Keith Shepherd is an artist, designer, and illustrator, living in Kansas City, Missouri. He began his professional career at Hallmark Cards. Shepherd’s art has been exhibited at galleries shows around the country. Most notably, a painting entitled Sunday Best, became a part of the permanent collection at the Negro League Baseball Museum. Shepherd’s bold and colorful art has been compared to the work of Thomas Hart Benton.
In 2011, with encouragement from author-illustrator Shane W. Evans, Shepherd made his debut as a picture illustrator. His art told the story of Walking Home to Rosie Lee, (Cinco Puntos, ages 7 to 10), written by A. LaFaye. It’s the story about a young slave child, freed after the Civil War, who sets off on a journey to find his mother, sold off during slavery.
Today, Mr. Shepherd talks about his book Walking Home to Rosie Lee.
By Keith Shepherd
THE JOURNEY I have always loved books. Especially art books and the printed image. Besides the written text and an artist’s imagination, I wondered how the book was printed on a page and made into actual literature. These are questions I would ask myself before I could even remotely conceive an answer. Years later working for Hallmark Cards, I explored that solution with each product made. There I learned about color, art, paper stocks, inks, printing, lettering etc. You can imagine the wealth of talent at that company. While there I made the acquaintance of Shane Evans, now a celebrated writer and illustrator in his own right. We’ve remained friends after we left the job. One day I got a heads up from him about an opportunity to illustrate a book. I was reluctant because I wanted to concentrate on my gallery work!
INSPIRATION Besides the aforementioned Shane Evans, I also enjoy the work of contemporaries William Joyce, Kadir Nelson, David Shannon, Jerry Pinkney, Anna Marie Basom, Scott Gustafson, Loren Long to name a few. That’s due mostly due to their influences from fine artists and golden age illustrators like Norman Rockwell, Thomas Hart Benton, N.C. Wyeth, Ernie Barnes, Fletcher Martin and Rose O’Neill. They’ve drawn from these pioneers and made it their own. They don’t just illustrate a narrative but explore each word for its endless possibilities.
THE BACK STORY How I got my ‘deal’ returns once again to Shane. He asked if he could recommend me to a publisher. I told him I might pass because I had lost three years to being an educator and health issues and was eager to return to my studio. He said no harm in looking into it and I agreed. Soon after I received a phone call from Lee Byrd at Cinco Puntos Press out of El Paso,Texas. She relayed to me a story by Alexandria La Faye ,’WALKING HOME TO ROSIE LEE.’ I thought it might be feasible so she sent me the document via email. I was blown away by the text. Well-written first-person prose of a child recently freed from the bondage of slavery and yearning to reunite with his mother, sold away when he was younger still. Though at the editing stage, the crux of the story was there. So once in agreement, contracts signed, and whatnot, I began correspondence with sending first thumbnail ideas, then sketches, followed by final concepts and completed.
THE BUZZ. The buzz on the book seems to be building slowly but surely. I recall a wonderful write up online at ‘Publishers Weekly’. Lee Byrd told me of the positive response the Cinco Puntos Press team received at their various bookseller junkets. I myself have lined up a couple of readings here in Kansas City Mo. during Black History Month this February.
THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY I see children’s literature growing and growing whether paper or electronic! More subject matter that previously was considered inappropriate. Kids recognize if their sibling has a physical or learning disability. They know if the pigment of their skin or the texture of their hair is different from their neighbors or how being adopted affects them. Especially for author/illustrators of color who are slowly being allowed the latitude to tell those stories. The palette is there to paint the pictures and words to tell the truth. Thank you!
BUZZ FOR WALKING HOME TO ROSIE LEE
“The well-crafted narrative and the artist’s thoughtful imagery make it a powerful choice.” — Farmington Community Library, MI
“Walking Home to Rosie Lee beautifully captures the disorganized confusion that prevailed then, masterfully and lushly detailed by Shepherd against towering gloomy forests, abandoned big houses and fallow fields.” – al.com (The Birmingham News)
“Walking Home is recommended to juvenile readers as a well-told story related by Alexandria LaFaye and enhanced by the wonderful full-page illustrations of Keith D. Shepherd. Their talents are combined to celebrate the search of ‘strength, love, and determination’ represented by Gabe’s quest.” – Civil War News