This month's Featured illustrator is Mrinali Alvarez. Originally from Puerto Rico, Mrinali studied art in the US and worked as an illustrator in her native country before moving to the UK, where she became one of the winners of last year's SCBWI Beginning, Middle, End Competition. See more of Mrinali's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I was born in 1973 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. I lived in the countryside next to a hill which I would climb to watch the changing colours of the sunset. My brother and I would sit and watch, listening to the wind in the bamboo trees.

My father was an editorial illustrator for newspapers and a university professor. I loved to watch him drawing in pen and ink, and marvelled at the figures that would "magically" appear on the paper. I spent time in newsrooms, sat quietly in editorial meetings, and learned that an illustration could make politicians angry.

My mother was a ceramist and a cultural promoter. Through her I met many artisans whose colourful wooden toys, ceramics and traditional Puerto Rican vejigante masks decorated our house.

Traditional vejigante mask from Puerto Rico.
On our walls hung prints by Lorenzo Homar, José Alicea and other Puerto Rican printmakers and illustrations alongside artwork by my father and his colleagues. I saw that art was a profession, one that I wanted to study.

Woodcut print by Puerto Rican printmaker Lorenzo Homar.

Silkscreen poster by Puerto Rican printmaker José Alicea.

I attended secondary school at the Central Visual Arts School in San Juan, a regular school that included formal fine arts studies. If your artwork was not up to standard, the teacher could make it fly out of the window, while suggesting a change of school. At that time, I became fascinated with Japanese art, both the 19th century prints by Hokusai, Utamaro and others, and their graphic design from the 1970s. I also admired fashion designer Issey Miyake and fashion illustrator Mats Gustafson who defined shapes through tonal contrasts, and negative spaces.

Fashion Illustration by Matt Gustafson.
Artwork was also required for regular assignments, such as science, to explain concepts. We had lots of homework but It was never a burden because everything related to art.

After graduation, I studied for my B.A. in Ohio, at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. I specialised in painting with Joseph Cintrón, an educator and portraitist who studied under American impressionist Robert Henri. Cintrón was a great teacher and mentor, who encouraged my Caribbean love of colour. My Cleveland experiences reaffirmed my culturally rooted visual language.

 I returned to Puerto Rico after finishing my B.A., and started working for El Nuevo Día, the main daily newspaper, illustrating their feature sections and the weekly children's magazine, for which I created the characters, the visual presentation and illustrations, which I had to do in digital media due to deadlines and convenience. Sometimes the editor and I would discuss the issue, and I would design the spaces, illustrate and she would fill in the text. It was this work in the children's magazine that led me to children's book illustration.

Illustration for the  lifestyle magazine of El Nuevo Día daily newspaper.

Cover for the weekly children's magazine of El Nuevo Día daily newspaper.
Cover for the weekly children's magazine of El Nuevo Día daily newspaper.
Illustration on the subject of dreams for the  lifestyle magazine of El Nuevo Día daily newspaper.

My first children's project was a collection of books for the University of Puerto Rico Press.

Cover of book for the University of Puerto Press How the Sea Came to Be
Cover of book for the University of Puerto Press Green Christmas
I developed concepts, wrote, illustrated and worked with the designer, other illustrators and the marketing department. I was both illustrator and visual editor, a great responsibility, because the publisher is one of the most respected in Puerto Rico. Some of these books received awards in the U.S.A. from Latino Book Awards and PubWest, and participated in a government literacy program.

Puerto Rico's judicial branch wanted me to illustrate picture books explaining civil rights and duties to children. I successfully suggested no age boundaries, and integrated text and illustration, drawing animals and plants, with a palette taken from nature, to avoid a literal visual approach. The books were freely distributed in the courts and used in a public campaign, with posters, billboards and murals.
Cover for the book My Rights for the Puerto Rico Judiciary Branch
Inner page for the book My Rights for the Puerto Rico Judiciary Branch
 In 2014, the University of Puerto Rico's School of Architecture invited me to a collective art exhibit towards the restoration of the house of Heinrich "Henry" Klumb, a German architect, disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived in Puerto Rico and designed buildings that are still landmarks. For the first time, a children's book illustrator was invited, and they expected a book for children. So I wrote and illustrated La Casa y el Señor Klumb (The House and Mr. Klumb), thinking of no age limits. I wanted to show the relationship between the house, the environment and the man. I designed it for installation on a wall, and the book came after.

Installation of La Casa y el Señor Klumb, book on a wall. Exhibited at University of Puerto Rico, 2014.

Cover of La Casa y el Señor Klumb
 The palette comes from Puerto Rico's vegetation, coloured typography is integrated with the illustrations. I drew in Adobe Illustrator and used transparencies, without finishing in Photoshop. I then removed the superfluous parts, following Klumb's philosophy of eliminating the unnecessary to attain simplicity and unity with nature.

In general, I've kept and refined the intuitive way of working that I developed in High School. I let the story "tell" me what its colours should be, and I build a palette around them, defining shapes through all the different nuances of character and mood found in adjacent colours. I find it's a way of "raising the bar" each time I approach a project, and helps to avoid repetitive palettes, which can be boring. I mean, It is also for me, a lot of fun.

After 20 years illustrating, I came to the UK to pursue a Master's Degree on Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, which I finished in February 2017. It was back to pencil and brush, leaving behind the computer. I participated in art competitions, being chosen for the Societies on the Move art exhibit at the Bevilacqua-La Masa Gallery in Venice, Italy, 2016, and was selected by SCBWI British Isles as one of three shortlisted illustrator winners for the Beginning, Middle, End Illustration Competition.  Also I received a commendation in the Macmillan Prize for Illustration 2017, for my book She Likes to Play inspired by cellist Jacqueline Du Pré.
Illustration from Little Awa selected for the SCBWI-British Isles Beginning, Middle, End competition, 2016.

I'm presently doing a Ph.D. on Graphic Design and Typography, also at Anglia Ruskin University.
See more of Mrinali's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery. Her personal website is here, and she can be contacted by email here.


  1. Mrinali, estamos muy orgullosos de tu trabajo y todas tus hermosas obras. Éxito siempre, aventuras y color donde quiera que te encuentres.


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