When Shane W. Evans was a child, a friend of his family invited him to help rehab an old building. Together, they transformed it into a working art studio. Afterwards, Shane enjoyed watching his friend and mentor create large detailed artwork, in the studio they’d worked on together.
Within Shane, that experience produced a dream all it’s own: Someday, he’d open his own art studio, a place where he could create wonderful works of art, too. A place where he could honor his dreams and the dreams of others.
Last summer, inside a 100-plus year-old building in Kansas City, Missouri, not too far from the famed Laugh-O-Grams studio created by Walt Disney, that dream came true. Shane Evans opened Dream Studio, a workspace for himself, an art gallery, a music venue, and a gathering space for the community at large.
Dream Studio was a major milestone in Shane’s career, but his successes didn’t begin there. Before, he had worked as a designer for Hallmark Cards. Then he went on to illustrate more than 30 books for children, including Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, written by Alan Govenar (Jump at The Sun, 2000), and No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, written by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2005). More recently, he illustrated When Harriet Met Sojourner, written by Catherine Clinton (Amistad, 2007).
Shane Evans was selected by First Lady Laura Bush to be featured at the National Book Festival in 2002, and his books have been highlighted on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Reading Rainbow and Late Night with David Letterman. The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and The Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Non-Fiction for Children are among his awards and honors.
Shane is also the illustrator for the popular Shanna books, a series written by Jean Marzollo. The series proved so popular, it was adapted into a cartoon for Disney, which later spun of a second television show, Shane’s Kindergarten Countdown.
“i dream…” is a concept developed by Shane, where he poses the question: What do you dream?, and then he shares the dream with others.
So what’s my dream? Well, to allow myself to dream as big as Shane W. Evans.
Don: How did you become interested in illustrating for children?
Shane: I have always been interested in children’s books, from a child I was fascinated by the art and as an adult I could see the creative diversity in books for children. I myself never actually thought that I would be doing this as a career, for some reason I just never thought about it. A part of the artist in me didn’t think that the work that I was doing fit the “model” for children’s books. My illustrating of books actually came from showing a body of work that I created after I got back from West Africa, it was a very expressive body of work that had an interesting story telling element to it.
Don: What kind of training have you received to prepare for your career as an artist?
Shane: I have been in art school since 5th grade, attending school in Buffalo and Rochester. I was surrounded by amazing young students in the arts that were very series about the work that they were creating even at a young age. I went to school with notable artists such as Taye Diggs, Jesse Martin and Tweet. Being at these 2 schools at such a young age prepared me for Syracuse University, I found myself extremely advanced and focused, that lead me to a major in illustration. Four years of school was a great way to grow my mind and skill and create opportunities for networking early on. Post school I worked at RollingStone then Hallmark Cards, which was truly like a grad, school in the arts.
Don: What is your mission as an artist?
Shane: My mission is to inspire. If I am inspiring others then I am being inspired… inspiration is the way that the spirit grows and learns essentially. Additionally it is to go world wide with my visuals and communicate with other cultures through and with them. On July 7th 2007, I opened dreams studio, a 2200 square foot space for me with both work and showcase my work. Since the opening of the space I have hosted other artists, musical and theatrical and have witness a community come together through the art. Were it not for my tenacity in creating books and other visual artist it would have been difficult to open up such a place. Stay true to the work that I do has allowed a new process to start taking shape, the inspiration of another generation of young artists to start to take shape.
Don: What is your primary medium?
Shane: Oil, pen and ink and computer. (I have no real preference, although I do enjoy painting.)
Don: Is your approach to painting a children’s book any different from how you approach gallery or commissioned work?
Shane: Yes, I am thinking about children when I am creating a book for children where as work for galleries I am often stressing issues and often creating from the soul.
Don: Tell us about your process of illustrating a children’s book
Shane: This often varies but ultimately what I like to do is read the manuscript that I would get from an editor, then I start thumbnails in the margins (very quick) just to get an idea of where I might go in the work. From there I like to start looking for reference, inspiration and research that then leads to a more detailed set of sketches that are still rough but I am flushing out the layout. There is often some conversation at this point with the editor, and this goes back and forth as the sketches are developed. From here I start the process of finished drawings and go to painting from there.
Don: How long does it typically take you to illustrate a children’s book, and how do you balance work, family, and other?
Shane: That is VERY TRICKY. I think if I was not having to negotiate the way a book looks for editors and others that are looking to visualize (which is not always realistic) I could complete a book in a month to two months and this depends on the style. Generally it is about 4-6months. The balance of all things is something that is hard to do, as I do have a family I like to take time with my daughter and wife of course, but it is hard to pull my mind out of a book even when I am not actually painting on it. If I can get mini goals set and stick with them I can balance, if something gets thrown off in that flow it finds me behind and a bit off balance.
Don: Do you visit schools, and can you speak a bit about your program?
Shane: Yes I do visits, a great deal of what I discuss is my travels and how they have inspired and influenced my works, West Africa, Europe, Japan, China, South America to name a few, these places have truly shaped who I am as a person and informed my art. I also stress the importance of learning, giving details of my background in the arts and how important it was for me as a young person to maintain practice and learning to lead to continued evolution. Coupled with slides from all over the world and samples of books and actual illustrations I have found children of all ages truly engaged in the process of the lecture.
Don: Do you have any hobbies, or other interest beyond art?
Shane: Music, have been playing guitar for a lot of years and been writing songs as well for a number of years. Travel is a big thing for me as well as I am dedicated to leaving the country at LEAST once a year and I have been doing that since 1995. It has taken me to some of the most interesting places in the world and changed me as a person and as an artist.
Don: Is there any particular kind of manuscript you keep your eyes open for? Any particular kind of story you are drawn to?
Shane: Often the manuscripts will JUMP out of the page and it will be obvious that it is something that I would like to tackle although I have delved into texts that have been more challenging and needed exploration and work that I did not foresee. Currently I am bringing my own written voice and illustration to the table. For many years I have loved the process of writing. I have written music for songs and poems so the natural step is that I would start to illuminate books that I that I conceive.
Don: As an African American children’s book illustrator, do you ever feel pigeon-holed, or feel pressured to illustrate certain types of manuscripts?
Shane: I entered into illustrating books when there was a true NEED for books that represented children and people of color. During an episode of The Oprah Winfrey show she had a section of books that highlighted books for children. Included was the Shanna Princess Show, she stopped at that book and said “ I wish that I had books like this as a child”, this is something that I can relate to. So to be playing a role in filling that void is an honor, and not just “filling a void” but creating beautiful and meaningful work that ALL people can appreciate as I create books for all audience that happen to have faces of African Americans. I consider ARTIST and myself foremost, so I know that I am at a point where I can choose to illustrate any story.
Don: Who are your favorite children’s illustrators. Who are your favorite fine artists, contemporary or masters?
Shane: I am mostly a fan of the art… that is primary for me… although, Sendak, Kadir Neslon, Brian Collier, Jerry Pinkney, Suess, Vangough, Basquiat, Gaugin, Jacob Lawrence, William Henry Johnson, Henry Tanner, I could go on and on have all influenced me in some way.
Don: There aren’t many African American children’s book illustrators getting cartoon deals. How did that deal come about? Can you tell me a bit about the Shana cartoon series.
Shane: That came about as the series started getting a lot of looks out in the world, Oprah’s mention of it sparked interest as well as interest by another network besides Disney. The characters that I created had an appeal that Disney thought could translate well to television. I had some input in the series; for the most part the animation is created by a team as the process of animating is beyond a one-man job.
Don: What were your favorite books as a child?
Shane: Where the Wild things Are, I really felt like I was there with MAX on that journey, I felt scared for him at times and glad when he made it back… so it felt real and as a child that is a wonderful feeling.
Don: Tell us about your upcoming projects, children’s books?
Shane: Olu’s Dream with Harper Collins [image below], this is a BIG project for me as it is one that is based greatly around my mission as an artist and my studio. The book(s) (as I am looking to create a series) is about a little boy and his first dream. He is encouraged by his father in a subtle way to “just go for it” to take your dreams and pursue them. Today our youth and even our adults are setting aside their dreams, ignoring their dreams. If you think of dreams like gifts that are given to you to utilize, if you do not do that you are wasting the gift. So this is an important work for my portfolio of works, as the theme and the character is a universal one as EVERYONE dreams, and Olu is a child of 2 cultures so he opens up many to be able to relate to him and his “mission.” I am looking into working with Mr. Taye Diggs and taking this character into the world of animation, it is a long process but the aim is to truly explore all of the options that this character and this universal notion of dreaming has to offer.
A taste of the little dreamer in Action… Olu and Brindle as they race through all of their dreams.
Dream studio light’s up a part of town and brings art to community.
A view of the interior of dream studio.
Don: You’re a busy man, Shane. Thanks for sharing your valuable time.
Evans with the moto that follows the studio and his art “idream…” Evans sports the logo that brand the studio and is the main character for his upcoming book with Harper Collin’s “Olu’s Dream”.