Monday, September 22, 2014

Grannie's Coal Pot: Wrapping Up

Stage Six: Final Art

Final art: The fruit of my labors

Today was an exciting day.

I submitted the final artwork for the children's literature anthology project I'm working on. If you read my blog regularly you already know I'm working on my first illustration project and have been blogging about the process from initial thumbnails to final art.

I said I wouldn't share the final art here on the blog, but I can't resist sharing now that it's done. I'm doing a single-page spread illustration to be published alongside a children's poem titled 'Grannie's Coal Pot' that I wrote. I'll let the poem be the element of surprise for those who buy the anthology when it's published. The publisher, Reflection Press may actually recommend changes to the illustration even at this stage of the process, or the Creative Director might tweak some aspects of the illustration during the process of designing the book, so what you see here is likely not really the final art. 

The illustrations you see here are not perfect in the sense of being examples of first-rate illustration skills. But they are perfect in the sense that working on this art has brought me so much joy and healed a lot of the doubts I had about my creativity.

I love them because for me they represent a piece of my world, my culture, and my heart really, that will be shared with children through the pages of a book. To know that a Caribbean boy and his grandmother embracing in front of bubbling pot of Trinidadian oil down has found a place in children's literature makes me very happy. This art represents an affirmation that I belong and I hope it helps others to know that they belong too.

Another version. I couldn't get the faces this nice dark brown color in the other versions.

The illustrations are not exactly what I envisioned when I set out to do this, but rather, they are what emerged organically as I let go of judgements of the art I was making and allowed the process guide me. That was not always easy to do. The process was not perfect. I stumbled a lot along the way. I procrastinated and got discouraged. I missed deadlines. And as a Photoshop novice I often just couldn't get Photoshop to do what I wanted it to do. Yes, I used Photoshop. I also feel like the colors are somewhat off but that's what the Creative Director at a publishing house is for, to fix those details.

This project is an offshoot of the "Heart of It: Creating Children's Books that Matter" course I took through the School of the Free Mind earlier this year. When I enrolled in the course six months ago, I did not know I could create an illustration like this. I went into the Heart of It course with no artistic training. I'd been a lifelong doodler and longtime illustration buff, but that was as far as it went. I especially didn't know how to draw faces and hands, which is to say I hadn't yet discovered my way of drawing faces and hands.

Drawing is really an art of seeing connected to a sense of knowing in the hands, and I didn't have that six months ago. I had no ability to see lines and shapes and I did not have trusting hands as an artist. That happened almost magically during this course. I used to hear people say "everyone is an artist" and I would wistfully think, "I wish." Now I really believe it. If I could get through this process and discover the artist in myself, then anyone can.

Going through this process of creating an illustration from initial thumbnails to final art has given me a lot of insight into what can happen when people have somebody in their court who believes in them. Maya Gonzalez and her publishing house Reflection Press have embraced a "mentorship publisher" approach to working with underrepresented children's writers and illustrators that helped me feel supported throughout the process.

As I understand it, mentorship publishing is simply the idea that the publisher does not simply recruit and publish the talent, but rather, the publisher actively develops the talent by providing training, professional development, scholarship funding in some cases, and emotional support to writers and illustrators. It's about developing a relationship with the talent and building community through and alongside the creative process.

This is what working with Reflection Press has been like. We have a Facebook group where everyone involved in the anthology has been posting photos of their art-in-progress and providing tons of emotional support to others in the community. We were provided with professional development and we have an experienced and qualified mentor-editor who uses a personal touch in the way she approaches feedback and instruction. The only reason I was able to do the course and subsequently end up working on this project is because the School of the Free Mind provided me with scholarship funding. People who paid to take the course have unanimously agreed that the returns have far succeeded the investment.

I believe the mentorship publisher model is especially relevant for so-called "minority" communities who have long struggled to break into the traditional publishing world, including us in the Caribbean. People who have long had the doors of opportunity barred to them need a different kind of environment in order to thrive creatively. The need community and understanding, and they need practical support. Dare I say, they need a different set of standards. The standards of the traditional publishing world do not take into account the realities and histories of underrepresented communities.

Right now, Ananssem, the Caribbean children's literature ezine that I run is on hiatus until 2015. Part of the reason we're letting Anansesem sit for a while is because we'd been feeling strongly that the ezine needs a new approach. We've always struggled with a low volume of submissions. I know it's not the interface itself because we've received so many compliments on the format and presentation of the site. I know people appreciate the existence of the site, because we've also gotten tons of positive feedback about that.

Someone I talked to about the issue suggested that it could be a cultural thing, that Caribbean parents simply aren't warm to the idea of putting their children's writing and art on the Internet. I wonder if there is something to that. Another person told me somewhat bitterly that Caribbean people are apathetic, but I refuse to believe that. I'm starting to see now how a mentorship approach might be what is needed for Anansesem's future.

Right now though, I'm waiting for feedback on the final art. And I'm dreaming about possibilities for us all. Please help us spread the word about the "Heart of It" anthology by sharing this beautiful flyer, thanks!