ROCMove Co-Founder X Artist Interview
NN: What motivated you to take the first step of many to complete this work?
MC: When I was younger, I thought my life was perfect, and my life was far from that; unless perfectly traumatizing is the goal. I was experiencing a lot of abuse... and I just didn't know any different. I never thought there was something abnormal about my life, but it was an intense childhood.
I didn't realize how bad it was until we went into the foster care system. You can imagine the shock of a child who believes that everything is fine, and then police officers show up to your house to separate you from your parents and siblings. That was the first instance of perspective for me that something was wrong with my life...
But when I started experiencing abuse from caregivers while in foster care... if I was removed for these reasons from my house, then why are these people abusing and neglecting me too?
NN: If you say something about it, then you become the problem.
MC: Yes, it's like — "you're getting 7-dayed, good bye!" or "do you want to be separated from you sister again?" In retrospect, it is so crazy, who does that? Holds siblings hostage?
NN: It is wild because kids in the foster care system have particular rights and protective policies, like a "Foster Youth Bill of Rights" and Foster Care Ombudsperson, but they don't always work as intended; you can't access something you don't know exists.
MC: I literally had to write a little "help me" note to my therapist, and its those little instances as a child that made me realize there is something wrong with the system and reflects how terrible the system is...
In my life, this was my call to action moment; years of trauma, tossing and turning, and not knowing what the solution is... And then I found Peace4Kids, and then ROCMove came into the conversation. We have to reimagine "the system" because this is not an individual problem. How do we create a world where children actually have a chance? This is what motivates me to pour into ROCMove and tell stories with pencils that draw attention and spark conversations to narratives like this.
NN: No pun intended! Illustrating a book from scratch is an achievement and narrative its own worth celebrating. Once you started on the journey of this book, what challenged you the most? How did you pull through?
MC: The challenge was actually doing the work; in relation to the book, actually doing the drawing, conceptualizing things, researching, referencing images.
I essentially had to make an entire world. All the drawings had to be cohesive and the characters had to make sense within that world.
For each scene: what colors am I going to use?
What are the houses or the town going to look like?
What about the color of the sky?
Are there clouds, how many?
Is there sun, or grass, or a dirt road?
At times figuring it all out was a bit tedious and even a little discouraging, and not really having a solid deadline was not the best 🥴 It wasn't easy; a lot of people would ask me "omg is it fun?" and honestly, it wasn't! It was so much work!And I never worked on a project like this, so I was teaching myself a style of illustration by trial and error, and sometimes that can be really frustrating.
I didn't leave my desk for weeks, I didn't talk to friends, it was a lot! I had to be on hyper focus mode... It wasn't fun, but that's what I had to do to push through and get the work done. I binge-watched a lot of dramas while I was working, and it was a good time marker.
[Editor's Note: We went on a tangent about failed attempts to take a break from foster care-related work just to watch dramas with characters who were in foster care and became murders, murdered, or otherwise deranged]
NN: What's something you did not know before starting the journey of illustrating a book that you know now?
MC: I have struggled with the fact that I can actually make a difference... I've struggled really believing that; that my voice matters, that my art can have an effect. I dream really big, but I have trouble believing in those dreams once they start actualizing themselves... I didn't think I would get to this age; I didn't think I would get this far in life... Seeing things that I've worked really hard on in life manifesting into real things, I still can't believe it!
Finishing the book is a major accomplishment in my life; it's one of the most grand and important things I've ever done, and I still don't think it's real! I only know it's real because people are telling me it's real... I'm learning to take ownership over my accomplishments because it really wasn't easy.
Throughout life, I have learned to break through barriers and make the most out of nothing. Even when there was nothing, I invented things or created new solutions. It's how I got to go to private school, it's how I got to meet people I know now, and really it's about taking risks.
This book was one of the biggest risks, because it really felt like, what if people don't like it? What if the drawings aren't in alignment with the message? Then what? It's a lot a fear, and this book taught me to think past myself, because these dreams don't just belong to me; they are collective dreams...
It's not just my project — this book was written and created by all the people I've met at Peace4Kids. The illustrations were all inspired by the entire community. This was a collective dream, and I'm really owning that we did something great right now!
NN: You shared that you referred to a number of classic children's books for technical insights and inspiration: which of those books influenced or inspired you the most? In what ways?
MC: As a kid, I loved folklores, and fables, and losing myself in the artwork. Those were all major inspirations that I referenced, as well as:
"One" by Katherine Otashi — seemingly simple watercolor visuals but each small circle has feelings and emotions that translate well. To simplify and make it complex at the same time.
"The Rabbit Listened" Corey Doerrfeld — again simple illustrations, but the author captured the story in a way that was "just enough" so that younger readers feel compelled to stay on a page and ask questions.
NN: How, where, why can people find THE POINTLESS FOREST?
MC: We have an event coming up on November 20th, 2021 in South Los Angeles and are in the process of self publishing a limited edition print run. We are in talks with publishers and hope to have the book more widely available as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we have a buy one, gift one campaign of autographed, limited edition books. Each book purchase gives you the option to gift a copy to a family at Peace4Kids or a local public school, or public library. The intent is to ensure the community has access to its own stories.
Yes, [though] it is categorized as a children's book, it is important to note that you may find aspects of yourself even if you haven't had a foster care experience. I learned a lot from Pointlexia and what a world could look like if we all imagined it together, and supported each other! So take those lessons and make what you will with them.
*End "The Pointless Forest is Anything But" Part Two
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Miriam Cortez is the Program Coordinator and Artist-In-Residence at Peace4Kids (P4K). Prior to her current role as Co-Founder of ROCMove, Miriam volunteered at P4K. The root of Miriam's artistry is storytelling; she is driven to tell stories in ways that give them the most justice and represent the story best. Miriam explores and works with as many mediums as she can, from stop-motion to watercolor to illustrating her first children's book! Noah is also a Co-Founder of ROCMove and P4K volunteer. Noah's interview with Miriam took place September 2021 in Los Angeles and is edited for clarity.