• Pro

    Very interesting and important topic. Please do!! I've run into this and I'm never sure what to think myself. I've seen a lot of things like "Seeking black illustrator for book about (...)" and more recently, a call for a Native American illustrator for a book about Algonquins.

    On one hand these projects seemed so interesting and I was so sad I couldn't qualify because I'm white. I don't think the color of my skin makes me any less qualified as an illustrator than anyone else. On the other hand, there's something very special about, for example. a project by black people for black people. And it's not just about skin color, but comprehension of the culture to be able to represent it best. But then again, with some communication and research there's no reason the illustrator shouldn't be able to do it. We're rarely 100% experts on the topics we cover from project to project, we research. But then again, why not give the job opportunity to an illustrator of that community first?

    As a woman, when I see a movie about a women made by all male writers/directors/producers, I feel like it's a bit lame. It's a bit of a similar thing for this topic, although it's not a 1 to 1 comparison. Women are NOT a minority group, we're 50% of the population. There are tons of talented women writers, directors and producers and choosing not to include them in a project about them is lame. It may be more difficult to find a Native American children illustrator with just the right style for the project and who's available. Would it still be okay if a more talented illustrator who is a better fit for the project is passed over in favor of the one available Native American illustrator they could find? It gets tricky.

    I think if I'm offered a project like this I wouldn't feel bad about accepting it, but if an artist from that ethnic group is picked over me I wouldn't resent it or feel discriminated against. I'm still confused about the subject and would love to hear more opinions about it.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Elena-Marengoni Love the Toca Boca apps!

  • @Lee-White I think this is a very important topic simply for the fact that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about it. I think if we could have an open dialogue about it in which we try to understand better the diverse perspectives of others on this matter, the more we are able as artists (and human beings ) to come together and make art that is both quality and meaningful. I think it is when we run from these topics and stick our heads in the sand that we get into trouble. I think this is especially true when we don't hear from perspectives that are frequently in the minority. For example, when is it going to be offensive to write or draw from the perspective of someone not like me and when is it not? What guidelines should we consider as we draw others of different races and backgrounds than us? How can we avoid offensive stereotypes and yet pay homage and respect to other groups of people? I think these are reasonable questions to consider and can be done in a way that promotes dialogue and thinking without opening up a can of worms, especially if done with an attitude of desiring to promote respect for one another and both our differences and our shared experiences.

  • I'm sure you guys'll handle the topic just fine, and it's definitely something I'd listen to.

    I got to work on a local First Nation's book of fables. Since it was art directed by anthropologists and a council of elders I got to draw all kinds of neat stuff like ceremonial headdresses and not have to worry about unintentionally misappropriating their culture (and as I got my sketches critiqued, I totally would have even though I was bein' super careful!)

    That being said, I've sometimes thought about doin' short comics using stories from the gold rush kinda colonial era which would feature interactions between First Nation and European people and kinda shied away from it because of the chance of unintentional cultural appropriation.

    I'd be interested to hear what you guys (and guests) think about it.

    As long as you're approaching it with the question 'what is cultural appropriation?' (as you said) instead of 'is cultural appropriation real?' (which I've seen people do) I'm sure it'll be an awesome podcast!

  • SVS OG

    Just a short time ago, we had a discussion on the forum about how one indicates gender in animal characters (if males and females aren’t naturally different looking) without using cultural stereotypes, and whether it is necessary to indicate gender at all. Do people assume a character is male unless otherwise stated? etc. I don’t know that we came to any conclusions but there were a lot of interesting comments and you might want to read through that thread. It was in September because the contest prompt said “she” and I was drawing rabbits which look anatomically the same for both sexes.

  • @Lee-White I think illustrating another culture helps me to embrace and understand that culture. Imagine if learning a language was seen as a bad thing. Isn't drawing like a visual language? I practice Falun Gong meditation, which is from China. It's great to learn this beautiful meditation from Chinese people. I've heard some amazing ancient stories from Chinese culture about Dragons and Sun Wukong the Monkey King and the Chinese Zodiac - how all the animals met Buddha. Learning all this makes me want to draw it, as a visual explosion of ideas goes off in my head. It would be a shame if that wasn't appropriate to draw because my skin suit is the wrong colour.

  • It is a very interesting topic and I would love to know how it is perceived in the industry and if this is as hot in all countries (f.i. Europe vs USA?)

    I am in Australia and I draw in my leasure time. I just finished an illustration course at the university of Sydney / Newcastle and worked on a dummy book. We had the choice between different stories to illustrate. I chose an ancestral aboriginal story because I am fascinating by their rich culture and also it gave me the opportunity to draw the fantastic Australian landscape. I am quite pleased with the result. Usually I would have posted some images on my instagram but I hesitate...finding myself not legitimate to depict aboriginal people. At the same time, would the book have been illustrated by an aboriginal artist, I am certain the style or the approach or the composition would have been drastically different. So the question is : did I draw after stereotypes or did I draw with my personal touch? Is that disrepectful if I made a mistake in the traditional costumes or body paints?

    I would really benefit from the insight of professional artists on this topic. I am looking forward to lisyening to the podcast!

  • @Lee-White this is a very dicey subject, personally I don't think it's a problem for illustrators to illustrate books on other cultures or gender if they live in that world but on the other hand, how much will they know about a particular culture or gender issues unless they are fully immersed in it? Most people do stereotypes and stereotypes are what I feel are overrepresented in books. Ultimately the decision to publish boils down to the publishers and editors and unless the podcast can help us illustrators overcome gender bias issues or cultural stereotypes or communicate better to publishers, this might accidentally step into a minefield. Actually this is a problem I'm facing because my illustrations got rejected in my own birth country because they deemed them too westernised, the characters not oriental enough, even though one of the illustrations is based on a legend in my country.

  • When comes to the question of cultural appropriation, my impression is that there is a pretty big cultural/historical difference among US, Europe and other parts of the world. It would be very interesting to hear the perspectives from illustrators in US, but also form the rest of the world (such as having illustrators from Europe, or other parts of the world as podcast guests)
    I am a chinese citizen, lives in Europe. (have been lived here over a decade). For me cultural appropriation is not about what subject one choose to work with, but how one handles the subject. Personally, I am always fasinated to see non chinese writers/illustrators takle with stories about Chinese culture. Recently, Flyingeyebook published a book "Kai and the Monkey King", written and illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton, a British illustrator. I am so looking forward to read the book. Monkey king for me was like the equivelent of Superman for many of you growning up in western countries. I am very excited to see what is Joe Todd's take on Monkey King.

  • I'm the type of person who doesn't care where someone comes from or what they look like. Not always easy to have this point of view when people want you to pick sides. But what i wanted to point out within this subject is something i believe a lot of people forget. I can't classify this as gender or race but it is a minority group.

    I am left-handed. In many cases i feel left-handed people are forgotten. When you read storybooks, everything and everyone is right-handed(unless the story is specifically about left-handedness). Using a drawing tablet that has a screen is also sometimes counter productive because the software doesn't understand where the pen tip should be (this is experience with a GAOMON since i can't afford WACOM). I noticed when i draw people they are most of the time left-handed.

    Where i am going with this is that it may be a factor, like gender and race, that defines what we draw. Our environment, how we see the world, is what we bring with us into each illustration. Now i know there are exceptions. This is not exact science but just through that one part of who i am i already draw differently.

    When it comes to drawing anything, i don't think your gender or race should be an issue. If i want to draw a black man sitting at a bistro in France. Then i can do that. Even if i am not black myself. I grew up in a country (not Norway) where it is normal to live mixed with very different kinds of culture. So from that perspective it is completely normal for me to draw anyone from any race or gender without thinking twice.

    If i were to draw an entire story from the point of view of a little girl in Africa who has a difficult life there, it would be after having been there, experienced their lifestyle, and having spoken to them. I would not do this on a whim without knowing anything about their culture.
    We live in a time where we can speak to people from all over the world with only one click. We travel the world super fast and easy. So i believe doing research on such matters as a culture different from your own is not difficult anymore.
    I think research is important when you take on such a story.

    I understand it is just my point of view in this and that many won't agree with me. I see others as equals rather than lesser or superior. For me it is about respect for each other without having to change who you are or who they are.

  • I would have no interest at all in a podcast about this.

    Illustration is about talent and whether you can create what the client wants. It's not about your color, your gender, your nationality and making any of those an issue lessens the talent and creativity of an artist and is an insult to the artist.

    I don't give a whit about who does an illustration or about "appropriation" as either the illustration works or it doesn't.

  • Hi @Lee-White , this is a wonderful topic and should definitely be explored (speaking as a half White/Mexican).

    In creating children's books, authors and illustrators have a unique opportunity to capture beautiful stories that are not only enjoyable, but also relatable to life itself with diversity and inclusion.

    Here are few suggestions to think about for the podcast:

    • If using anthropomorphic animals or inanimate objects, try giving names to the characters that shed light on race. For example, Carlos the Cat is easily distinguishable as Hispanic.

    • Context is everything. Simply creating a story about grade school also provides an opportunity to introduce diversity since it's just like real life.

    • Research is important. Look at how other artists tackled this topic and find a model that works for you. Ask non-artists if they can easily distinguish the race simply by looking at the illustrations. This constructive feedback can save you in the long run. For example, if you exaggerated features, this could be seen as an insult rather than you trying to be inclusive.

    • As an artist, it's important to ask yourself, "Why is this such a touchy subject?" I mean dig down to the root level and dissect why it's important to talk about this. Through this process, we learn more than before and open our level of understanding the world through the power of art.

    Good stuff.

  • @Lee-White I would love to hear about this topic! Many of the illustration ideas that I have involve different cultures and countries that I have visited, or come from my husband's country and culture. While I would love to write and illustrate these stories, I would also love to hear how the greater book publishing world looks at an illustrator from one culture illustrating about another. I understand it's a sensitive subject with many varying views. But, coming from a multicultural marriage and raising a multicultural family, I am continually looking for ways to teach not only my own children, but others as well that these conversations can happen and, when given respect and allowing each voice to air in a judgement-free zone, no matter how different the perspective, they provide greater understanding and compatibility.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @jimsz while I see where you are going with your reply, I think that might be a bit too simplistic of an answer.

    Questions that aren't as easily answered:

    Should someone from one culture illustrate something from another culture without truly understanding that culture? Will they even be able to illustrate it without that viewpoint? And would it be better to hire someone from that culture anyway as a first step? This is also a chance to talk about topics like "Is there a bias in the way illustrators are hired? Does racism/gender/sexual orientation bias affect our industry as much as others"?

    There are a TON of other questions like this that would be fun (and scary!) to dive into.

    So While I agree that "illustrations should just work", there is a lot of context around this subject that isn't as easy to figure out.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Love seeing all the answers here. Thanks so much for giving some feedback. I think it would/will be an awesome podcast, but man are we nervous about it!! It's just so loaded and there isn't an "answer" per se that we will even attempt to get to with it. Just maybe have a conversation about it and see what people think? I'm really not sure. Which makes me want to do it even more.

  • Pro

    @jimsz I agree with Lee's response that your viewpoint is incredibly simplistic. Yes illustration is about talent, but if you don't ask yourself what makes an illustration good in the first place you won't ever get to the highest level of quality. That includes questions like "Does an artist from within a specific community better equipped or a better fit to illustrate a story about that community?" and Will they be able to capture more truth, realism and emotion?" Questions of appropriation or sensitivity (so we don't accidentally offend people) have to do with the business side and also the readership. Again, very important for a talented artist to be business savvy and and to think about their audience and how their illustrations will be received.

  • @Lee-White

    Respectfully, I don't see my answer as being simplistic but rather your question being overly complex.

    If you are looking for an illustration for a story about a white lower income Ukranian boy (or any other specific demographic) many hear are saying you have to be a white lower income Ukranian boy. A middle class white American of Ukranian descent certainly couldn't know what it means, etc.

    This is simply political correctness run amuck. Good art is good art and that is all that should matter. Anything else is an insult to the artist.

  • @NessIllustration

    Respectfully, I do not go through my day worrying about "offending" someone. If you are speaking about art as whole, there are times create work will be offensive as one of the roles of art is to push the limits and create discussion and make the viewer or participant think/react/examine. In that regard, I can see a discussion but only within that limited scope.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @jimsz I'm still not sure I agree with that, but I do respect your opinion. Here are a few situations where your statement might not fit. (I totally agree that in a perfect world, talent would be the only issue and it would easily be decided who is the best. But there are whole host of areas that are more complex than political correctness run amuck. I don't think it's an insult to artists to discuss this and ask these questions. It's not a simple black and white answer.

    For example, what if there is a story from Mexico and there are two equally talented illustrators available for the job. One is white and the other is from Mexico. Should the artist from Mexico be given preference? (this is what I'm calling an "authenticity" argument). I agree with your sentiment that illustrators have to be given the freedom to draw other stories from other cultures. It's fiction and we can't possibly know everything about what we are writing about. If that were the case, I'd need to murder someone in order to write a murder mystery. Obviously that makes no sense so when writing fiction we have to have a certain amount of freedom.

    What if a studio wants to use a Japanese Kimono as a basis for their costume in a new film. The kimono in Japan is very traditional and comes with a lot of meaning. How far can or should the studio go before it's offensive to the culture they are taking the design from? What if that studio wants to make the "bad guys" in the movie wearing the Kimono design and their whole goal is to destroy humanity? That would probably be horribly offensive to anyone from Japan. So just saying that artists shouldn't worry about anything they design would not hold true here. I know this is an extreme example, but I'm just using it to illustrate my point.

    To not acknowledge that stories, designs, and symbols have meaning is not realistic. If you are using a Japanese kimono in your designs and don't think it has meaning, you would be mistaken. Not worrying about offending someone doesn't mean that you aren't offending whole groups of people without even knowing it. I'm not talking about little silly overly PC things, but things that have true meaning in different cultures or to different people.

  • SVS OG

    @Lee-White I think this is a fantastic subject and I hope that you are able to put together something. I can't wait! Here are my thoughts.

    Should artists be able to draw characters from different genders, cultures, body types and ability levels? YES! I feel like it necessary in today's diverse environment. Representation is important, especially in community or classroom spreads. I want it to be part of my wheelhouse. The question I have is how? How to do it respectfully and well, naturally. There are a couple of nuances here that I have thought through.

    Level 1: Physical Attributes
    I have noticed there are is a lot of media that solves this problem with what I call the "Magic School Bus Fix" Each character representing a different hair color/skin color/ethnicity/personality. (Think "Rogue One" for movies). That seems to be a pretty accepted approach. So where do we get into trouble?

    Problem 1. Is each character is presented in a stereotypical way across a body of work or the industry? (Is the black kid always in gym shorts and the Asian always super smart and the blonde always popular and dumb?) (@Will-Terry did a great podcast on this with Tyrus Goshay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56UfBZzaM0w )

    Problem 2. Are the characters drawn using recognized, unflattering stereotypes. Or contributing to something that is known to be racist or discriminatory. How do I know what things to avoid? Are there resources for this?

    Problem 3. Is the main character always the same gender/color/body size/ability level (ie- Is the kid with the wheelchair or glasses always the supporting character?)

    Most illustrators I would guess would be expected to be able to pull this method off well, if they can tackle those three problems. Where it becomes difficult is when we add culture. In the "Magic School Bus" everyone is essentially Americanized. They wear t-shirts and jean and act and act in a similar way. If we want to branch out to make a richer illustration how do we do it without offending? This is such a difficult topic! And I don't have the answer. Partly because we all have different experiences and want to be represented. Here are some things I have picked up on.
    Level 2: Culture

    Point A: We ALL have different experiences. Ignoring that leads to stereotypes again. Not every black person is from the American South, some are from Brazil, or Africa or Europe or, well anywhere, and they don't all have the same story or background. So it would not be authentic to give their stories all the same treatment.

    Point B: Should the story be told by a person with that background?

    Louisa May Alcott famously found her place in the writing world when she took her publishers advice to write about her own experience. I can see how a picture book written by someone who has experienced something can be potentially more powerful than one written by someone who has only researched it. That being said, illustrators are often paired with authors because of their skill to tell a story. And I believe that we can and should learn about the experiences of others and it builds community to work together to create something beautiful.

    It also depends on the story being told. If the story is about Mrs. Frizzel and the digestive system is it really important to include more diverse cultural clues than hair color? If the story is about a Russian family immigrating somewhere, should the author/illustrator be Russian? When it comes down to it, do all books with minority main characters need to be explorations of origin? "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Keats was groundbreaking because his main character was an African American boy doing normal play-in-the-snow-kid-stuff. It wasn't a book with social commentary, and the pictures aren't that detailed. It is an enchanting snow day book and he decided to be inclusive with his art by choosing a look for his main character that would reach more kids. Keats is white. His take on diversity was powerful!

    Point 3 Research and Collaboration: Where can we find resources?
    If we do take on a book that deals with culture and experiences outside of our own we need to be prepared to do a lot of research and collaboration to create to best thing that we can. Get outside and find a group of editors to check to make sure it is not offensive. (Think Disney and "Moana" they worked very closely with the Hawaiian people to make a movie they both could be happy with.) Are there groups for this?

    Point 4: Retelling can be Compelling
    So is it okay to tell stories in your way if you are clear that is your intent?
    We retell fables and stories all of the time, and I think it is beautiful. I have seen Cinderella done and redone with different cultural twists. Telling someone they can't share a story seems counterproductive, and a good way to forget culture. Maybe that is cultural appropriation? Giving credit can help ( for example state "This is a retelling of the parable about the chessboard and the rice.") This is such a sticky thing!

    I think that if you are going to tell someone's story, be their voice by learning what they want you to say. And encourage lots of people to tell their own story so the whole world can be richer.

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