Rafael López (illustrator and artist)

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Rafael López
Rafael Lopez Artist and Illustrator.jpg
Born (1961-08-08) August 8, 1961 (age 53)
Mexico City
Nationality Mexico
Alma mater Art Center College of Design
Spouse(s) Candice López
Awards Pura Belpré Award;
Américas Book Awards

Rafael López (born August 8, 1961 in Mexico City, Mexico)[1] is an internationally recognized illustrator and artist.[2] A children’s book illustrator, he won the 2010 Pura Belpré Award with his illustrations for Book Fiesta!, three Pura Belpré honors for illustration in 2014, 2012 and 2004 and two Américas Book Awards. In 2012, he was chosen by the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival Poster and was a featured book festival speaker again in 2013.[3] López has illustrated seven stamps for the United States Postal Service. In 2012 and 2008, he was selected by the Obama/Biden campaign to create two official posters at Artists for Obama called Estamos Unidos and Voz Unida.[4]


In Mexico City, López attended the Manuel Bartolome Cossio, where he began drawing and painting at an early age. Both his parents were architects and teachers at UNAM. When he was 10 years old, they sent him to Exeter, England to live with Mexican-born conceptual and performance artist Felipe Ehrenberg. There he explored drawing and learned to make books and use a printing press. In 1982, he left Mexico to study illustration at the Art Center College of Design, in Los Angeles where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.


After college he worked as an illustrator in Los Angeles, and later moved to an industrial loft building in the East Village of downtown San Diego. He became involved in social design projects, founding the Urban Art Trail and painting large-scale murals to improve blighted areas and reclaim neighborhoods.[5] A lifelong passion for books eventually led him to pursue children’s book illustration. He has taught illustration for Art Center College of Design and San Diego City College.


Book Fiesta! cover, illustrated by Rafael López
Book Fiesta! cover, illustrated by Rafael López, recipient of the 2010 Pura Belpré illustration award.
Nuestra Voz poster
Nuestra Voz poster, 2008.

Growing up in Mexico City, Rafael López was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and native color of street life.[6] Influenced by Mexican surrealism and myths he developed a style with roots in this tradition. Using bold colors, his textured work is a fusion of graphic style and magical symbolism.[7] López likes to find objects and symbols to communicate concepts.[8] He paints with acrylic paints that come in large jars from Mexico and uses a variety of objects to scratch textures onto hand-cut and sanded wooden boards.[9] Color and texture is important to Lopez's paintings [10] and he uses a camera to catalogue the colors, textural history of walls and peeling paint to fuel his work.

His international clients include Amnesty International, Apple, Charlesbridge Publishing, Chicago Tribune, Harper Collins, IBM, Intel, Lee & Low books, Library of Congress, Los Angeles Times, the Grammy Awards, United States Forest Service, United States Postal Service[11] and the World Wildlife Fund and his work has been selected into multiple juried shows. Birds are a frequent subject of his work and in 2012 he worked with Environment for the Americas as the International Migratory Bird Day artist.[12]

His illustrations for Book Fiesta! written by Pat Mora were the recipient of the 2010 Pura Belpré Illustration Award given by the American Library Association to honor work that best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children's books. Additional books, Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown,[13]The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos,[14] My Name is Celia, Me Llamo Celia written by Monica Brown and Yum! Mmm! Que Rico! by Pat Mora have won 2 Américas Book Awards[15] and 2 Pura Belpré Honors for illustration. In 2012 he was selected by the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival poster to celebrate reading and literacy.[16] Honorary Co-Chairs for this event were President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and it featured more than 125 best-selling authors, illustrators and poets on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.[17] López was the honorary chair of California's Read Across America and speaks around the United States and abroad[18] to promote reading and literacy.[19] Books illustrated by Rafael López have been printed in Arabic, English and Spanish.

In a grassroots effort he created a poster called Nuestra Voz that was printed with friends and distributed to key swing states in an effort to win the pivotal Latino vote for democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.[20] The poster was brought to the attention of the national campaign by field workers and his 2008 poster Voz Unida was selected by the Obama/Biden campaign as an official poster at Artists for Obama.[21] This poster became part of a series of ten limited edition art prints created and donated by artists to support the presidential campaign of United States President Barack Obama and were sold to raise campaign funds through his official website. In 2012 the Obama campaign asked López to create another poster "Estamos Unidos" and he was the only original Artist for Obama to make a poster for the re-election effort.[22] The poster sold out at Artists for Obama and an alternate version "Adelante" was printed in an effort to win the Latino vote in key swing states.

In 2010, he created a series of 5 stamps[23] for the United States Postal Service featuring Latin Music Legends Celia Cruz, Carlos Gardel, Carmen Miranda, Tito Puente and Selena.[24] His 2007 U.S.P.S. stamp celebrated an important legal case in equality of education called Mendez vs. Westminster.[25] The Let’s Dance: Merengue stamp he created for the United States Postal Service [26] was featured on the cover of the commemorative stamp yearbook in 2006 and at a special exhibition at the Smithsonian [27] called Trendsetters and Trailblazers.[28]

In 2009, he was asked to create three paintings for Oprah Winfrey's school in South Africa and then presented them to her at the National Association for Independent Schools conference in Chicago, Illinois.[29]

In 2013 during the 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates he was asked to teach a poster design workshop to aspiring and established illustrators.[30] He also visited Sharjah in 2011 to teach an art workshop to children.[31]

In 1997, he envisioned and led the Urban Art Trail Project that transformed San Diego's blighted East Village with colorful murals, sculptures and art installations and serves as a model of urban renewal that has been implemented in cities around the nation. He has worked with the National Museum of Mexican Fine Art in Chicago,[32] American Federation of Teachers and other organizations to create large scale murals. His works can be found throughout downtown San Diego, at the San Diego office of the American Federation of Teachers, children's hospitals and at public elementary schools including the San Diego Cooperative Charter School.[33] In an effort to build community López developed a mural style that works like a large scale paint by numbers. He has worked with hundreds of children, families and community members to create murals and often reclaim blighted neighborhoods in San Diego, California, Fort Collins, Colorado,[34] Chicago, Illinois[35] and Seattle, Washington.

Rafael López lives in San Diego, California and the UNESCO World Heritage city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with his wife Candice, a Professor of Art and Design and a son Santiago.[36]

Rafael López Mural at Addison and Avondale in Chicago Illinois


  • Tito Puente Mambo King, Rey del Mambo (2014 Pura Belpré Honor, Illustrator, written by Monica Brown), HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-122783-7
  • The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred (2012 Pura Belpré Honor, Illustrator, written by Samantha Vamos), Charlesbridge, ISBN 978-1-58089-242-1
  • Book Fiesta! (2010 Pura Belpré Award, Illustrator, written by Pat Mora), Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-128877-7
  • Our California (2008, Illustrator, written by Pam Muñoz Ryan), Charlesbridge, ISBN 978-1-58089-116-5
  • Yum! !MmMm! !Que rico! (2007 Americas Award, Illustrator, written by Pat Mora), Lee & Low Books, ISBN 978-1-60060-267-2
  • My Name is Celia, Me Llamo Celia (2004 Americas Award and Pura Belpré Honor, written by Monica Brown), Luna Rising, ISBN 0-87358-872-X


  1. ^ "August 8". Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. Norman Rockwell Museum. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Rafael López: California Ethnic & Multicultural Archives". UC Santa Barbara Library CEMA. UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Cavna, Michael (22 September 2012). "NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL: Artist Rafael Lopez shares a step-by-step peek at how he created the official poster". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Seidman, Steven. "Best Posters from U.S. Presidential Election Campaigns". Ithaca College. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Urban Art Trail Murals". Urban Art Trail. Urban Art Trail. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "A video interview with Rafael López". Reading Rockets. WETA Washington D.C. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "Rafael López". Papertigers. Papertigers Books + Water. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Danielson, Julie. "Seven Questions over breakfast with Rafael López". Seven Impossible things before breakfast. Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  9. ^ Cavna, Michael (22 September 2012). "An Artist Emphasizes Unity". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). 
  10. ^ Sainz, Pablo Jaime. "Local artist adds rhythm and heritage to your stamps". La Prensa. La Prensa San Diego. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "Rafael López Biography". Beyond the Perf: USA Philatelic. United States Postal Service. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "Rafael Lopez International Migratory Bird Artist". Environment for the Americas. Environment for the Americas. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  13. ^ Roback, Diane. "DiCamillo, Floca, Sedgwick Win Newbery, Caldecott, Printz". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Rafael López-2012 Pura Belpré Honor Illustration". ALA Youth Media Awards. American Library Association YMA. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  15. ^ "Américas Book Award Past Winners". Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  16. ^ Macias, Francisco. "Rafael López: 2012 National Book Festival". Library of Congress Podcasts. Library of Congress. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "National Book Festival Posters". Library of Congress. Library of Congress. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  18. ^ Mesbah, Rana. "Renowned children's illustrator attends UAEBBY's Children's Book Fiesta". AME Info. Media Quest. 
  19. ^ "California's 16th Annual Read Across America is Friday-State's Rich History is an open book". CTA. California Teacher's Association. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  20. ^ Berestein, Leslie. "The Art of Politics". San Diego Union Tribune. The San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  21. ^ Brooks, Katherine (7 November 2012). "Obama Art: Our favorite portraits of the President". Huffington Post (The Huffington Post). Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  22. ^ Seidman, Steven. "A new Obama poster by Rafael López". Ithaca College. Ithaca College. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  23. ^ "http://www.beyondtheperf.com/stamp-releases/latin-music-legends". Beyond the Perf. USA Philatelic. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  24. ^ Garcia, Emmanuel. "Rafael López Talks Latin Music Legends Stamps". audio interview Emmanuel Garcia. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  25. ^ Montgomery, David (9 October 2007). "A First Class Civil Rights Lesson". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  26. ^ "The Let's Dance-Bailemos Stamp Collection commemorates Latin Dance". i Salsa Magazine. i salsa magazine. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  27. ^ "Trailblazers/Trendsetters Art of the Stamp". Postal Museum Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  28. ^ Kuhn, Alyson. "A Philatelic Field Trip: Smithsonian National Postal Museum". Step Inside Design. Web Media Brands. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  29. ^ Davis, Allison. "21st Century Poster Art Movement". Escape into Life. EIL. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  30. ^ Reporter, Staff. "Workshops aim for more creativity in Arabic kids’ book production". The Gulf Today. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  31. ^ Reporter, Staff. "Children's Book Fiesta held to improve reading, drawing". Khaleej Times. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  32. ^ Shefsky, Jay. "Avondale Mural". Chicago Tonight. WTTW. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  33. ^ Morris, Steven. "San Diego Cooperative Charter School Mural by Rafael López". 
  34. ^ "Library Community Mural Project". Poudre Library. City of Fort Collins. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  35. ^ Sobor, Anna. "130 Chicago Kids Paint Mural in Northside Neighborhood Inspired By San Diego Artist/Illustrator Rafael Lopez". Breaking Voices Chicago edition. Breaking Voices. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  36. ^ "Rafael López Meet the Illustrator". ¡Colorín Colorado! Helping children read and succeed!. WETA. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 

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