A Visit with Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

h1 September 30th, 2019 by jules



Early next year, Denene Millner’s imprint at Simon & Schuster will publish Alice Faye Duncan’s Just Like a Mama, a picture book about a young girl (Carol Olivia Clementine) whose caretaker (Mama Rose) is someone, as the book description notes, whose blood is not her blood — but who loves the girl as fiercely and lovingly as a biological mother.

The book’s illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, a debut artist. If her middle name sounds a wee bit familiar, well … she explains that below. Charnelle visits 7-Imp today to share some of her vivid artwork and to talk a bit about her work. I thank her for visiting.

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Jules: Tell me about this book and what it was like to bring Alice’s words to life via your illustrations.

Charnelle: Just Like a Mama is a beautiful story about the dynamics within an unconventional family. Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose, who isn’t her biological mom, but she cares for her just like a mother. It was such a joy to bring Alice’s words to life. When I was working on the character sketches, Denene and I talked about the overall vision for the characters — Mama Rose, in particular. Denene described her as being “young and artsy.” I furthered that vision by imagining her as a huge plant lady (something that I am not). Another thing we discussed was how to adequately show the conflicting emotions Carol has between wishing she were with her mom and dad, while still showing the loving relationship between herself and Mama Rose. I wanted to use those moments to show Carol reflecting on the fact that she doesn’t live with her parents and feeling all the feels — but also realizing that she has all the love that she needs at this moment in time. Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and this story shines a light on the different emotions that arise.



(Click to enlarge)


Jules: I hear that you submitted your work to Denene Millner without saying, “My grandfather is Jerry Pinkney” (not to mention your parents!) and that Alice only discovered this when she Googled your name. Alice added that you were determined to get your first book contract on your own terms and by the “power of your own gifts.”

Charnelle: It’s funny, because Denene actually found my work online. (If I remember correctly it was from Instagram.) When she contacted me, I was all in without a second thought. She didn’t know Jerry Pinkney was my grandfather until the book was already completed. We were talking about some last-minute things, and I mentioned it in passing. She said, “Wait. You’re a Pinkney Pinkney?” Her response was priceless. I never know who knows or not, so people usually find out after we get acquainted, instead of it being a driving factor. I like to think of it as super, unbelievably cool fact. The whole Pinkney side of my family is creative, whether it be writing stories or creating images. It’s a wonderful source of inspiration and support! I’ll definitely go to my Grandad for advice and show him my new work. What’s funny is that my Grandma (Gloria Jean Pinkney) is friends with Alice Faye, so they were both very pleased and excited to hear that I was illustrating a book with her.



Jules: What medium do you usually work in?

Charnelle: My favorite medium to work in is watercolor with colored pencil as an accent. I will include other mediums if it will give me a result I can’t get with watercolor. For this book, I used watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, and Gelly Roll gel pens (the ultimate flashback to the ’90s). I do create digital work, depending on the project — either pen and ink with digital color or purely digital.



Jules: What is it about surface designs and lettering that you love?

Charnelle: I’ve always loved putting together puzzles. Creating a new surface design has that puzzle-like quality that I find extremely satisfying.

Just Like a Mama includes a little bit of hand-lettering where we wanted to add emphasis to what was being said. I was happy to add those special details throughout the book that provided additional tie-ins between the text and the images.



Jules: What inspires you?

Charnelle: To start with, books, books, and more books. I pretty much lived in the library, growing up. Sitting with a pile of children’s books and seeing how people weave together stories and pictures is fascinating. I love seeing how different the solutions can be. Drawing a picture is the ultimate magic trick.

I’ve probably said this a thousand times, but I truly enjoyed working with Alice and Denene on this story. This past spring, I signed on with Lori Nowicki at Painted Words (she’s seriously the best), so there are a lot more projects on the horizon. I’m currently working on my second children’s book, which I’m super excited about.


(Click to enlarge cover)


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All images used by permission of Charnelle Pinkney Barlow.

3 comments to “A Visit with Charnelle Pinkney Barlow”

  1. That Shirley Chishlom drawing, though!!!!!

    I want to hug this book and all its illustrations. We don’t have enough books about mixed gen and unconventional families that so many kids have — we need to not just window/mirror them but CELEBRATE them, bc they mean shelter and safety and care for kids who would otherwise be in the county system.

  2. Yes to all of that, Tanita. Also, I think all of these characters leap off the page (er, screen). Such vivid artwork. I can’t wait to see what Charnelle does next.

  3. […] “A Visit with Charnelle Pinkney Barlow” — Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, September 30, 2019 […]

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