Irvin High senior artist Kaelyn Monarrez, her fingers crusted with red, yellow and blue hues, purposefully smeared paint across her latest creation and obsession: a nautilus.
The attention to detail and use of vibrant bursts of color illustrate Kaelyn’s talent which most recently earned her a hefty check for her work crafting characters in a children’s book. The book “GO SI EL PASO” features her work most prominently with another 23 area student artists, who were selected for minor roles illustrating city landmarks.
The new bilingual children’s book will be unveiled at 3 p.m. Saturday at the El Paso Museum of Art.
“It feels a little bit on the unrealistic, like it’s in a dream,” Kaelyn said, while working on her nautilus in Karen Fortney’s art class at Irvin. “I get a little emotional. When I was little, I was already dreaming of being an animator or a storyteller in books.”
Kaelyn signed a contract with the publisher to earn more than $2,000 but with that came regular deadlines, character updates, touch ups and design changes. The teenager experienced the real-life expectations and demands required of veteran book illustrators. “Yes, I got frustrated at times and yes, I wanted to quit,” she admitted. “But at the same time, it’s like I love this job.”
She drew on friends, family and life experiences for inspiration to sketch out the three main characters: Estrella, Sunny and Seemore. She spent hours often late into the night, laser focused on finishing the designs and bringing to life her characters.
“The hardest part was staying, keeping up with the deadlines,” Kaelyn said. “I was forcing myself to meet the deadlines two weeks earlier than they were originally set.”
GO SI EL PASO is the brainchild of Ryan Jackson, a Coronado graduate, who now lives in Dallas. Jackson sought out a children’s book about the city last year when he brought his wife and young daughter to El Paso for their first visit.
“Everywhere we travel, we try to find a children’s book at the place we visit but there wasn’t one about El Paso,” Jackson said. “That was the starting point for the idea.”
Last spring, Jackson did a call for entries to seek out potential student artists for the bilingual children’s book, which centers around a character named Sunny who is unsure about her new desert town. She meets new friends and discovers El Paso’s uniqueness, culture and warmth.
“It promotes literacy and civic pride,” Jackson said. “El Paso is one of the least literate cities of its size. The need caught our attention. We wanted to create a book accessible to elementary kids to promote literacy and bilingualism.”
Jackson is donating 1,000 copies to first graders throughout the area. During Saturday’s unveiling, Jackson will honor three students with scholarships for the work designing the landmarks. The art teachers of the three winners also will receive grants for their classrooms.
“We wanted to engage as many people and create opportunities for as many as possible,” Jackson said.
A few yards away from Kaelyn sits sophomore Yesenia Ramos whose illustration of the Plaza Theatre will be featured in the book.
“I was surprised that I got picked out of all the entries,” she said. “I was smiling the whole day when I found out.”
Yesenia is looking forward to Saturday’s event.
“My family will all be there,” she said, grinning. “They are all very proud.”
Like Yesenia, Kaelyn was initially selected to design a landmark but her work caught Jackson’s eye and he knew she could do much more.
“She had a level of maturity and responsibility that enabled her to do the work and she had supportive parents to make it happen,” Jackson said.
Genetics plays a large role in Kaelyn’s talent. Both mom and dad are gifted artists: Dad Raul Monarrez, teaches art at Del Valle High School, and mom Blanca Monarrez is an in-home trainer for autism in EPISD, who’s first degree and love was art.
“We talked to her and were saying ‘this is a big opportunity for you and if they didn’t believe you could do it, they would have never offered it to you,’” Blanca Monarrez said. “When she started the process, she dealt with deadlines, having to scan everything on the computer, send it in to the company, make corrections. I was amazed of the things she was able to do.”
Kaelyn couldn’t officially unveil the characters she developed for the book. But a sneak preview of Estrella and her role as illustrator of “Go, SI EL PASO” is stitched prominently on her Irvin blue letterman-like jacket, which also features many of her art accolades and other accomplishments.
“I just want to tell my stories through my paintings and sculptures no matter what media I use,” she said. “I’m living the dream basically doing something like this so young already.”
***Editor’s note – The El Paso Heral-Post is a partner with ‘Go Si El Paso’
GO, SÍ EL PASO! is a not-for-profit project to create a children’s book that promotes childhood literacy, artistic expression, and cultural exchange.
It features artwork of distinctive El Paso, Texas landmarks created by local high school students in a city-wide art contest, and a narrative in English & en Español.
Join us at 3 PM on Saturday, April 7th at the El Paso Museum of Art. We will:
- Unveil GO, SI EL PASO! – A children’s book about El Paso, Texas
- Give away commemorative posters and sunglasses (while supplies last)
- Have a meet and greet with The Amigo Man!
- Award scholarships to students and classroom grants to art teachers
- Display the original book artwork
- Sell copies of the book (all proceeds donated to support local arts and community education)
The children’s book is written in both English and Spanish. About 1,000 copies of the finished book will be donated to first-grade classrooms at public elementary schools across the area, to municipal libraries, and to students in Juarez, Mexico.
High school art students from area districts competed to have their artwork featured in the book.
The project is supported by: Acceleron Learning, The El Paso Museum of Art, KVIA, KCOS-TV, The El Paso Herald Post, Entravision El Paso, Helen of Troy, Visit El Paso, Rocketbuster Handmade Custom Boots, Smith Chiropractic, Wet-n-Wild Waterworld, The El Paso Museum of History, and Southwest Retina Consultants, PA.