7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #551: Featuring Shawn Harris

h1 September 10th, 2017 by jules



“… Let’s think about and discuss the fact that this is the largest sculpture in all the land, and the most iconic symbol of the United States of America. Let’s talk about the fact that this statue has welcomed millions of visitors and immigrants to the USA.”
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I’ve a visit this morning from artist Shawn Harris, who is sharing preliminary and final images from his debut picture book, Dave Eggers’s Her Right Foot (Chronicle, September 2017). This one puts a lump in my throat every time I read it, and it’s a book Leonard Marcus has described as “one part stand-up routine, one part ode to the values that we as a nation have long held dear.”

This 104-page book starts out by laying out the history of the Statue of Liberty, and midway through it shifts to posit a theory. The iconic statue’s right foot, Eggers notes—“her entire right leg,” in fact—is in mid-stride. Where is she going? he wonders. Is she heading to a record store, to grab a panini, to Trenton? She is, he suggests, heading straight toward immigrants, “the poor, the tired, the struggling to breathe free. … She must meet them in the sea.” And that’s because …

“Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.”

After all, Eggers notes after explaining in the book’s first half how she was created in France, the statue is an immigrant too.

Harris’s colorful cut-paper illustrations are striking; he plays with perspective (get ready for some close-up views of Lady Liberty’s base) and masterfully keeps up with the book’s slight switch in tone, midway through. His focus on immigrants in the book’s second half—uncluttered spreads showing people of all skin tones—is just right. Spreads showing the statue striding through town (and even, as mentioned above, in the sea) will give you happy chills.

I thank Shawn for visiting today to talk about his artwork for this book.

* * *

Shawn: I’m going to sit myself straight in the hot seat: How is this 100-odd page, absurdist textbook turned socio-political picture book for Dave Eggers and Chronicle Books my first picture book?

Well, the morning I got the call to work on the job, I was just a normal Dave Eggers fan, finishing the last chapter of his newest novel, Heroes of the Frontier, like any other normal Dave Eggers fan. It was a fantastic chapter and, possibly, my favorite last sentence of any book ever, and I was just basking and reeling, as one does when they emerge, changed, from a book. It was actually not a call that I got but an email, and I was actually camping, so it was some hours after finishing the book that I got service and read the email, but for the sake of drama, let’s go back to truncating this timeline.

I’d done some illustration for McSweeney’s short-lived, but pretty brilliant, newspaper-syndicated activities corner for kids, called The Goods, but mostly I illustrated and designed posters and records for bands and record labels. I happened to be friends with Dave’s editor at Chronicle, and they were looking specifically for an artist who could work in cut paper for Dave’s series, as Her Right Foot was meant to be a companion to a book Dave wrote called This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, which was illustrated in cut paper by an artist named Tucker Nichols. I said, yes, of course I can do a book using cut construction paper. Then I rushed home a day early from my camping trip to make sure I wasn’t lying. This sample ended up in the book.

 


“… Ask your friends and even your teachers if they knew that before the Statue of Liberty was assembled in New York, she was first constructed in Paris. Your friends and teachers will be astounded. They will be impressed. They might think you are fibbing. …”
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This one didn’t.

 


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This was one of the first sketches, which I ended up using as a title page, and it also shows up wordlessly in the middle of the book — with a sort of cinematic, two-spread, left-to-right pan that serves as one of the pivot points when the text transforms from a casual textbook tone to this really heartfelt editorial tone that few writers other than Eggers could execute successfully.

 


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Here it is, cut and pasted.

 


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My sketches helped me plan out how many different colors of paper I would need to illustrate each scene. This scene used 15 pieces of paper.

 



“Wait. No. She is facing southeast. So she is not going to New Jersey.
But she is going somewhere. But where? Why is she moving?”

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This one only needed two.

 


“But few talk about the foot that is so obviously in mid-stride. About the fact that her entire right leg is in mid-stride. What does this mean? What does this mean that
we often forget about this right foot, this right leg?”

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This one took the longest to make.

 


“It never ends. It cannot end.”
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​It was such an intricate cut-and-paste that I pretty much forewent the sketch and just felt it out with the X-ACTO blade.

 


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Oh, here’s the cover …

 


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… and here’s an earlier version, in which my New York City looks more like Miami. My favorite color is Salmon. I try it on everything, no matter how inappropriate it is for the subject matter.

 


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Another sketch and finished piece from Her Right Foot:

 



“She is not content to wait.”
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I also got to design the broadside and some postcards, which Chronicle printed on beautiful stock, pleasing me to no end. They’re sending them out to anyone who pre-orders the book here.

 


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It officially comes out September 19th.

Here’s a little video we made with some time lapse of my process, working on the pieces:

 



 

Okay, what else can I draw, aside from the Statue of Liberty, New Yorkers, immigrants, and refugees?

I’m working on a book with Mac Barnett for Candlewick, called A Polar Bear in the Snow, and it looks something like this so far:

 



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HER RIGHT FOOT. Copyright © 2017 by Dave Eggers. Illustrations © 2017 by Shawn Harris. Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco. All images here reproduced by permission of Shawn Harris.

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 * * *

I hope everyone in the path of a hurricane is safe and sound. Whew. Mother Nature.

1) This book. Her Right Foot, that is. I love it. (And I managed to power through my fear of large, iconic statues as I read it!)

2) A trip to Boston this week.

3) Visiting, while there, with author-illustrator Claire Nivola at her beautiful home. I wish I’d gotten a photo of us, but I was too busy visiting to get my camera out.

4) I’ve joined the Calling Caldecott team over at the Horn Book. Hope I do Robin proud.

5) A birthday in the Danielson household.

6) Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Plus Neopolitan ice cream, which I hadn’t had in FOREVER.

7) BBC’s The Living and the Dead. Gah! So beautifully-shot.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

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9 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #551: Featuring Shawn Harris”

  1. Good morning, Imps! Hello, Shawn! Congratulations on the book. I like this: “These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.”

    Jules: Hope the household had a happy birthday. Have fun at Horn Book!

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Sure
    2) Certain
    3) Through
    4) Keep
    5) Shared
    6) Scene
    7) Safe


  2. Oh this book. A must have for the library. Thank you for sharing.
    Jules, congrats on the Hornbook/Caldecott gig. So exciting. And yum, chocolate cake.
    LW, I’m glad you’re safe.
    My kicks:
    1. Chuck’s bday and escape to the coast.
    2. Rain.
    3. My daughter didn’t have to evacuate.
    4. A student who called a kitten a puppycat.
    5. Finished Small Great Things by Piccoult.
    6. Sunset.
    7. Paprikash.


  3. LW: Those are steadfast kicks.

    Jone, I had to look up what Paprikash was. Yum. Happy birthday to Chuck! Glad your daughter is safe.


  4. 1) The National’s Sleep Well Beast. “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a major hit on the imaginary radio station in my head.
    2) N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the third book in (and conclusion) to her magnificent Broken Earth series. I’ve read the first few chapters aloud to my wife; we’re really enjoying it. I recommend the entire trilogy.
    3) Matthew Zapruder’s Why Poetry, which I just finished reading today. Zapruder writes with clarify and insight on how poetry works. It’s clearly a book with a long gestation period, the accumulated wisdom of thinking about, teaching and writing poetry for years.
    4) The Red Turtle, an animated (and award-winning) film that I just saw last night. No dialogue, few characters, beautiful and mysterious.
    5) The week’s essential reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The First White President”: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/
    6) Non-essential reading, but my first piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times.” http://www.chronicle.com/article/Resolutions-for-a-New-Academic/241061?cid=wsinglestory
    7) This mash-up of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” and Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.” It’s beautiful and sad.


  5. It’s an honor to join you all. Can I kick too?
    1. Getting to share my first 7-Imp visit.
    2. Cheering on Taylor Norman, my editor at Chronicle who got promoted from associate to full-blown editor this week.
    3. Clown nightmares from Stranger Things season 2, er, I mean “It”.
    4. New fountain pen nibs to test drive.
    5. Finalizing a Jules-Verne-esque nonfiction leatherette cover for Dave Eggers / Knopf.
    6. Today was my 5th day in a row of yoga with my wife. Wow, way harder than she makes it look.
    7. Finishing House of Leaves. Suffice it to say due to my entertainment choices, I am in for a world of nightmares.


  6. Jules, thank you for sharing this important and timely book. Also happy birthday, happy celebrating with yummy treats, and congrats on the Calling Caldecott team.

    LW: good to be safe.
    Jone: a puppycat, how cute!
    Philip: sounds like some great reads.
    Shawn: thank you for your interview here!!

    1. new hiking trails..
    2. .. with waterfalls!
    3. adjusting to the firstborn away at college (still don’t like it but really proud of her)
    4. time for art
    5. hard working kids
    6. mild weather here
    7. safe friends


  7. Thank you for sharing your artwork and your process Shawn!

    This book, I so needed to see this today.

    Jules – glad you had fun in Boston, and yay for birthdays and cake!

    LW – Really like Sure, Certain, Through and Keep.

    Jone – hope Chuck had a happy birthday and you had fun at the coast. Wasn’t it such a relief to get that rain?

    Philip – sounds like you had a week of good reading.

    Shawn – thanks for sharing your work and joining us! Yay for yoga with your wife, and wow, you are braver than I with your scary viewing choices.

    Dow- good hiking trails with waterfalls are wonderful. As is mild weather and safe friends.

    My quick kicks:
    1) Comfort watching the old series Charmed – I’d totally forgotten the strong girl power theme of it – its really nice to see. Plus the 90’s fashions are cracking me up and reminding me of my time in L.A., its a nice trip down memory lane.
    2) Watched Taika Waititi’s movie “Boy” and it was so good.
    3) Busy and good week of work.
    4) Rain!!
    5) I love summer, but feeling the cooler shift in the weather is nice.
    6) Making lists.
    7) Catching up with a good friend.
    7.5) Sweet Daisy pup.

    Have a great week everyone!


  8. Phil, where do I start? Thanks for reminding me about the Atlantic article, which I started but then put aside so that I could read it in an unhurried chunk of time. Thanks for the link to your piece, and thanks for the book and music recs. I’ve got some exploring to do.

    Shawn, I had to look up House of Leaves, and I’m very much up for a book described as both a horror book and a love story. AND I’m looking for a new novel too, so thanks! … I don’t know, however, if I can handle It. (My 11-year-old is scared of clowns AND refuses to watch scary movies, so we tease her about watching this one, which will never happen.)

    Dow, oh. That third kick. Hug.

    Rachel: I completely forgot that feeling the edge of Fall was a kick for me, like your fifth one. Consider it my 8th kick. … I’ll have to look into Boy.

    Everyone’s kicks just made my morning. Have a good week, all!


  9. House of Leaves is very cool. I second that recommendation. Bonus: The author’s sister, the musician known as Poe, wrote an album entitled Haunted that goes with the book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haunted_(Poe_album)


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