Thank you, Sawyer, for telling us about yourself and how you got into illustrating. Let's get started on this illustrator interview as part of the creative interview series.
How many projects have you illustrated to this point?
To be honest, I stopped counting after the 10th book (lol). I’ve worked on various books for the past three years, about thirty in total. Of those thirty, I think around 20 have been published.
How do you decide which project you want to illustrate?
As someone who works very hard, I try to filter all the book inquiries from my agency and direct contacts. I am usually given a brief description and I feel out if a project brings forth a sparkle in me or not. I then decide based on the additional details surrounding the offer (the royalties’ percentage, the advance, the schedule, etc) and also if the subject aligns with my personal work ethic (e.g., I don’t take books promoting any religion or politics). The rest is just about negotiating the terms and the financial side with the help of my agency, it’s a crucial element as it takes months to work on a book, and I have to make sure it’s worth the time and energy and in alignment with me.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of illustrating a picture book in terms of how an author and an artist come together? Who connected you and Nyasha William together?
It’s usually the representatives (agents and agencies) of the artist or author who make first contact to present and discuss the project proposal with publishers. Then, our mutual agents present the offer from the publisher to both the author and illustrator. Sometimes a book team enjoys working together so much, getting with familiar with one another, that they decide to team up once again on additional books, which was the case for Nyasha and me. We became friends and books sisters as we share the same values and visions. Working in the editorial industry is mostly about building relationships.
What projects have you collaborated on with Nyasha Williams?
After our first collaboration on the book “Keep Dreaming, Black Child”, I’m on our second one called “Saturday Magic” and have signed for another book scheduled for 2024. Simply wonderful!
Talk to us about “Keep Dreaming, Black Child”, what drew you to illustrate the book and what was your favorite part of doing the illustrations.
I think that the first thing that drew me was Nyasha’s text; she has this ability to bring power to simple words and spark joy in the reader. Though the team provided me with a complete creative brief, they gave me a lot of freedom to interpret the text visually and I really appreciated that! The emotions conveyed in the text made it easier for me to imagine each spread with my personal feelings. In sum, there was a lot of love in each spread, both from the author through her designing every single word and from me spreading my feelings from the words all over the pages.
What are your hopes and dreams as an illustrator for “Keep Dreaming, Black Child”?
I hope that it will reach as many kids as possible, mostly in remote areas of the world where children are not taught to dream. I come from Africa, I know how much we need to plant back seeds of hope and dreams here. The World is changing. I dream of a reality where all children have access to materials and resources that help them to grow up strong, not only educational tools but also books that feed their imagination and remind them of their true magic.
As an artist, who is your favorite artist and your favorite children’s book illustrator? Who inspires you?
I really, really love Vashti Harrison’s art style ! She has that magic I can’t explain. I also admire the work of Mary Blair, and she’s the concept artist of Disney’s classics such as Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland, both my favorite books!
Nothing to do with books, but I love Coldplay! Music also plays a lot in my inspiration and personal life. I love how the band has always been able to create magic and stay true to their values since their beginning. All in all, I love artists who preach hope and help nurture the magic inside people.
Growing up, were there any stories or illustrations in which you felt touched by or reflected in? Are there any like that now? Any that you have illustrated?
I would easily say Winnie The Poo and Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t have access to many books when I was a child, as I grew up in a remote village. We didn’t have access to a lot of things, and my family couldn’t afford books. So I went to friends' houses to watch animations like Winnie and Alice, which sparkled joy in me!
Today, I still believe these two books are great! I feel happy to know that I’m working as these artists back in my childhood.
How would you describe your illustration style?
I never really think about it and know I’m very bad at judging my art. Let’s see, I would say a mix of power in the shapes and innocence in the general composition. I love using vivid and warm colors in my drawings, I also use a lot of textures.
How would you say your illustrations have evolved over the course of your writing and illustrating career?
My way of approaching an illustration has definitely changed over time. Beginning, I focused more on technical skills and executing each line perfectly- but today, I focus more on pouring emotions through the composition. I always want to ensure that every element in my drawing is put together on purpose and true to my feelings and vision. In sum, today, I try to be more mindful and honest when I draw and not be too hard on myself for all the technical skills I lack.
What are your dreams and hopes for yourself and for the world?
My first and prior goal is to be happy, cultivating a happier life until I leave this world. I’ve had my battles in life (still facing a few of them), and I believe I deserve to live a happy life. Other than that, I’d love to be able to travel more in the near future, discovering new countries and new cultures at least twice a year. Why not!
What other projects are you working on now?
I’m booked for the rest of the year 2023 and for the beginning of next year. I have some amazing projects scheduled this year and signed for my first author-illustrator book! This year is definitely a busy one like the former two years, but I’m hoping all these projects will help me get a more balanced life from next year!
Thank you again, Sawyer, for taking the time for this beautiful interview and for your kind words. I am so thankful and filled with gratitude that you have created space for us to collaborate.
Cheers to upcoming and future collaborations together!
Interested in work created by the both of us?
Keep Dreaming Black Child