Spotlighting the Work of Leading Illustrators
By Amy Evans, Juliette Tulloch and Lucy Roberts
For this issue, we turned a spotlight on Black designers and illustrators leading the way in the industry. From picture books to collections of poetry and educational reads, these artists are bringing flare and beauty to the industry, most notably to books for younger readers. We took a look at just some of their most popular works and the inspiration behind their designs.
Vashti Harrison is a bestselling writer and illustrator. She is the author and illustrator of the Little Leaders books for children, which highlight diverse leaders and historical figures, and of the upcoming picture book Big. She has also illustrated multiple books written by other authors, including actress Lupita Nyong’o’s Sulwe and the tie-in book for filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry’s Hair Love. She also shares lots of her art, done in various mediums, on her Instagram @vashtiharrison.
The cover for Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sculptor Augusta Savage, aviator Bessie Coleman, civil rights activist and journalist Ida B. Wells and astronaut Mae Jemison. Harrison’s designs are, as she describes on her website, intended to represent “little girls dressing up as famous women.” This helps the book feel more relatable to young readers, creating a bridge between them and these great people from history. The characters also all have their eyes closed and are smiling. This links to the idea that they are playing dress-up and imagining themselves as these historical figures. The happy expressions also make the book feel like it is going to have a positive tone and message for young readers.
Dapo Adeola is an illustrator, author and character designer, who has won multiple awards, most notably Illustrator of the Year at the 2022 British Book Awards. Adeola’s work strives to challenge gender norms and the politics surrounding equality through his buoyant and vibrant works of art. His illustration debut in 2019, Nathan Bryon’s Look Up!, gained rave reviews and won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2020. Following the story of Rocket, who is science-mad and hilarious, the picture book strives to make readers turn off their screens and learn more about space. Adeola’s illustrations bring to life sweet family dynamics and the mysteries of the night sky, whilst educating them about the first African-American woman to visit space.
His most recent work includes curating Joyful Joyful, a collection of stories and poems that celebrate joy and Black voices, with a foreword by the acclaimed Patrice Lawrence. It brings together forty talented Black writers and artists from across the world, including Adeola, Malorie Blackman, Odera Igbokwe and Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. The stories range from a Halloween dance competition, the joy of jollof rice, a mythical whale and celebrating your ancestry. This work will leave young readers feeling hopeful about their future and inspired to read more. You can see more of Adeola’s work and the inspirations behind them on his Twitter and Instagram.
Keturah A. Bobo
Keturah A. Bobo is a New York Times bestselling illustrator and artist whose work is particularly vibrant and striking. Home-schooled by her mum, Bobo’s love of the arts was nurtured from a young age and she graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design in 2006. Keturah said she takes inspiration from her community and especially the beauty of natural Black hair. The stunning cover of Grace Byers’ I Am Enough depicts exactly her appreciation and the book itself made it to number one on the New York Times bestsellers list two years after publishing. In her spare time between publishing, Keturah Bobo works on other projects such as painting murals on the back of denim jackets, which you can buy from her online store to support her work and career.
Bobo first hand paints her illustrations, then edits the backgrounds using Adobe platforms. The colour palette Bobo uses is reflected through her blog, in the pictures that she takes of real life situations; from the light catching pink in her home, the greens she passes on her bike and the blue hues of the seas she has visited. This creates the softer images on the front covers that she designs in comparison to other children’s literature which can be more colour-blocked. Bobo’s work presents a comfortable, everyday image of so many lives, yet people who often go underrepresented in popular culture and media. She gives a platform to those who may not see themselves so clearly in a book character otherwise. The picture books she illustrates celebrate Blackness and self-confidence from a young age. The importance of her work is made abundantly clear on her Instagram, as she has images of her reading the books she has contributed to her own son, Mekhi. To find Bobo’s work for yourself, check out her blog, website and Instagram.