when the moment of freedom kicks in. As for Esme freedom is when she is able to feel the desire and ability to write, to illustrate, to love; but its only through the instant where she sees that depth projected on these feelings she is able to erupt more as a whole, just like flows of waves, ongoing flows running by like the ocean.