When I first read the manuscript for Building An Orchestra Of Hope (back when it was called something else), I was elated that I had been given the chance to work on such an inspiring story. This book is about Favio Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, an orchestra in which kids play on instruments made out of recycled materials. We in Latin America are familiar with these kinds of tales of people making amazing things out of scraps, using all their creativity and grit, and here was an excellent example: making music out of, well, literally, trash.

I wanted the book to have a unique look; I felt that the story needed a more analog and textured feel, as opposed to my traditional way of working which is entirely digital (I work mostly in Photoshop). For this I scribbled a few different markings and squiggles on white paper so that I could scan them and add them to the color as textures, or add color and use them as shapes in the composition.Here are a few examples so you can see what I mean:

At around the same time I started thinking about the characters, and, since this is a story about real people, I searched Landfill Harmonic for and looked at many different photos, images, and videos for reference. I also watched, a great documentary which was incredibly helpful for getting a true sense of not only the people but the place and context. Cateura is a harsh place to live in, so I had to find a way to show that.

When I had a good idea in my head of what everything should look like, I went on to work on thumbnails and preliminary sketches, which are helpful to figure out what I want to show in relation to the text, the rhythm, and the basic composition of each spread. I also deciphered the designs for the main characters (capturing a likeness is hard!).

With these sketches, the art director can now see what I have in mind for the book and is able to give me feedback so I can have tighter and more detailed sketches ready for approval. In this spread I had to find references for all the instruments, which took me a while!

After we are all in agreement and everything is approved, I move on to color. I paint everything in Photoshop, keeping the consistency of the colors in mind throughout the book. Here I also decided on the look for all the kids in the band.

After everyone was happy with the artwork, I moved on to figuring out the cover, and there were a few sketches at first, and then color:

And we’re done! I really loved the story and the process for this book; it was truly special!

Building an Orchestra of Hope

How Favio Chavez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash

Written by Carmen Oliver
Illustrated by Luisa Uribe

In Cateura, Paraguay, a town built on a landfill, music teacher Favio Chavez longed to help the families living and working amid the hills of trash. How could he help them find hope for the future? Favio started giving music lessons to Cateura’s children, but soon he encountered a serious problem. He had more students than instruments!

But Favio had a strange and wonderful idea: what if this recyclers’ town had its own recycled orchestra? Favio and Colá, a brilliant local carpenter, began to experiment with transforming garbage into wonder. Old glue canisters became violins; paint cans became violas; drainpipes became flutes and saxophones. With repurposed instruments in their hands, the children of Cateura could fill their community—and the world—with the sounds of a better tomorrow.