Alyssa Francisco is a writer and artist with Cerebral Palsy. She sketches with graphite and colored pencils and creates watercolor pieces. We caught up with Alyssa to talk with her about how she uses analog tools to tell her story.
SSC: So, what’s your story?
FRANCISCO: I am an aspiring artist and blogger, and I also happen to be disabled. One day I hope to open an online shop selling artwork and maybe even write a book just to see where it takes me. Maybe my next adventure will be to go back to school and get a photography degree.
For now, I spend my time running a blog where I write about my life and my experiences living with a disability. When I am not blogging, I like to read, paint, and draw. Books, art, and music are my passions. It is very rare that you will ever catch me without my nose in a book, a pencil in my hand, or headphones in my ears. A good portion of my artwork is inspired either by a song, an album cover, or a scene in a book.
SSC: Tell us a little bit about your stationery or canvas origin story. When did you realize that paper was more than just paper?
FRANCISCO: I have always had an interest in art and writing as far back as I can remember. Maybe it was part of being disabled, but instead of learning to ride a bike like all the other kids, I spent my time drawing and making up stories.
For me, paper was always more than just paper. It was a gateway for hours of entertainment that didn’t require the use of your legs. I started collecting tons of notebooks. This annoyed my parents, because I would end up with so many of them, each half filled with different stories, and [my parents] didn’t understand my need to have more than one at a time.
I was so pleased with myself when I discovered I could make book jackets by putting my stories in those paper folders that had the three-hole binder inside. I would write my stories, put them inside the binder, and then illustrate my cover, complete with a summary on the back and everything! I felt like a genius.
As for my canvas story, unfortunately, I didn’t have a very supportive art teacher growing up. I wasn’t one of those kids who had a natural talent for art. I was so untalented even, that my teacher would often embarrass me in front of the class and use me as an example of what not to do. I believed that I could never really be a good artist. It was just something I played at to pass the time. It wasn’t until my second year of high school that I discovered I may still have a shot at being a decent artist, and I got serious about it after I signed up for a painting and drawing class. I wasn’t just doing it for fun anymore, I wanted to become the best I could be. I still remember the first set of watercolor pencils I bought for myself, and I think they are still one of my favorite brands today.
That year was also a rough year for me and writing became my safe place in many ways. During that time I entered a poetry writing contest and won (to my surprise). My poem was published in an online journal and was chosen to be read for a play. It was the first time that I was ever recognized for something that I created, and I was in shock. I think that was when art and writing became a part of who I was rather than just something I did to pass time.
SSC: How do you use analog tools to tell your story (through art or otherwise)?
FRANCISCO: Ok, funny story: When I was younger I thought to be a good painter, or an artist in general, your paintings had to tell a story. Like,“one day my dog ran away and I was very sad. The birds flying away represents him leaving, while the choice of blue paint here symbolizes my feelings of sadness.” I thought that a painting needed: a story or symbolism. Otherwise, it wasn’t a good painting. I’ve always viewed my art more as a snapshot than a full story. Each piece that I make shows a little bit of who I am and what I like, and I think anyone who has seen my work will agree that it shows.
Using analog tools allows me to put passion and emotion into my work. There is a certain feeling that I get while spending hours bent over a sketchbook, or canvas, and an array of supplies next to me, that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s how I am able to bring the best parts of me forward whether I am creating a new drawing, or just jotting down ideas for my blog.
SSC: All right, so what does your desk look like?
FRANCISCO: My desk is a collection of many products. It is a small white desk with three drawers and extra storage underneath. It sits in the corner of my bedroom covered in various stains from years’ worth of work (someday I am going to get around to repainting it), and there’s always some sort of project sitting there waiting for me. My collection includes:
- Several different brands of oil and acrylic paint.
- Paint brushes
- Mona Lisa odorless paint thinner and brush cleaning tank
- Prismacolor Premier colored pencils
- Reeves drawing pencils
- Raffine watercolor pencils
- Strathmore drawing pads ranging from 9x8-18x24
- Painters tape
- Trace paper
- 2 paint pallets
- Paper towels and baby wipes for those accidental messes
- Sketch book for jotting down ideas
- Journal for personal writing
SSC: What does your typical creative process look like?
FRANCISCO: My creative process depends on what I’m working on. Sometimes I will get an idea that I can just go straight to the paper with and knock it out quickly. Other times, if I am not 100 percent sure on the idea, or it’s really complex, I will go to the computer and lay it out in a program like Picmonkey first. Then I can make sure that everything works together and tweak my ideas if necessary before going to paper.
Typically I work from reference photos, so I will spend a few hours collecting photos to help me draw the images exactly how I want them. Once I’m ready to start drawing, I spend a day or two working on the initial sketch, making sure everything is right before I move on to color and details. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was: Once you think you are finished, put it away for a few days and then come back to it for final touches before you call it done.
I like to have some sort of background noise while I am working on art. If I’m drawing I usually have classic Disney movies playing, but if I am painting I like to listen to my favorite music. When I write though, I usually keep it quiet. Every now and then I will put a song on loop and lose track of time while I get my ideas out. Generally, my ideas start from a single sentence. From there I build on it. What sort of questions do I want to ask? What do I want the reader to learn? I’ll spend a couple of days writing, then another couple of days editing and re writing.
SSC: Okay, obligatory "desert island" question. You only get to have one paper and pen/pencil combination for the rest of your stationery using days, what's it going to be?
FRANCISCO: This is a hard one for me, because I love working with so many different types of media. I would have to pick my Strathmore art journal from the 500 series and my Reeves drawing pencils. If I could only choose one pencil in that set though I’d go for an HB. I feel like I could be happy writing or drawing with those.
Find Alyssa on Instagram: instagram.com/alyssa_mac
This interview was conducted by Lou Cohick, one of our two amazing fall interns.