When I was a kid I was always creating. I wrote songs, stories, plays, etc. I tried playing many musical instruments and I loved to sing, but drawing and sharing stories were the things that stuck with me. They were the only things that I wanted to become really good at enough to make a living. – Shadra Strickland

Local illustrator Shadra Strickland loves a good story — and believes illustration is the art of the people. She is just one of the featured artists and authors appearing at this year’s African American Children’s Book Festival at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum this May. A former elementary school teacher, Strickland has some great thoughts on encouraging your own child’s artistic creativity and whimsy!

We caught up with her over email for a virtual chat about her favorite places to draw, where she finds inspiration and a sneak peek at this year’s festival.

exploring illustration with shadra strickland - (cool) progeny

Shadra Strickland, image courtesy of Shadra Strickland

What made you switch from teaching elementary school to teaching college? Do you miss anything about working with children directly?

I taught elementary school art for three years before moving back to New York to become an illustrator, which was my ultimate goal. After earning my master’s degree, I knew that higher ed was a possibility for me but, to be honest, the opportunity presented itself when I wasn’t looking for it. I was just lucky enough to be prepared when it came.

Fortunately, my work as a book illustrator gives me an opportunity to continue to work directly with younger children through school visits and workshops and teaching college gives me the time I need to continue making my books. I am blessed to have the best of both worlds.

What was the path you took to become an illustrator? Advice for young artists in Baltimore? 

My mom gave me plenty of blank paper to keep with me as a child. I always carried books around to read and books with blank pages in them to draw and write. Along with summer art classes, I watched public television shows throughout the year like Reading Rainbow and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. I would always try to draw the things that I saw on tv and in magazines. That’s where it begins for all of us artists, I believe. We have a strong reaction to things we experience in the world and burn to get it down on paper, or through dance, or song, etc. We have to respond to it

When I was a kid I was always creating. I wrote songs, stories, plays, etc. I tried playing many musical instruments and I loved to sing, but drawing and sharing stories were the things that stuck with me. They were the only things that I wanted to become really good at enough to make a living. I went to Syracuse University to study writing, design, and illustration, and a few years after graduating, I went back to New York City to study illustration in graduate school

There are a number of ways to nurture your art as a young person. Baltimore has great resources like MICA’s Young People’s Studios Summer Camp and Pre-College Program, Jubilee Arts Center is a great local organization that offers affordable art classes, and there are tons of online resources to help young artists learn more about the craft. I teach an online course called The Art of the Picture Book at Crafty.com for visual storytellers of all ages. The best way to learn on your own though, is by drawing all of the time everywhere you go, going to art museums to see how other people solve problems visually, and of course, by going to the local library and checking out instructional books on drawing and painting. For example, Andrew Loomis’ “Fun with a Pencil” is a great book for young people who want to learn how to draw.

exploring illustration with shadra strickland - (cool) progeny

Image by Shadra Strickland, from Bird by Zetta Elliot.

“Illustration is the art of the people”–Shadra Strickland. Are you currently working on any community based projects? Is there anything that you would like to do in the future?

YES! Illustration is art of (and for) the people. I just branded my studio, Jump In Studio and am itching to do just that, Jump In! Outside of my school visits, I haven’t been able to squeeze much programming in yet, but I would love to become more involved with young budding artists here. The wonderful librarians and educational directors at Enoch Pratt have been so gracious in helping me introduce my work to local families and schools. I have also worked with the Benjamin Banneker Museum in Ellicott City on programming. Eventually I would love to begin things on my own like summer art workshops for small groups of kids and mentoring, but things are still brewing for me.

Being a successful, female artist–why Baltimore? What draws you to the city?

Why not Baltimore? I grew up in Atlanta and spent many years in New York City. Baltimore offers the best of both worlds for me. It is large enough to satisfy my city urges but small and cozy enough to offer me peace of mind when I want to relax. Unlike larger cities, it is affordable, and the art community here is fantastic. I can also get around without a car, which I love! Baltimore called me, and having answered the call, I find that it is a wonderful place to call home.

Favorite art space in Baltimore? Is there any particular place that inspires you?

I live in Hampden and am surrounded by art at MICA each week, so I do get my fix. Outside of work, my absolute favorite place to go for inspiration in the city is the main branch of Enoch Pratt. It’s such a beautiful building. You can find me in the art or children’s section working occasionally. I am still discovering Baltimore, having been here three years now, so most places are new discoveries for me. My absolute favorite place to draw is Lexington Market!

What excites you about the Second Annual African American Children’s Book Festival?

Everything! Celebrating art and stories…celebrating Baltimore readers…connecting creators with the community they create for…there’s so much to be excited about. It is also wonderful to have this programming at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum because of the beautiful space and the museum’s permanent collection. Many families that join us at the festival may be introduced to the Lewis Museum for the first time and what a life changing discovery that may be!

Find out more about Shadra here.

See Shadra!

She’ll be at the 2nd Annual African American Children’s Book Festival! Enjoy readings by authors, talks with illustrators (including Shadra!), cultural performances, interactive storytelling with a griot, and craft activities to include bookbinding demonstrations by local book artists on May 10, 2014 from 1 PM – 4 PM at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. FREE ADMISSION during the event! Presented in partnership with Baltimore City Schools and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. MORE INFO

This article is sponsored by the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. Header image is by Shadra Strickland, from “A Place Where Hurricanes Happens” written by Renée Watson.