Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy Feet

I'm experimenting with digital coloring for my current illustration project. Today I drew this simple illustration of a happy girl and colored her in Photoshop. I like her so much I thought I would share. I'm now thinking of doing a line of greeting cards (or series of stories!) with her as the central character.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Fisherboy

I did this illustration a while ago. I watched the wonderful movie Life of Pi based on the fantasy novel by Yann Martel. There is a breathtaking scene where Pi is drifting across the ocean in his boat at sunset. I loved that scene and this kind of reminds me of it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Grannie's Coal Pot: Final Drawing

I'm currently working on my first children's illustration project and blogging about it as I go along. I recently submitted the final drawing for 'Grannie's Coal Pot' to the book's Artistic Director for review. 'Final drawing' is actually a misnomer because the illustration is still subject to change at this stage of the review process. So the final drawing is more like a proposal for what the final art that will appear in the book will look like.

Drawing, like writing, is a process of discovery. If you saw the thumbnails for this illustration that I posted before you'll notice some changes were made from what I'd originally intended. The plan was to have the child be a girl but as I was drawing, my pencil kept insisting it was a boy I wanted to draw.

I remember when I was a child how much it irked me that my brother often got a free pass from helping out in the kitchen or doing chores around the house. Many boys and men actually do like to cook, and it's an invaluable skill for people of any gender to learn. Besides, why should boys miss out on the joys and pleasures of cooking? A boy in a cooking scene challenges the stereotype that only girls belong in the kitchen and sending that message felt true and right for this piece.

I realized I also wanted to affirm the specialness and value of the relationship between a boy and his grandmother. I don't have a good camera but here is a picture I took with my cell phone.

The final drawing. Let's hope it gets approved!
Another thing that happened organically as I was drawing was the change to the coal pot. I'd originally planned to draw a regular pot on a stove-top, but a sudden memory of the old-fashioned coal pots of Caribbean folkways came flashing back.

Street vendors in the Caribbean use these traditional coal pots a lot; in fact, coal pot cooking is something of a cultural institution in the islands. In Trinidad, there was even a soca song written about coal pots. People will often use them to cook outdoors in their yards because outdoor cooking is also a Caribbean thing. A grandmother would likely own such a coal pot, and cultural authenticity in children's illustrations is so important, so I gladly gave up the stove-top idea in exchange for the traditional Caribbean coal pot.

Now that I've submitted the final drawing, I'm waiting for feedback from the Artistic Director. Depending on what she says, I may have to make changes to the drawing and re-submit. More 'Grannie's Coal Pot' updates to come.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Speaking Up Like Malala: How Children's Books and Reading Can Help Raise Strong Caribbean Girls

I'm currently in Trinidad for a few weeks and Malala is also here in Trinidad on an official visit. Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy for Pakistani girls' education, and who survived to inspire the world with her message of forgiveness and non-violent social change.

I wish I had known earlier that she was coming, I would have made sure to register for her appearance at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The event was booked to capacity thanks to overwhelming public response.

Thinking about Malala, her convictions, and the remarkable human rights work she is doing to inspire change around the world, made me wonder, like many I'm sure, about her upbringing. In a culture like Pakistan's where girls are subject to inequalities and injustices by mere virtue of being born a girl, what did her parents do to raise such a strong, confident, compassionate, poised, morally courageous daughter?

The answer of course, is education. Like Malala and her parents, I am convinced that education can play a powerful role in raising strong, confident girls and women. Books and reading in particular, can play a strong role, because books go beyond providing a formal education by also providing a moral one.

I know books were my saving grace. It was in the books I read during my childhood that I first found and then sought out models of girls who were strong, confident and self-aware. Books like Matilda by Roald Dahl, the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, and the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery.

The character of the bookish, studious, quirky Matilda taught me a lot. Her story reassured me that it was a valuable, wonderful thing for a girl to be smart, that it was good for a girl to educate herself and seek knowledge, and that it was okay to go against the grain and be different if it meant being true to oneself.

Nancy Drew, the courageous, intelligent girl detective, made me realize that girls could solve problems, even problems that no one else could solve. This is a conviction that has only grown as I've gotten older. Nancy Drew was also a caring person, full of concern for others, and as a child eager for guidance, that was something I could admire and aspire to myself.

Anne Shirley in the Anne of Green Gables books, is a forthright, thoughtful, sensitive girl who wears her sleeve on her heart. Reading the books as a child, I saw the value of that kind of character. Anne showed me that in having both opinions and adventures, a girl could be fully herself and make a difference in her community and in the lives of the people she loved.

Even as a young girl, I understood these things from reading books. It was a moral education and a form of personal development, through books and reading, that I gladly received and am to this day grateful for. Books with strong, confident female characters who were unapolegetically human and fully themselves gave me the conviction and self-belief I've needed to stand up for myself and my principles in life.

Reading books with girl characters who were kind, adventurous, courageous, smart individuals instilled in me a determination that I could be those things too. I didn't have to fall prey to limiting stereotypes or harmful gender norms as long as I found positive models of girlhood and womanhood in books.

I'm also grateful for the books I read as a child that showed me male characters who treated girls as equals. Part of the moral precedent of the Anne of Green Gables books is the beautiful, supportive relationship between Anne and her adoptive father, Matthew Cuthbert. In the book, Matthew is the type of father who, in the words of Zauddi Yousafzai, Malala Yousafzai's father. "didn't clip his daughters' wings" (watch Ziauddin Yousafzai's wonderful TED Talk, titled "Why is my daughter strong? I didn’t clip her wings".)

Encountering male characters in books who let girls be the free, respected, valued people they were born to be, was important for helping me develop a vision of a truly equal world, one in which all people are respected and allowed the same rights regardless of their gender.

So I owe a great debt to the authors who wrote those books of my childhood that gave me, from an early age, what I like to call the "tools of mind" for safeguarding my humanity and my dignity. Children's books like the ones I've mentioned and numerous others, trained me in the habit of knowing who I was, what I stood for, what my potential was, and what I had a right to.

Right now, there is a great need for the kinds of books that can help raise strong, Caribbean girls, the way the books I read as a child helped shape and buffer me. We need more books in which Caribbean girls can see positive images of themselves, the kinds of images that strengthen and humanize them, that open up their minds to the great possibilities they were born to.

We especially need these books to be culturally-relevant. Most of the books I had access to when I was a child did not have characters who looked like me, spoke like me, or inhabited the world I did. How much more powerful would those stories have been for me if they had.

Because as much as I admired Nancy Drew and Anne Shirley and related to them, when it came to real life, the daily life that defined and unfolded around me in my little Caribbean island, it was an effort to claim my literary heroines' privileges and moral authority as my own. Although the books gave me a headstart by shaping my thinking, getting to the point where I could give myself permission to claim rights, privileges and authority in real life, and getting to the point where I could do so as a strong, self-aware human being, was not easy. That would take years of struggling to get past the barriers of cultural brainwashing, years of struggling to undo the whole miseducation of a post-colonial upbringing, a process still ongoing. For an effortless jump from literary precedents to real-life self-actualization to have occurred when I was younger, I would have needed the moral authority of books to come from characters who looked like me and who inhabited worlds like the one I inhabited.

The special power of books is that they can reach children who might not be reached otherwise, providing the models and moral education that might be missing from their lives. On par with the formal education books can provide, this moral education is vital for children to be strong, resilient participants in the creation of a just, humane, egalitarian world.

Visit to find multicultural books,
toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.
So I'll end by stressing again that children's books have the potential to teach both girls and boys about the universal rights and values that human beings need to practice and enjoy in order to live full, self-respecting, productive, happy lives. Values like equality, justice and freedom, which are the foundation of healthy, peaceful societies.

I hope more books will be written with Caribbean girls' character development and moral education in mind, but hope alone is not enough. I'm inviting more people to speak up like Malala. Speak up against the barriers, conditions and injustices that keep cultural justice and the kinds of books our children need out of publishing pipelines, global education agendas and literacy projects. Speak up against the passivity of those who have it in their power to make a difference but don't. Speak up against the widespread demoralization of Caribbean children's writers. Speak up against the unhealthy, skewed narratives that mar the development of girls, whether in books or otherwise. Speak up against the lack of narratives that support the humanity and potential of girls. Speak up for the sake of our children.

It's absolutely crucial that we raise a generation of Caribbean girls and boys as strong and free as Malala, and Caribbean boys who will grow up to be like Zauddi Yousafzaithe kinds of fathers who will not clip their daughters' wings. Education and books is the most powerful way to do this in the Caribbean, and anywhere, so let us do the work that needs to be done. Let us write the books that need to be written.

Have a peaceful weekend everyone.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Line drawings

Have been doing a lot of line drawings recently.These were done on some blank watercolor paper postcards left over from my sister's wedding.