7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #524: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, K-Fai Steele

h1 March 5th, 2017 by jules


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.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I’m glad K-Fai enjoyed Wild Things. I’m REALLY happy she shared her kicks!

2) NPR is streaming a preview of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new album, and it’s so good. It will be out this week.

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.

6) My girls and I are reading a galley of the new book edited by Betsy Bird (my former co-author), Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. And we are laughing and laughing. It’s a hoot.

7) I finally started Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and resent anything that gets in the way of reading it.

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?

8 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #524: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, K-Fai Steele”

  1. Ooh, K-Fai, your kicks, working with thedummies of Steig and your article particularly this “books that affirm the intelligence and voice of children.”. I have a #makerspace at my library, so it was fun to read about your Makerspace. Love kicks #5 and #7.
    Jules, I hope to read Colson’s book. Have had it twice and so interrupted and in demand, had to return to the library. I want to see Moonlight.
    My Kicks:
    1. Writing for the daily writing challenge Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers.
    2. A writing day.
    3. Putting together a proposal for a conference for our district.
    4. Student Poetry Postcard Project.
    5. Plants promising to bud.
    6. Billy Collins poetry celebration throughout the Poetry Friday community.
    7. Enjoying my break from Facebook.
    Have a great week.

  2. Good morning, Imps!

    Hi K-Fai Steele! Thank you for sharing your art and your kicks. Yay for meaningful words and pictures and stories.

    Jules: Good luck to your hopeful guitarist!

    Jone: Yay for writing days, and daily writing.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Walks
    2) Talks
    3) Libraries
    4) Books
    5) Music
    6) Stories
    7) Sleep

  3. Thank you for sharing your artwork and the article K-Fai! very much enjoyed both. (Really love that spotted piggy.) And your kicks – that artist-in-residency in Iceland sounds amazing!

    Jules – Yay for first guitars, storytime, and Moonlight winning the Oscar.

    Jone – what a lovely week. Hooray for a writing day, poetry postcards, and new plants (pre)budding.

    LW – Sounds like a great week, especially full of libraries, books, music, stores and sleep,

    My kicks:
    1) Travel for work that involved beautiful scenery.
    2) Moonlight – such a beautiful movie.
    3) Finally watching The People v OJ Simpson and it is so so good.
    4) Auli’i Cravalho singing at the Oscars – pure joy and what a voice!
    5) Watched the Oscars the day after because I was working, but kept up with the shenanigans on twitter. Pretty crazy.
    6) Read “The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking” by Olivia Laing. Good read, learned some new things about some of my favorites.
    7) Read “Out of the Easy,” by Ruta Sepetys. Fun read, and now have a list of to-reads from a GFY afternoon chat.
    7.5) Walks and snuggles with Daisy.

    Have a wonderful week Imps!

  4. LW, love your libraries and music kicks.
    Rachel, must see Moonlight.

  5. Jone, good luck with your proposal. What’d you plant this year?

    Little Willow: Lessons start Tuesday, and I hope she enjoys it. She heard her teacher likes Doctor Who, so she’s excited.

    Rachel: Do you know Ruta lives here in middle Tennessee? …. We watched The People Vs. OJ Simpson, and I was surprised by it too. Good stuff. … Hugs to Daisy.

  6. Jules – I did not know that about Ruta. Have you met her?

    It was fun for me to read that book since I grew up in Nola, and fun to find out she used a book I’ve read as part of her research (The Last Madam – an interesting read about the real-life last madam in New Orleans.)

  7. Yes, several times! I don’t know her as well as some of my other author friends around here, but I’ve met her. She’s lovely and friendly.

  8. “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.” well said K-Fai! You’re awesome!

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