Day 28: Eric Velasquez

February 28, 2017

ericvelasquez42ndnaacpimageawardsredwyi8pkrnfbul It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’ve been working all day on a spread from my upcoming graphic novel. If I can just finish this one last panel, I can go to sleep. I look at the hand on one of the characters, it’s not great, but it’ll do. As I get ready to turn off my monitor, I hear a voice, much like Luke Skywalker did in the original Star Wars. But my voice isn’t telling me to “use the force,”  nor is it coming from Obi Wan Kenobi. The voice belongs to Eric Velasquez.

“Luke. Stop being so lazy and fix that hand!”

Sigh … So I do.

That’s why, when we chose to do our inspiration for the final week of 28 Day Later, he was the first person who I thought of.

Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem. His dual heritage coupled with the experience of living in dual cultures in New York City gives Eric a rich and unique cultural perspective. He did his first picture book, “The Piano Man,” in 1997 and has completed more than 30 others in the two decades that have followed. He has won many awards including the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe New Talent Award and is the only person ever to win both an NAACP Image Award and a Pura Belpre Award.

But to find out even more about my friend of 20 years, I decided to have a conversation the way that most of them have been over the years. Over burgers.

Jerry Craft: Okay, let’s start with the project that you’re working on now, a biography of Arturo Schomburg. Tell us about it.

Eric Velasquez: Sure, the title is “Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library,” by Carole Boston Weatherford. I first became intrigued by  this amazing individual in the 3rd grade.  Not only did he look like me, but he also came from the same part of Puerto Rico as my grandmother. He was a superior intellectual who is single-handedly responsible for the African/ African-American artifacts in the collection at the Schomburg Library and Research Center located in Harlem. I pitched the idea to Carole about 10 years ago, and asked her to write the  manuscript. It has been a long process but I am ecstatic that it will finally see the light of day. I just completed the last painting for the project about a month ago and it will be published by Candlewick in the fall of 2017.

schomburg_hj_us_revfinalartJC: Okay, so here’s why I brought that up, specifically the painting you did for the cover of Mr. Schomburg carrying the stack of books. When you showed it to me, it was great.

EV: Yeah, but there was something about his stride that bothered me.

JC: I remember, I think we decided that it should be a little wider. But instead of just fixing that, what did you do?

EV: I started from scratch and did the whole thing over. Even though I had already spent eight hours on the original. And I was much more pleased with the results.

JC: I’ve always thought that one of my strengths is the ability to focus on a project, but you make me feel like a slacker. How do you maintain that?

EV: When I’m working on a book,  everything I’m about relates to that book. Even if I’m watching TV, I’ll pause a movie to examine how a shot or a camera angle will help to improve my work.

JC: I always use the Obi Wan analogy when I talk about you. Who is your Obi Wan Kenobi?

EV:  Tom Feelings is my own Obi Wan. He’s the one who changed the paradigm for me. I remember having a conversation with him and he asked me if I had ever done a drawing and, for seemingly no reason, erased it; or painted over a picture and started from scratch. I told him yes.

pianoman“How did the next version turn out?, he asked. “Usually 10 times better,” I responded.

“Exactly! Whenever that happens, it’s the voice of the ancestors telling you what to do,” he said. “All you have to do is just listen!”

I never forgot that.

JC: Do you have another story when  you started from scratch?

EV: Hundreds! I remember when I was asked by a publisher to send them a painting for them to display at a conference  — and somehow it went missing. All I had was a copy of the original pencil under-drawing that I had used to create it. But although the painting was lost, what I had inside of me that I used to create that painting, was not lost. That was all me. So I recreated it.

JC: Weren’t you afraid that it wouldn’t come out as good?

EV: Fear is a construct. It’s just a hurdle to leap over, and I chose to do it. What artists have to realize is if you do something good once,  it’s not a lucky shot. If you did it once, you can do it again.

JC: So one of the things, or I should say ANOTHER of the reasons why you inspire me to be better is that you never let me off easy with anything. I think that every artist or writer should have someone who is not afraid to tell them the truth. Remember when I told you that I never liked drawing cars? What did you tell me?

velasquez-eric-looking-for-bongoEV: To draw a hundred of them until you liked the result.

JC: Once again, the answer got on my nerves, BUT I’m already seeing the results.

EV: See? One of the things that I always ask my students is, “Why not make yourself into the artist that you like?

JC: By students, you mean from your Book Illustration class at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC). How long have you taught there?

EV: 14 years.

JC: Now elaborate on the message that you shared with them.

EV: Well, my students come into class all the time showing me work from artists they admire. “Professor, look at how he paints trees,” or “Professor, look at how she does faces, I could never do that.” But I tell them, if that’s what you like, then strive to become that person. My goal as an artist has always been, that if I didn’t know who I was, and I saw one of my paintings, what would I think? If I can step back and look at my work and say “wow!” then I know I’ve done my job.

And isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

JC: Yes it is. Thank you, Professor Velasquez.

EV: My pleasure, Jerry Craft.

JC: Speaking of pleasure, it’s time to finish our burgers!

To learn more about Eric Velasquez, visit his website at http://www.ericvelasquez.com/

jerrycraftericvelasquez

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Day 27: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

February 27, 2017

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Over the past 13 years, award-winner Vanessa Brantley-Newton has illustrated  (or illustrated and authored) approximately 80 books for children, including titles such as Every Little Thing, We Shall Overcome, Mary Had a Little Glam, and The Hula Hoopin’ Queen. Her most recent release is The Youngest Marcher (written by Cynthia Levinson, Simon & Schuster, 1/2017) and later this year, two new series illustrated by Vanessa will debut: a picture book series, Hannah Sparkles (written by Robin Mellom, HarperCollins) and a chapter book series, Jada Jones (written by Kelly Starling-Lyons, Penguin Workshop). A new picture book project with author Derrick Barnes called The King of Kindergarten  with Nancy Paulsen Books was recently announced…and Vanessa is currently working on two picture book projects she will both write and illustrate: Grandma’s Purse and Jewels.

That’s her bio. It’s a phenomenal bio. But it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who Vanessa Brantley-Newton truly is, or what she means to so many of us who are in the children’s publishing industry. Below is a letter that describes the inspiration she has been to me.

jada-jones-cover-vanessa-and-kelly

 

Dear Vanessa,

By the time you read this, we will have just had another one of our sister-friend outings. We’ll have shared a meal while talking about life, family, and kidlit—encouraging, commiserating, laughing, possibly even shedding a few tears with one another. It’s what we do, and I’ve grown to value these times we share immensely.

But have I ever told you how much you inspire me? I mean, literally said those words to you? If not….

You inspire me, Vanessa Brantley Newton. A lot.

vanessa-girl-bantu-knots-heartbeat-colors

We first “e-met” on Facebook in September of 2011. I sent you a message complimenting your artwork, which I was first introduced to through your 28 Days Later feature earlier that year.  I was (and still am) enamored with your artistic style, which is vibrant and inclusive and never fails to make me feel.  You responded to my message and, to my disbelief, I found out you had recently relocated from Jersey to Charlotte…WHERE I LIVE!

It was a full year before we would meet face to face, over a meal at The Cheesecake Factory (I think), along with my mother and daughters and your hilarious sister.  We all had a ball! In fact, my mother (who stills asks about you to this day even though she only met you that one time) said to me on the way home, “They felt like old friends.” I thought our connection was about chance chemistry. In hindsight, it was about who you are as a human being:  warm, generous, authentic…

…inspiring.

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It’s inspiring to hear you speak about your purpose as a children’s book creator. I have heard you say many times that you want every child to be able to see themselves within your body of work; that you want them to feel valued, empowered, and worthy of self-love  as they experience your books and illustrations. I’d add the word joyful to that list also, because that’s how your pictures often make me screen-shot-2016-02-03-at-9-37-36-amfeel. To know that you are basically self-taught is mind-blowing to me, given how skilled you are in your craft and how replete with emotion each one of your creations is. I guess that’s the kind of thing that can’t be taught anyway. Emotion. The difference between craft and art.

You are a genuine artist, Vanessa; I am striving to create work as genuine as yours.

goodhairdayfinsh

No matter the expression—illustration or fine art, makeup or hair, writing, singing, or speaking to crowds large and small—the totality of your existence seems geared toward creativity, conveyed in a way that motivates and brings people together. You have a positive effect on everyone, and not in a superficial way either.  I think it’s because you believe in the power of truth. Whether sharing your own, or speaking it to others in love, the truth in your hands always feels like encouragement and exhortation as opposed to judgment. How do you do that? My kids would like for me to know. :)

every-little-thing_interior-1-300x297V, I want to thank you for the support you have been to me over these past five-plus years. Along the way you have publicly celebrated my successes, privately consoled me in moments of despair, and consistently encouraged me to reach beyond my expectations for myself. You even gave me an art lesson, for goodness sake, because you want me to be able to illustrate my own books someday! In the face of life you model class and grace, and your actions speak every bit as loudly as your words.

Even though I don’t remember for sure where we dined at our first meeting, I do remember clearly your genuineness, your wisdom, and the immediate gift of sisterhood you bestowed on me that day…and none of those things has ever wavered or diminished. Since then, we’ve shared numerous meals at some pretty cool places, and have taken a couple of business-related road trips together. You’ve prayed with, for, and over me. Your mentorship and friendship have been steadfast and true, and I am eternally thankful for the blessing of you.

Love,
Tameka

vanessa-and-tameka-at-lunch

 

 

All illustrations courtesy Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Enjoy more of Vanessa’s artwork at Painted Words.

Watch the New York Times “Live Illustration with Vanessa Brantley-Newton” below:


Day 26: Eloise Greenfield

February 26, 2017

eloise_greenfield_photo_2
I knew that Eloise Greenfield loved me. As a child, I pored over HONEY, I LOVE over and over again, and could hear the words of her poems just as if she were right next to me, speaking to me, chatting with my mother and grandmother, reminding me that I was special, powerful, beautiful, and fully LOVED.

We featured Ms. Greenfield back in 2008; she was born in 1929, in segregated North Carolina. She studied piano as a child, trained as a teacher and worked in civil service at the U.S. Patent Office. She had her first poem published in the Hartford Times in 1962 and her first book (a biography of Rosa Parks) was published in 1972. Her bio notes that she’s won the Coretta Scott King Award for Africa Dream, and a CSK Honor for The Great Migration: Journey to the North (which was also an ALA 2012 Notable Children’s Book.) honeyilove“She received the Carter G. Woodson Award for Rosa Parks. For Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, she received the 1990 Recognition of Merit Award, presented by the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books. She received the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, written with her mother, Lessie Jones Little….On February 23, 2013, she was one of twenty African American women who received the Living Legacy Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization founded by Carter G. Woodson…the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, given for a body of work to a living American poet; the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award; the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s North Star Award for lifetime achievement…In 1999, Ms Greenfield was inducted into the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. For her body of work, she also received the 2007 Wheatley Book Award, sponsored by Quarterly Black Books Review as part of the Harlem Book Fair.”


(And yes, the ellipses mean more awards.)

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The author of more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and biography, Ms. Greenfield’s work celebrates “love and the simple joys of everyday life”, the rich heritage of the African Diaspora, family, and childhood. In her 1979 biographical work Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, she wrote:

“People are a part of their time. They are affected, during the time that they live by the things that happen in their world. Big things and small things. A war, an invention such as radio or television, a birthday party, a kiss. All of these help to shape the present and the future. If we could know more about our ancestors, about the experiences they had when they were children, and after they had grown up, too, we would know much more about what has shaped us and our world.”

Eloise Greenfield’s loving work nurtured me and my creative self; my mother read the poems aloud, I finger-traced Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations of cornrows and braids like mine and my sister’s. I read her words and they helped teach me that language was music, rich with flavour and history and hope. Though she often wrote about an African American experience that was not quite my own, I read her mentions of cousins who lived “down South” and a way of life that resonated with this child of immigrants. “I want to make them laugh, I want to give them ideas, I want them to see how beautiful they are,” says Greenfield in this talk at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference in 2010. When I occupied spaces that made me feel as though I did not belong, Ms. Greenfield whispered to me that I did. “I relate to the human experience, whenever and wherever it occurs. Over the many years of my life, I have witnessed the strength of children and I am inspired by it,” she said in an interview.

Thank you, Ms. Greenfield. I remain inspired by you.

For more about Eloise Greenfield:

On TeachingBooks.net

The Poetry Foundation

Balkin Buddies profile


Day 26: Jacqueline Woodson

February 26, 2017

jackiejpegI remember the first time I read Jacqueline Woodson’s Visiting Day. Early in my publishing journey, I was exploring the magic of picture books when I spotted one with a black father and daughter embracing on the cover. James Ransome’s beautiful illustration and the title called to me, saying, “This is something special.” The opening  delivered on that promise: “Only on Visiting Day is there chicken frying in the kitchen at 6 a.m. and Grandma, humming soft and low, smiling her secret just-for-Daddy-and-me smile . . . ”

I was there.

Jackie’s words transported me into the world of a little girl who loved and missed her father. I felt her longing, her anticipation. I rode the bus with her and Grandma to visitingdayvisit Daddy. Then I learned he was away because he was “doing a little time.” The page became blurry as I blinked away tears. This. Was. A. Story. I felt the child’s joy at being reunited with her father. I felt the pride Daddy showed in seeing his baby girl. I felt their love that knows no bounds. Real. Resonant. Rich. What a gift to create a masterpiece like that.

After Visiting Day, I read everything I could by Jackie, eagerly awaiting her next release. I longed to make music on the page, breathe life into characters and make readers feel like she did. Books like Sweet, Sweet Memory, The Other Side, Coming On Home Soon and Show Way became my friends, my teachers.

Wade and Cheryl Hudson of Just Us Books published my first two books, lovingly guidingcomingonhomejpeg me and welcoming me to the world of writing for kids. Then, Ellen’s Broom was acquired by Nancy Paulsen, Jackie’s editor. I marveled at how God moves. I kept growing, helped by brilliant editors like Stacey Barney, Nancy and Wade and Cheryl. And though I hadn’t met Jackie, her work kept teaching me too. I devoured her moving middle-grade and YA novels like Locomotion, Feathers, After Tupac and D Foster and Miracle’s Boys, celebrated as she won award after award.

Then Daniel Minter won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Ellen’s Broom. My editor Stacey invited me to attend the ALA events and who did I meet – Jackie – just as wonderful ankellyandjackied encouraging as I imagined. At the CSK breakfast, Jackie’s speech, steeped in activism, spoke to me, reminding me to always use my gifts to give back.

Since then, Jackie has become a friend. Along with the countless kids she inspires, she shows authors like me how to dig deep, put our hearts on the page and tell stories of children who are too often unsung. She shows us how to stand for justice through our books and actions. She shows us what it means to be humble.

Jackie has won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, National Book Award, Coretta Scott browngirljpegKing Book Awards, Newbery Honor Medals and she’s still beautifully, authentically herself. She’s that sister who gives you hugs that make you feel seen and loved, offers words that build you up and challenge you to rise even higher and quietly helps you get there.

Thank you, Jackie, for showing me the kind of author I can be.

Love, Kelly


Day 25: Rosa Guy

February 25, 2017

Most people have never heard of Rosa Guy (rhymes with “key”), but she has been influential in developing the careers of many writers despite her relative obscurity. Guy was born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Harlem from age 7. After the death of her father, and because her older sister was ill, Guy left school at age 14 to take on factory work. She studied acting at the American Negro Theater in the 1940s before she turned to writing.

In 1950, she was one of the founders (the only woman) of the Harlem Writer’s Guild. Their mission to develop works by writers of the African diaspora helped literary greats including Ossie Davis, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier, and Walter Dean Myers. In 1977, the group was honored by the United Nations Society of Writers, and by 1986, founder John Oliver Killens estimated that their members “had produced over 300 published works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and screen plays.”

Guy’s writing career began with a novel for adults, BIRD AT MY WINDOW (1966). It is “set in Harlem and examines the relationship between black mothers and their children, as well as the social forces that foster the demoralization of black men.” It was one of the first novels to be published by a Harlem Writers Guild member. Guy next turned to a work of nonfiction, editing CHILDREN OF LONGING (1970), a compilation of essays by black teens and young adults which “graphically depict the experiences of growing up in a hostile world.”

the-friendsThen came her best-known work, THE FRIENDS (1973), the first of a trilogy followed by RUBY (1976), and EDITH JACKSON (1978), all dealing with the lives of adolescent Black girls in New York, the first two from the perspective of Black Caribbean girls adjusting to American culture. Alice Walker called THE FRIENDS a “heart-slammer.” Both the series, and Guy herself garnered praise from critics and her peers. “She’s never afraid of the truth,” Maya Angelou once said. “Some writers dress the truth in a kind of elegant language, so it doesn’t seem quite so blatant, so harsh, so raw. But Rosa was not afraid of that.”

Another trilogy, THE DISAPPEARANCE (1979), NEW GUYS AROUND THE BLOCK (1983), and AND I HEARD A BIRD SING (1987) also called THE IMAMU JONES MYSTERIES, are about a Harlem teen who finds himself in and out of trouble—and jail—in an emotional and social landscape that still resonates today.

new-guysStandalone young adult novels include MIRROR OF HER OWN (1981), a coming of age story about eighteen-year-old Mary Abbot and THE MUSIC OF SUMMER (1992) which dealt with colorism viewed from the perspective of the darkest-skinned girl in a group of teens during a summer on Cape Cod. For younger readers, Guy wrote PARIS, PEE WEE AND BIG DOG (1984) about ten-year-old Paris and his friends on one adventurous and unsupervised day in New York City, and THE UPS AND DOWNS OF CARL DAVIS III (1992) about a Harlem boy who moves to live with his grandmother in South Carolina.

Guy also wrote picture books. In MOTHER CROCODILE: “MAMAN-CAIMAN” (1988), Guy retold a series of African folktales. The book won a Coretta Scott King Award for the illustrations by John Steptoe. BILLY THE GREAT (1992) explored what happens when parents have different plans for a kid’s future than the kid himself.

my-loveIn between, Guy continued to write for adults. A MEASURE OF TIME (1983) once again delved into her personal experiences living in Harlem, and MY LOVE, MY LOVE, OR THE PEASANT GIRL (1985), which has been described as The Little Mermaid meets Romeo and Juliet, was adapted for stage. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and won the Theatre World Award, as well as the Olivier Award for Best New Musical for the UK production. A Broadway revival was in the works as of 2016.

Guy’s influence on me goes back to my arrival in New York City at age 15, feeling awkward and terrified, and then happening on a copy of THE FRIENDS in the Brooklyn Public Library. The main character Phylissia was literally me in print. The book changed several things for me: first, I didn’t feel like I was alone in my attempts to fit in as a Caribbean immigrant. Second, though I had always wanted to be a writer, I had not considered writing for children. THE FRIENDS changed the trajectory of my writing career.

Guy died in 2012 of cancer. While her work never became as popular as Walter Dean Myers in the kidlit industry, it was certainly as important, and she herself may have been more influential in the number of writers she helped to develop.

Sources:

Fox Margalit. “Rosa Guy, 89, Author of Forthight Novels for Young People, Dies,” The New York Times, June 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/books/rosa-guy-89-author-of-forthright-novels-for-young-people.html

“Rosa Guy American Author.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed February 17, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rosa-Guy#ref1047496

Review of Children of Longing by Rosa Guy, Kirkus, October 28, 1971, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rosa-ed-guy/children-of-longing/

Viagas, Robert. “Once on this Island Revival Aiming for Broadway, Directed by Michael Arden.” Playbill, August 30, 2016, http://www.playbill.com/article/once-on-this-island-revival-aiming-for-broadway


Day 24: Andrea Davis Pinkney

February 24, 2017

adp-photoIn the 1990s, I was new to the art and business of writing. I dappled in adult magazine articles, then articles for young readers. I discovered early readers and found editors who thought they were worthy of publication. Then, I decided to write something else, something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it or the words on paper even if I knew what I wanted to write. Not until I discovered picture book biographies. Not until I discovered Andrea Davis Pinkney’s BILL PICKET: RODEO – RIDIN’ COWBOY at my local library.

 

 

I live in Oklahoma and knew about bulldogging Bill Pickett and the 101 Ranch. I never saw his story presented quite like hers. Reading it gave me permission to try something new with fun words like yip-yapping. It showed me how to tell a fascinating story with words and pictures. Pinkney’s book opened a world of possibilities.                                                                                             bill-picket

 

Of course, the path from discovering picture book biographies to writing and publishing one was not fast or easy for me. I kept studying, especially Pinkney’s work.

 

 

 

 

 

I followed her career with books like Martin & Mahalia. It was like a home study course on how to write about the relationship between two iconic people.

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One day as I read how two other people collaborated throughout their careers, I thought back on her book. Maybe, because Andrea Davis Pinkney showed me the way, their story will become a picture book biography.

 

 

 

 

A Poem for Peter

A Poem for Peter

 

 

 

For more information about her books including her latest, A Poem for Peter, visit her website: Andrea Davis Pinkney.

In an interview on the blog Understood Pinkney shares how she writes to motivate kids to read.

By Gwendolyn Hooks


Day 23: Javaka Steptoe

February 23, 2017

Javaka Steptoe(c) Gregg Richards.jpgAs a young child, Javaka Steptoe served as a model and was the inspiration behind much of the artwork created by his esteemed father, the late John Steptoe. However, the young model went on to establish himself as an outstanding book creator in his own right.

Javaka Steptoe’s debut picture book, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (Lee & Low Books, ), earned him a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, in addition to a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards. Since that time, Steptoe has illustrated and/or written more than an dozen books for youth readers, collaborating with some of the top names in the business—Walter Dean Myers, Nikki Grimes, Karen English.

This past January, Steptoe won the 2017 Caldecott Medal for his picture book biography Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little, Brown), more than thirty years after his father won two Caldecott Honors. The book won many other honors, too, including the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and multiple starred reviews.

Today we present Javaka Steptoe:Radiant Child_CVR_FRNT_medal3.jpg

Guest Post by Javaka Steptoe

The Journey

I am a second-generation artist, author illustrator.  Not sure if talent is something that gets passed down through the bones to one, or more child, or if it skips a generation but somehow the baton was passed to me. As a child I sat at my parents feet drawing and painting and asking questions on how to put the thoughts inside my head into physical form. This was just a part of me.  It was not something I just did when I was mad and had to get my feelings out, it was just how I breathed.  

On a spring day in 1992 at the behest of family friend Pat Cummings, I found myself at Lee & Low books with a very unprofessional portfolio.  In it, amidst a mountain of artwork were several drawings of children with men.  These included, a principal escorting two children to the office, a young child being carried on his fathers shoulders, and an adolescent looking back at his neighborhood in front of a car loaded with his family’s possessions. I believe these drawings became the inspiration for what was to become my first book “In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall.”   

The Back Story

My latest book Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michele Basquiat was a force that created itself. I first had thoughts of creating a Basquiat book during a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005.  Fast forward 5 years to 2010 my excitement about jean Michel was renewed after watching “Radiant Child” A documentary by Tamara Davis. Centered around unearthed Basquiat footage intersperse with interviews of collectors, historians, and artist; I was able to gain new knowledge of the politics and inner workings of his life. It also gave me greater clarity on how his mother influenced his art.  Their relationship became the focal point of the story.

Once I figured that out I then spoke to my agent about the idea and he got excited. Then he was having dinner with Cindy Egan who at the time was an editor at Little, Brown.  She recently saw Radiant Child so the subject of Basquiat came up.  In the middle of their conversation she said, “someone should do a children’s book about Basquiat.”  I could not have made up a better story.

The Inspiration

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Jean-Michael Basquiat

“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.” Jean-Michel Basquiat

Life inspires me, when I illustrate I think about life. I use my memory and if i have no context I seek encounters and situations that will  help me understand. I think about the myriad stories that are happening at any moment in time in any illustration.  Those are the things that make a good piece of art great. If you are only creating the words of the author when your illustrating then you are doing a disservice to the story.

The Process

My process is step by step. I start with an idea, then I research and brainstorm to see what I can discover.  With Radiant Child I had the initial idea of creating a book about Basquiat.  I knew I wanted to focus on his childhood but I had to find what I call the meat of the story.  This was the thing that the story could not do without. The meat came when I found the quote “my mother gave me the primary things my artwork came from her.” It explained so much about Basquiat and his actions. You could never say you knew Basquiat if you did not know this.  At this point I created a lose outline then wrote and edited and wrote until I had something to show. 

The Buzz 

d2aa618fd2258305d7bfe46d3280a1e8.jpgThe response to the new book has been incredible.  Winning both the CSK and the Caldecott Medal is mind blowing.  I’m still figuring out what this means for my life, but I do know that this will give me more access and the ability to create the projects that I am passionate about.