I got a chance to talk to Erin K Robinson, the illustrator of Adrea Theodore’s A History of Me, about her illustration process. We discussed her visual research and the challenges she encountered as she created the images in the book, and I’m pleased to share that conversation with you today. Enjoy this peek behind the curtain!
Who do you see when you look in the mirror? One mother’s account of her experience as the only Black child in school serves as an empowering message to her own daughter and children of color everywhere.
Life can be hard for the only brown girl in a classroom full of white students. When the teacher talks about slavery, she can feel all of her classmates staring at her. When they talk about civil rights, she is the one that other kids whisper about on the playground. In those moments, she wants to slip away or seep into the ground; and she wonders, is that all you see when you look at me?
What really matters is what she sees when she looks at herself. She is a reflection of the courage, strength, intelligence and creativity that’s been passed down from generation to generation through her ancestors.
Let’s talk Erin K Robinson!
LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of A History of Me? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Adrea Theodore’s text?
ER: My agent was eager for me to meet Neal Porter. The three of us went to lunch one afternoon and had a lovely chat. Neal had seen my work beforehand and had already had in mind the project he felt would be a good fit, which was A History of Me. I ended up reading the story and connected with it. I will usually know right away by the immediate images that pop into my mind, which is what happened with this story. Visions were bold and vibrant. It being a children’s book with a serious subject I wanted to be sure that I could create images that could still draw you in with a sense of hope and beauty.
LTPB: What were you most excited to illustrate in this book, and what were some of the more challenging moments?
ER: Hmmm… I think my favorite page to illustrate was the one of her talking about her greats being born into slavery. I wanted the woman portraying this image to be bold and strong and seen even though she was a slave. That in and of itself was a challenge. There is a good amount of research that is done in doing stories that have facts involved. So that meant I spent a considerable amount of time saturated in the struggle and injustices put upon our race, BUT also its incredible resilience. There were times I would have to step back and compose myself in order to create. There were moments when it affected me heavily… But because of our resilience I was also uplifted to do this story glory.
LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations? Is this your preferred medium? How has your process changed from your first book?
ER: I illustrated this book digitally in Procreate. I’ve been working digitally for about 5–6 years now. When working on a number of projects that will require edits I find it more feasible to work digitally to make those changes. Before that you could find me painting, collaging, sewing. . . many mixed media varieties. I prefer and miss working in a “tangible” sense. I’m looking forward to creating more fine art this year during my long stay in Kenya. I think the difference between illustrating my first book to now is just trying not to labor over the small things and overthink it. It’s been a challenge because I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist.
LTPB: What are you working on now?
ER: At the moment I’m gearing up to create a more personal body of work. . . can’t share much at the moment but can say that it’s related to ancestral gifts.
LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?
ER: I can’t imagine anyone illustrating my autobiography but myself! But if i had to choose hands down Betye Saar. Her vision is so hauntingly ethereal and magical. She pulls you into another dimension with her stunning art.
A big thank you to Erin for talking to me about this powerful book. A History of Me published earlier this year from Neal Porter Books.
Special thanks to Erin and Neal Porter Books for use of these images!
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March 1, 2022 at 11:34AM email@example.com (Mel Schuit)