Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dirty studio pics

I do my best work in a dirty studio (untidy, that is). Or maybe that's an excuse I use to explain away my chronic sloppiness. Whatever the case, it's time to clean up because I can't find my kneadable eraser or my lucky Pentel drafting pencil.

Problem is, I'm afraid a cleaned-up studio might throw me off my stride.

Oh well. You got a dirty studio, too? Share a pic!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I have overactive email name recognition

So, earlier this week, I shot off an email to my art agent, Nicole T., basically begging her for a project. My hands are full with trade picture book projects now — I'm working on 2, and a third is in the works. But I need a smaller, quick-hitting, quick-paying project soon. Before they turn my cable TV off.

Well, she didn't return my email, so I figured I must have irritated her, so I decided to leave her alone and find my own project. But then today, I received an email from Nicole T. Not that Nicole T. This Nicole T. Turned out, my email recognition got confused and sent my message to the wrong Nicole. Got me to worrying. How many editors and art directors — male or female — might have received the steamy email messages I tend to send to my wife when I get lonely sitting her in my studio all by myself. All. Day. Long.

Nicole thought the email was actually for her and felt sorry for me. So she responded with a few people I might contact for work. Of course, I got the whole thing straightened out now, and I never did bother my agent. But I'm gonna have to be extra careful about sending messages to my wife, without paying attention to who the email recognition is sending to.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Much talk about the Coretta Scott King Awards

A great conversation has resurfaced. Happens this time every year. The question(s): Why are the CSK Awards only open to Black folk? And how is Black defined, at a time when racial lines are getting blurred so fast, we don't know who's made up of what anyway?

Esme Codell expressed her thoughts, and she made some good points. She said: "I have a very hard time with an award that claims to 'commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood,' and yet uses the author’s race as a criteria. I find this contradictory."

Esme is absolutely right. I read some of the other comments posted there, and her readers presented fair arguments.

Then I reread Marc Aronson's piece, Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes. For the most part, I agreed with him, too. Rewarding great literature based upon the color of its creator's skin probably isn't the best (or fairest) way to bring more kinds of books to more kinds of kids, especially at a time when our country just elected its first Black President, an accomplishment that happened only because people looked beyond skin color.

But then I reread Andrea Davis Pinkney's rebuttal piece, Awards That Stand on Solid Ground. I agreed with her more.

Ms. Davis talked about "unintentional neglect," and how many of the . . . awards givers . . . for lack of better words, come from backgrounds with limited exposure to people and experiences beyond their own.

For that reason alone, I'm glad we have the CSK Awards, and that their guidelines are set the way they are. My fear is that if the CSKs changed their guidelines, awards season might roll around each year with very few, if any, Black recipients.

So even though some folk "have a very hard time" with the award, I'm willing to swallow that pill in exchange of an awards season that breeds literary stars like Jerry Pinkney, Kadir Nelson, Floyd Cooper, Ashley Bryan, Sean Qualls, Nancy Devard, Shadra Strickland . . . in addition to the others.

Gives me something realistic to aspire to.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Soul Looks Back and Wonders: The Black Experience in Illustration, 1773-2010

My Soul Looks Back and Wonders is an exhibit highlighting the long and varied contributions of African American illustrators to the field of art for the printed page. In the 1600's African Americans arrived on the shores of America as slaves. This is where our exhibit begins, with the cover art for the first book written by a slave, Phillis Wheatley, and illustrated by a slave, Scipio Moorhead in 1773.

The exhibit is intended to introduce and educate people to the incredible variety found in the art of illustration, everything from books to record albums to advertisements, works for newspapers and magazines; and to document how the art of the African American illustrators followed the arc of American history. For example Patrick Henry Reason created covers for Abolitionist booklets and pamphlets; Henry Jackson Lewis was the first African American political cartoonist in the 1800s.

Divided into four historical periods, the exhibit will include text panels that illuminate the historical contexts in which the works were created.

1773 to the 1920s
1920s -1950s Harlem Renaissance
1960's -1970's
1980's -Today

In the Sept. of 2010 the Society of Illustrators will mount a six-week exhibition of African American Illustrators.

I'm thrilled, honored, humbled . . . and just plain lucky to be included.

Here are a few other names that I know of who will exhibit*:

Henry Jackson Lewis
Scipio Moorhead
Patrick Henry Reason

1920's-50's (Harlem Renaissance)
John Henry Adams
Elmer Simms Campbell
Ernest Crichlow
Alan Rohan Crite
Aaron Douglas
Elton Fax
Oliver Wendell Harrington
Lois Mailou Jones
Jackie Ormes
Albert Alexander Smith
Mozelle Thompson
James Lesesne Wells
Laura Wheeler
Hilda Rue Wilkerson

Pedro Bell
Mal Cann
Donald Crews
Leo and Diane Dillon
Tom Feelings
George Ford
Del Harris
Roy laGrone
Charles Lilly
Don Miller
Fred Pfeiffer
Jerry Pinkney
Ivan Powell
Reynold Ruffins
John Steptoe
Nancy Toleson

Gil Ashby
Thomas Blackshear
Barbara Higgins Bond
Colin Bootman
Alex Bostic
Ashley Bryan
Bradford Brown
Elbrite Brown
Yvonne Buchanan
Carole Byard
Gregory Christie
Bryan Collier
Floyd Cooper
Nina Crews
Pat Cummings
Shane Evans
Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Cheryl Hannah
James Hoston
Leonard Jenkins
Joel Peter Johnson
E. B. Lewis
Kadir Nelson
Overton Loyd
Aaron McGruder
Chris Myers
Gerald Pernell
Robin Phillip Pendelton
Brian Pinkney
James Ransome
Anna Rich
Faith Ringgold
Aminah Robinson
Synthia St. James
Javaka Steptoe
Jean Pierre Targete
Don Tate
Toni Taylor
Mike Thompson
Ezra Tucker
Cornelius Van Wright
Eric Velasquez
Eric Wilkerson

*This list may or may not be conclusive.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Public notice: Children's publishing is in danger of being wiped out!

I received this email from my art agent, who received it from an editor at a smaller independent publishing house (excuse the long post and bad breaks, I don't have time to edit this):

Hello, everyone

Sorry for the mass e-mail but the children's book biz is in a bit of a
crisis and we need your help.

As an unintended consequence of too hastily passed legislation, (The
Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act or CPSIA), intended to protect
children from lead covered toys, children's books have been thrown into the
regulatory hopper.

This well-intentioned but terribly written law could very well put an end to
independent publishing, result in thousands if not millions of books being
pulled off store and library shelves across the country, and leave our
culture with much less diversity in books for our kids. Not to mention the
loss of jobs in children's publishing.

If the CPSIA is applied to paper-based books, all existing paper-based
children¹s books such as The Cat in the Hat, Goodnight Moon and Harry Potter
as well as thousands of textbook titles — tens of millions of books — currently
on the shelves of our nation's classrooms, public and school libraries,
bookstores and in warehouses may simply be removed and destroyed because
they cannot feasibly be tested to assure compliance with these unfounded
toxicity concerns. This would be a financial catastrophe for schools,
libraries, bookstores, and publishers already suffering under a weak

All new paper-based books — not plastic toys in the shape of books — will be
needlessly subjected to expensive and time-consuming testing that will
overwhelm the few laboratories accredited for testing of actual children's
toys and other children's products potentially leading to real threats of
lead toxicity.

These scenarios will have severe adverse effects on our children's

There is no significant lead in children's books. Paper-based books are
completely safe (novelty books are already tested up the wazoo). This is
like testing milk for lead. However the law was carelessly passed and
now we have to alter it or we (me, my colleagues, schools, libraries,
your kids) could be faced with a catastrophe.

_Action required_: Contact the representatives listed below, and make it
clear that children's books must be exempt from the Act. It has been
documented that paper-based children's books pose no health threat to
readers, and requiring this unnecessary testing places an undue burden
on the publishing industry. Explain that you are very concerned that this is
a potentially catastrophic misapplication of a well intended law and that
you want to add your voice to the concern. There is a script below for your

While lawyers at all the major publishing houses and the American
Association of Publishers are working on this issue 'round the clock,
the deadline looms (the first deadline for the industry is Feb 10!).
PLEASE use the URLs to send a message or call today.

AND, please *pass this on* to anyone you think may be interested in
helping the cause of keeping publishers in the business of publishing
children's books.

Please use the information below to contact the Representatives listed.
Use the script as a jumping-off point, or feel free to use it exactly as
printed, both for phone calls and for submitting online comments.

Representatives to contact:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi / Online contact form

Washington, DC Office (202) 225-4965
San Francisco Office (415) 556-4862

Senator Chuck Schumer / Online contact form

Washington, DC Office (202) 224-6542
New York City Office (212) 486-4430

Representative Henry Waxman / Online contact form

Washington, DC Office (202) 225-3976
Los Angeles Office (323) 651-1040

Senator Daniel Inouye / Online contact form

Washington, DC Office (202) 224-3934
Honolulu Office (808) 541-2542

Senator Jay Rockefeller / Online contact form

Washington, DC Office (202) 224-6472
Charleston, WV Office (304) 347-5372

*Suggested Script

I am contacting you to express my concern over H.R. 4040, the Consumer
Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
While well-intentioned, I believe that this bill is deeply flawed in the
extent to which ordinary children's books are included.

It has been documented that typical paper-based children's books pose no
health threat to readers. The new testing requirements of the CPSIA
place undue burden on the children's book publishing industry --
unnecessarily imposing large costs and inconvenience on publishers and
booksellers -- that can have irrevocable repercussions for our industry,
our customers, and ultimately consumers.

We are in the business of enriching the lives of children through books,
and do so ever mindful of their health and well-being. I urge you to
re-evaluate the CPSIA as it applies to the children's book publishing
industry before irreversible damage is done. Thank you for your time and
* *

Thursday, January 22, 2009

African American Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference

The First Annual African American Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference will take place on April 25, 2009.

The conference will be held at the Hilton Charlotte University Place, in Charlotte North Carolina.

Speakers and faculty:

Sarah Ketchersid—Senior Editor, Candlewick Press

Eileen Robinson—Children's book editor, editorial consultant and creator of F1rst Pages. For almost 10 years, she has acquired, developed, and edited children's books for both Scholastic as Executive Editor, and Harcourt publishers, as Editorial Manager. She has also worked on projects for National Geographic, Santillana USA, Marshall Cavendish, Weekly Reader, and others. Having published many new authors, Eileen believes in helping newcomers get their feet in the door, as well as working with experienced fiction or nonfiction authors.

Eleanora E. Tate—Award-winning author of over 15 fiction and non-fiction
books for children, preteens, and teens (Celeste's Harlem Renaissance!)

Don Tate—Award-winning illustrator of over 25 children’s books (Sure As Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and his Walkin' Talkin' Friends; Ron's Big Mission)

Christine Taylor Butler—Author of more than 40 books (A Mom Like No Other)

Jacquelin Thomas—"Divine" young adult novel series author (Simply Divine)

Kelly Starling Lyons—Picture book author (One Million Men and Me)

Christine Young-Robinson—Picture book author (Chicken Wing)

Register early!

This is going to be such a fun weekend! In addition to speaking at the conference, thanks to Kelly Lyons, I'll visit at least one school.

So, why do we need an African American children's writers and illustrators conference? I mean, we already have an SCBWI, right?

Well, I've been in this business for almost 25 years. Those who deny that race plays a factor in children's publishing are simply in denial. I've illustrated for many other industries — newspapers, magazines, advertising, education, toys, textile, apparel. In no other industry has the color of my skin been such an issue.

I'm not complaining, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many publishers depend upon African American's to fill a need. Filling that niche creates great opportunities for African American illustrators like me. I'm honored and proud to create children's books that reflect my skin color, my history, my people. But topics pertaining to these special needs are probably not covered at other writing conferences. And I've been at conferences where publishing folks uncomfortably dance around the topic when questions are asked.

For African American children's authors and illustrators, the challenges of writing a book, getting published and staying published are the same as for everyone else. But within our community, there are issues uncommon to others. The more information we have as African American youth literature creators, the better equipped we will be in a competitive and tightening book-buying market.

Thanks to Sabra Robinson and AACBWI for addressing this need.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack H. Obama; 44th President of the United States

Yesterday I felt compelled to sketch this image of then President-elect Obama. Today, ironically, during the inauguration ceremony, I was sketching an image of a 1940s protest organized by the Citizen's League for Fair Play. They were protesting white-owned businesses in downtown Harlem who would not hire blacks.

Wow, have we come a long way.

My wife and I watched the inauguration together. She took the the day off from work not wanting to miss a minute of history. But an hour before the ceremony, an electric company worker knocked on our front door and announced that they were about to cut off our electricity to repair a transformer. And he didn't care that we we were watching the first Black President being inaugurated. That's why I ended up sketching instead of watching TV.

Needless to say, the wife called the electric company and gave them a good piece of her mind. I called a friend to see if we could drop in on him to watch the ceremony, but our electricity was turned back on just in time to watch the Obama children entering the Capitol area.

The experience was emotional, but the only time I got misty-eyed was when I looked over at my wife during the Rick Warren prayer. Her head was bowed, and she prayed along, and her smile was worth thousand words.

Monday, January 19, 2009

28 Days Later, 2009

It happened today, MKL day, one day before our country swears in it's first Black president, and one week before a Caldecott is awarded (possibly) to the first African American...

...for it's 28 Days Later campaign, The Brown Bookshelf announces it's selection of 28 of the best and brightest authors and illustrators in children's literature! Be sure to check it out.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Progress with Effa. And the gym.

Effa, a picture book biography I'm illustrating for HarperCollins, is progressing well. I've completed sketches on four spreads and plan to finish all by the end of this month or middle of next. I had been worried about this book. A jumbled schedule on Duke last summer really threw things off. In addition, a slowdown in freelance work (income) over the summer forced me to take any little project that came along in the fall. I had a LOT of little, low-paying projects, so now I'm way, way, way behind. But I'm getting back on track.

Back to the gym!
Believe it or not, my favorite place in the world is not at my drawing board. It's at the gym. I'm an artist, yes, but I'm a gym-rat at heart. I love the smell of sweaty fake leather, the rhythmic buzz of cardio machines, the clank-clank-clank of weights being dropped. My new gym has none of these things, though. It's incredibly clean and has rules against weight-dropping. But at $10 per month, I can't complain.

Other than running, it's been more than four months since I've worked out. Sometime during the last few years, I dislocated both my shoulders, which resulted in tears to my labrums (ligaments in the armpits). This normally happens to baseball pitchers or auto accident victims. I'm neither. The problem was revealed in an MRI, and my doctor said that if they didn't heal, I'd have to have them fixed surgically. Ouch.

Yesterday's workout went just fine, and muscle memory was in order. My guns and glutes were — like — boom!

Now it's back to Effa.