I have been a Shadra Strickland fan for a while and when I saw some of the art for LOVING vs VIRGINIA, I knew I needed to invite her on my blog.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[SS] I am working on my first authored book now. The manuscript was written first, but because I am the author I know that if I need to make changes to the manuscript to accommodate the images better, I can.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[SS] I grew up in suburbs surrounding Atlanta, Georgia. I went to college in Syracuse, NY, which was a huge change for me because I grew up in a predominantly African American community and a much warmer climate. Syracuse was a great experience though. From there I went back to Atlanta to teach for a few years. After three years I moved to New York City for grad school and to pursue a career in picture books. I now live in Baltimore, Maryland where I teach at Maryland Institute College of Art.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[SS] I always drew and told stories and knew I would be a commercial artist when I grew up. At Syracuse I started as a graphic designer, but took classes in illustration and creative writing as well. A creative job that would provide steady income was more appealing to me than becoming a freelancer, but by the time I got to my junior year, I knew I wanted to be an illustrator. I missed drawing and painting.
After college, I was offered a small emergent reader book from Lee and Low Books, but didn’t get steady work after that. I knew that I needed more time to develop my skills. That’s when I decided to go to graduate school at the School of Visual Arts. After finishing grad school, I didn’t get published right away, though many art directors and editors did have great things to say about the work. It took a few years of promoting my work for me to finally land that first big book contract. In the meantime, I worked for Chris Myers as an art assistant, held a part time job as a designer for Bloomsbury Kids, and I did illustrate a book for a Korean publisher.
[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?
[SS] I like to work in whatever medium the book calls for. All of my books are some sort of mixed media experiment.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?
[SS] This is from Loving vs. Virginia, written by Patricia Hruby Powell, coming soon in January 2017. This project was so great because I had been drawing on location for many years and always wanted to use that drawing style in a picture book. Chronicle saw the drawings on my agent’s web site and thought it would work well for the project. It ended up being a combination of loose line drawing and digital color.
[JM] I am so excited for Loving Vs Virginia! As an African American woman in an industry that has often celebrated and rewarded predominantly white male contributions, what progress have you seen in diverse representation among creators and creations over the last few years?
[SS] Admitting the problem has been the first step. Though I do see more books being written by and about people of color, I think we still have a ways to go, especially within the publishing houses themselves. It’s been great seeing more child centered books being offered outside of the civil rights and slavery spectrum along with books about pioneers other than Martin, Malcolm, and Harriet.
[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?
[SS] Oh boy, that’s hard. I don’t remember. I spent a lot of time reading in libraries and I didn’t really have my own money until I was thirteen and worked in my grandmother’s store. I did own a lot of Nancy Drew and V.C. Andrews books, but I don’t remember if that money came from my mom or not.
[JM] What does your work space look like?
[JM] Glad to see your French press! What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[JM] What were a couple of the highlights of your time as author/illustrator in residence at Vermont College of Fine Arts last winter?
[SS] I had a great time at VCFA. It was a lovely winter escape, though I was a little afraid of being snowed in before I went. The highlight of that time was pushing my workshop students to develop picture book manuscripts in a couple of days. We generated ideas and pitches during class and they were asked to write a manuscript based on the pitch overnight. Everyone was surprised at the ideas that bubbled up from the surface and I was amazed at how well written the stories ended up being in such a short time. It was an honor to work with such talented writers and I was so grateful that they trusted me through the exercises.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?
[SS] Sadly, I don’t have one. I am a fan of green spaces in general.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[SS] I write and publish poetry under a nom de plume.
[JM] I am so going to google for clues now! What was your first paid job?
[SS] I was a shop assistant at my grandmother’s clothing store.
[JM] Neat! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[SS] Trail mix
Thanks, Shadra, and very much looking forward to your debut as author and illustrator.