I’m pleased to welcome illustrator K-Fai Steele to 7-Imp today. K-Fai loves to draw and write and won the Portfolio Mentorship Award at the 2015 Los Angeles conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She also contributes to this blog, along with a handful of other picture book folks.
When K-Fai contacted me about an article she wrote recently (linked below), I visited her site and immediately asked if she’d like to visit 7-Imp so that I could showcase some of her art. She does so below, as well as talks about her work. She is the first Sunday illustrator ever to include her own kicks in her post. This makes me happy.
Let’s get right to it, and I thank her for visiting.
p.s. There’s even more art from her on Instagram.
K-Fai: As a kid, I wanted to do everything and be everything. I grew up in a very old house on a highway, full of books and ghosts with a big red barn packed with antiques and a printing press that my father bought from a magician. We spent a lot of time reading out loud together, something I still do with my dad. I remember realizing that my family didn’t have as clean or nice of a house as my friends — and that my parents worried about money a lot. Even when I was little, I had a strong sense of humor and an anti-authoritarian streak. My family is mixed-race, and the town I grew up in was rural and not diverse. I didn’t fit in. That sense of being an outsider despite all my best efforts is something I still carry. Lately I’ve been interested in drawing and writing about characters who struggle with their identity and how others perceive them.
I’ve done a lot of different jobs that have brought me to picture books. I worked as an art handler at MoMA where I hung The Starry Night and Picasso’s Guitar; I was an artist assistant to John Lurie; I started a maker program in libraries in North Philly; and I built archival enclosures for a research collection that included Tomi Ungerer’s and Virginia Lee Burton’s drawings and some of William Steig’s dummies. None of these jobs supported me beyond barely covering my rent; I worked for money all day and worked all night making drawings. I feel like in the United States if you’re not born wealthy, any sort of creative career involves constant justification. It can feel like you’re living a double life. It’s been, and will continue to be, a challenging road.
The things that I write and draw and the world around me are inextricable from each other. I love that the word “draw” can both mean to make a mark on and to pull meaning from. Books draw upon and contribute to cultural meaning-making. I have a lot of big questions about the world, and I love having conversations about how picture books are cultural artifacts, made by a person and informed by a time; it makes those stories even more relevant and provides a space for shared learning and conversation.
I recently wrote an article about how picture book people are responding to the Trump administration. I got the opportunity to talk to many people across the children’s literature world to see what they were thinking about and talking about — and to gauge the impact they saw it having. I surfaced a lot of complexity, and one thing that resonated with me was how drawings and stories can respond to political events in a transcendent way, without being condescending or sentimental. I want to make books that affirm the intelligence and voice of children.
Humor, love, and learning have been sustaining forces in my life, and they surface through my drawing and writing. The best part about this work is that you’re a constant observer. Authors and illustrators, at their best, process the world and make something out of it with pens, paper, and watercolor that feels authentic and speaks to our shared experience.
Can I share my kicks?
1) Getting to have conversations with a lot of smart and thoughtful people when I was gathering material for the article about picture books and politics.
2) I read Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature as part of my research for that article. Throughout the whole book, I felt like I was nodding and saying “yes” to myself. It’s amazing when you find other people who are cut from the same cloth. (Full disclosure: Jules was one of the authors.)
3) I got a sweater in the mail that was knitted by a woman who runs a sheep farm in the Westfjords of Iceland. I spent December in a nearby town doing an artist residency.
4) I spent last weekend at the MIT media lab, co-designing an illustrated curriculum about creating programmable books to draw in.
5) I’ve been letting myself go to bed when I’m tired or cold.
6) I recently discovered how great the window seat is on a plane when you have a cross-country daytime flight. I am pretty shifty and have a small bladder, so the window seat is always a risk.
7) It’s been raining a lot in Northern California, so that means the banana slugs are out in full force in the redwoods.
1) I’m glad K-Fai enjoyed Wild Things. I’m REALLY happy she shared her kicks!
3) Laura Marling released yet another single from the new album, which will finally be out this Friday — and I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
4) My youngest got her first guitar and will start lessons this week.
5) Story time yesterday.
BONUS) I didn’t see all the Oscar contenders, but boy HOWDY did I love Moonlight, and I was happy to see it win. Uh, eventually!
What are YOUR kicks this week?