When I graduated college in 1990, I thought I wanted to paint book covers and record jackets. I also thought that I might even create editorials. In truth, I was confused and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. What I did know was that I wanted to create art and make a living from my work.
To further complicate my young adult years, I was a Marine Corps reservist and the United States was at war in the Middle East. They called this war Operation Desert Storm. I openly protested on moral and ethical grounds, by declaring conscientious objector status. I was denied! However, I was granted a jail sentence. Between the time that I spent battling the Uniform Code of Military Justice and waiting in prison, a year had gone by. However, my experience as a conscientious objector helped me to develop a better sense of tolerance and perseverance. With support from Amnesty International and the American public’s disapproval for the war, all conscientious objectors were granted clemency. When finally leaving military service, my status was honorable.
My next step was to work on my portfolio and show my work to other artists for feedback. Brian Pinkney, a renowned illustrator, liked what I shared with him and directed me to an art agency, Kirchoff/Wohlberg. They also liked my art and we decided to work together. During my first year with Kirchoff/Wohlberg, I illustrated lots of textbooks. By the second year I landed my first picture book deal, “Young Frederick Douglass.” Even at this point, it didn’t quite register that I was actually living my dream. I finally understood this dream after my third book, “Oh No Toto.”
It took me a long time to feel comfortable saying to others, ” I am an artist and illustrator”. However, the more I have embraced this concept, the more expansive my creativity has become. I have now broadened my palette to include writing books for children. I figured after illustrating so many books and being exposed to so many stories, the next and natural step would be to write. My first written and illustrated book, “Fish for the Grand Lady“, debuted in the Fall of 2006. I am now working on my third written and illustrated book. I am also involved in gallery work, portraiture, and teaching. I now firmly believe myself to be an artist.
I was born in Trinidad where I spent the first seven years of my life. During this time, I was inspired by the island’s rich and diverse culture. The lively rhythms and vibrant palette of Trinidad left an indelible mark on my creative expression. Soon after moving to the United States, I embraced art as a measure of escape from the pressures of adjusting to a new environment at an early age. Finding a Spiderman comic book was the life-changing experience that marked the beginning of my career as an artist.
My father’s watercolors were another source of inspiration. I admired and studied them as a young child. He was not fortunate enough to receive formal training in art or become a professional artist. However, the restoration work he did on classic cars was art. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to help him with some of those restorations.
At La Guardia High School for the Arts I was introduced to the works of artist like Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Romare Bearden, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Hopper, Henry Ossawa Tanner and others. These artists influence my art. My work is also influenced by the impressionistic period. Further more, I draw tremendous inspiration from contemporaries, such as; George Ford, Pat Cummings, Eric Velasquez, E.B. Lewis, Glenn Roopchand, Ashley Bryan, Kadir Nelson, Brian Pinkney, Gregory Christie and others. I am moved not only by the quality of their work, but also from the motivation that drives their work. This motivation is to reflect various aspects of the lives of peoples living throughout the African diaspora.
When developing a new book for illustration, my process would involve the following:
First I read and reread the manuscript in search of angles or motifs. Secondly, I begin developing thumbnail sketches, keeping in mind my angles and/or motifs. If the story is biographical or a period piece I also do research on the subject so as to be accurate. Thirdly, I begin research on visual reference and/or set up photo shoots. The next step is to do more detailed sketches and send them off to the publishers for feedback. Finally, when the editor, art director, marketing and myself are in agreement with the sketches, I move forward with the finishes. This can either be in oil, watercolor, graphite or mixed media.
The Back Story
When growing up, I associated the Charleston dance with the 1920s and the aristocracy of America. I had no idea that this dance was invented by orphaned African American children in the streets of Charleston South Carolina.
When, Andrew Karr, an editor at Lerner Publishing, contacted me to illustrate a new project, he shared how impressed he was with my book “The Steel Pan Man of Harlem.” Mr. Karr said that he particularly liked the musical theme and vibrant dance scenes in the book. He asked if I would take a look at a manuscript he felt was a good match for me. This manuscript was for my most recent book, “Hey, Charleston.”
When I read this gem of a story by, Ann Rockwell, I was excited! Further, I did a little research onYoutube about the Charleston. I came upon video footage from 1938, in which two guys are dancing the Charleston to a modern beat. I was hooked. It was as if seeing, for the first time, the dance properly executed. Honestly, I saw very little difference in the way these guys danced the Charleston and some of the hip-hop dances performed today.
The music and dance theme alone were enough for me to say yes to this project. However, there was something else about this story that I found even more compelling. The primary character, Reverend Jenkins, was born a slave. Yet, as an African American man at the turn of the last century, was able to make amazing contributions to his community. I know it has been an immense honor extended me to be a part of this project. I hope that this book will shed light on another American story that needs to be told.
“Rockwell relates her tale in a fast-paced narrative that will hopefully encourage readers to turn into listeners. Bootman’s emotive, full-bleed artwork provides a lively accompaniment.”
“Rockwell’s writing is strong, clear the pacing at a clip. Bootman’s illustrations are lush, expansive and beautifully capture a long gone era, that still feels fresh. This is one of my favorite books from this year’s crop of picture books so far.”
School Library Journal says:
Rockwell’s informative text is lively and accessible, and Bootman’s realistic, full-spread paintings capture the era and energy of the musicians and onlookers dancing and clapping to the beat. Use this inspiring tale for jazz units or African American History Month.
Under The Radar (other authors/illustrators recommendation)
Colin Bootman loves to visit schools. For more information about his author/illustrator visits, be sure to check out his website.