PODCAST FEEDBACK NEEDED


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @jimsz Being able to complete a project, if hired, is only a very small part of this discussion. I know that most pro illustrators can do the job and probably do it well. But there are so many issues we are talking about here.

    I do agree with you that most pro illustrators are perfectly capable of doing a job. Otherwise they wouldn't be pro illustrators. But there are a lot of points that other people have made in this thread that go so much deeper into this subject. But, you are correct in the point you are making.

    One of the questions that I find more interesting than the one you are asking (which is "Should an illustrator have the skill to depict something from another culture and/or race?) is to look at what is currently available on the market and are we really being "overly PC" as you are suggesting?

    For example, If I walked into a children's book section of a library, and was blindfolded and asked to randomly pull books from the shelf, how many of those books would contain an african-american character? I would bet that if truly asked to do this, you would pull down hundreds of books before you happen to select one with an african-american character. Or, maybe you wouldn't even be able to randomly select one with an african american child as the lead.

    So a better question than the one you are asking is "If a professional illustrator can draw any race or culture out there, why are 99% of the books on the shelf only showing Caucasian kids? Why is there not more diversity to choose from? What should non white kids look at that shows them a version of themselves? These are much more interesting questions in my opinion.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    PS, I'm trying to put my money where my mouth is and I included an african american girl as the lead character in my current book. The book is not about diversity or anything like that, I just chose to have her be the lead. This is how I like to think about including diverstiy in books. Not having the book be about race or anything overly political, but just showing other characters with different backgrounds. Something I hope to get better at as I go along. (here's a small cropped version of that character.)

    Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 9.32.42 AM copy.jpg



  • Yes, yes yes please! This is a topic that needs to be explored.


  • Moderator

    This last month's SCBWI meeting in San Diego was a panel discussion about diversity and inclusion. They provided some interesting stats (see images here) and a wonderful video found here. The panel was primarily about writing children's books, not illustrating them.

    The biggest take-away that I got from it was the concept of "windows" and "mirrors". That as much as young people want to read about people like themselves, they also want to read about people who are different. Creating diverse books is sometimes about providing windows for children to look through at others who aren't like them, and sometimes about providing mirrors in which they can see themselves reflected back.

    Regardless of whether it's a window or a mirror, we have to have a basis of knowledge and research (some might say experience is stronger) from which to draw upon so we are actually being authentic and true in our stories.

    One of the panelists, René Colato Laínez, said something very interesting. He said he was given advice from an editor that he never forgot. She had told him that when writing stories about a specific culture or minority: if you can take the names of the characters and change them to a different culture (like making all the characters French instead of Latino) and your story isn't impacted or altered, you're not actually writing a story that speaks to the experience of that culture or minority.

    In my head, that meant: If you're writing a fairy tale that takes place in Russia, make sure you're using Russia on purpose and not just as decoration. I suppose the same thing can be said about illustrating: don't do something purposefully in, say, a Japanese style, for example, without knowing the why's and how's of the authentic style you're drawing upon. Otherwise you might be communicating information and mistakes you don't realize you're making... (I think that's the definition of cultural appropriation--using pieces of a cultural expression for your own derivative purposes without respecting or caring where it came from or what it might mean or what you might inadvertently communicate...)

    Not all stories fit that paradigm. But make sure your choice to include characters of varying ethnicities or cultures or whatever doesn't contradict itself. Do your research. Hire a Sensitivity Reader like you would an Editor for your work. Ask friends from those communities if your work rings true and is non-offensive. 'What we don't know' can inadvertently be a big deal.

    One other thing they did mention was the #OwnVoices movement and the inverted version of it that some seem to use against it: the idea that people of a specific minority are the only ones capable of writing stories or illustrating authentic characters from those minorities, and that given the interest in writing that embraces diversity (in 2015 fifteen publishing houses announced new imprints specifically for diversity titles), there is no place for white writers. That is simply not true. But if your goal as a white, 55-year-old male is to create a story about the experience of being a black woman, don't be naive and think your sympathy equates empathy. Respect your subject enough to strive to tell the best story in the most authentic way you can, and that means making an effort at hearing (and actively listening) to their voices and seeking out their expertise, perspectives, and impressions of your work.



  • @sigross thanks, I shall have to check out Stephen Wiltshire!



  • @Kevin-Longueil thanks I'll check out that video and learn more about Jorge Gutierrez!


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Coreyartus That's a great video. Love it!



  • @Lee-White said in PODCAST FEEDBACK NEEDED:

    One of the questions that I find more interesting than the one you are asking (which is "Should an illustrator have the skill to depict something from another culture and/or race?) is to look at what is currently available on the market and are we really being "overly PC" as you are suggesting?

    For example, If I walked into a children's book section of a library, and was blindfolded and asked to randomly pull books from the shelf, how many of those books would contain an african-american character? I would bet that if truly asked to do this, you would pull down hundreds of books before you happen to select one with an african-american character. Or, maybe you wouldn't even be able to randomly select one with an african american child as the lead.

    So a better question than the one you are asking is "If a professional illustrator can draw any race or culture out there, why are 99% of the books on the shelf only showing Caucasian kids? Why is there not more diversity to choose from? What should non white kids look at that shows them a version of themselves? These are much more interesting questions in my opinion.

    That's a very interesting question. If 99% of the books in your area are of white people, what are the demographics of your area? Is it the books don't reflect the demographics or that the books that sell and are stocked don't reflect the demographics? Bookstores will stock what sells and makes them money. But you posed an interesting question and I will stop at the book store in my town and go through a random stack and report what I find.



  • @Lee-White I imagine this could be a section of the podcast that bleeds out to other topics and brings vlback to previous discussed things yet is very strong related to this one.
    I would like to hear your take on pricing/paying services based on where the artists are from. It is frustrating to even imagine there are talented artists charging the 100th of their worth just because they are from "poor countries"



  • A person who has had vast experiences in life and has interacted with various individuals can build up their creative bank account and thus be able to draw from that knowledge to create characters from all walks of life.

    This is not rocket science.

    Have I flown to the moon? NO. But I can draw from my knowledge (I teach at the high school Alan Shepard attended) and I can do the research. I

    'm not a dog. But I can create all sorts of dogs based upon my knowledge, experiences and research on them.

    We have allowed ourselves to be influenced by the outside world to impose their opinions on our creative problem solving and creativity in general. We do not create "by committee". If I want my humans to be all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities, I'm going to present that. If I want it to reflect what is currently sitting in front of me in my high school classroom, then I'll draw that. (Which by the way is 17 white boys and 2 white girls..some have glasses...and all are working in Photoshop at the moment.) THAT is my reality. If it's not your reality where you live, then YOU create what you see and be fine with it. If I want to represent more diversity then I will research to see what a "typical" classroom looks like in the midwest, the southwest, the northwest, etc. But here in NH, THAT is my reality in the largest high school in our state.

    There are plenty of "old, white men" who draw beautiful characters of all kinds. And there are plenty of "old, white women" (like my 51 year old self) who can also draw beautiful characters of all kind. But I'm really with Will when it comes to children's books...I've been sticking with animal characters. I don't have the patience to deal with the obnoxious rants from people who are going to complain about the human characters I choose to illustrate. Or those who tell me I'm not "qualified" to draw someone who doesn't look like me.

    If they don't like it, they can draw their own.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @mrsdion Totally agree with you Christine! We established that any pro illustrator can and should be able to draw any job. And do it well! We are painting a TON of stuff we don't know about. So we can and should draw things that aren't around us in our daily lives. We would not make a living at this if it was any other way.

    But some of the more nuanced things we are discussing here are (note, I'm not attempting to answer any of these. Just noting they are worth discussing):

    1. Who actually gets hired for jobs? Is there a racial and/or gender bias and if so, why.
    2. If pro illustrators can draw any race or ethnicity, why are 90% of kids books about white kids?
    3. How does it affect someone growing up to not see themselves represented in books and media? (This is changing for the better thank goodness!)
    4. Do we have as many minorities that are being trained to actually be pro level and what obsticals do they face that maybe white people don't. Even just having people in your family that went to college is a HUGE factor in how someone will be supported in the decision to take on higher learning.
    5. In culturally sensitive books, should be book project be given to someone of that race/gender/etc. over someone who isn't that particular thing (talent level being equal of course)?
    6. How should illustrators prepare themselves for potential minefields when illustrating culturally sensitive material? (this is a huge topic, one that I've already experienced as a pro and you have to be ready for it).

    All super interesting questions (in my opinion) and again, I am not attempting to answer them per se, (or even need them answered). I just think it's worth discussing. I don't think it's obnoxious to talk about this stuff. I think it's interesting. It's sensitive for a lot of people and since I am a not a minority and haven't has to deal with this issue, I'm just gonna listen for a bit and see what I can learn.



  • @Lee-White I really like the summary of issues you've posted in this latest comment. There are issues you've listed that I initially wanted to delve into, but decided against because the first post seemed so focused on one particular aspect of the larger issues at hand.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @TessaW Thanks. I'm just starting to see the direction I want to take for this. Some bigger questions, but also some really usable ones for us as illustrators in today's market.

    Here's another:

    1. How much diversity should I include in a book dummy and is that even necessary?

    Let's use that as a hypothetical situation. @mrsdion said that she had 19 people in her class. 17 white boys and 2 white girls. Any illustrator is free to draw from the world around them. So say she does a picture book and the class in book has 19 white kids in it. She is drawing from what she knows and that is fine of course. BUT, if she submitted that to the big 5 publishers, would that stop her book from being sold? Publishers know that the current percentage of non-white kids in the US market is actually over 40% right now. So they know that a book with all white kids would be excluding more than 40% of the intended market (by next year minorities will actually be the majority of children in the US). Not to mention the typical 50/50 ratio of boys to girls. The other thing is if we market to the BIG 5 publishers, they are all in NY. In NY the diversity is WAY higher than most of the US. I can have up to 20 people at a publishing house looking at my work all at once in a meeting. If say, 70% of them are non white, my manuscript might be in trouble.

    Now, this brings up a couple of interesting questions. Would they reject it for that reason? What if I do include diversity in my manuscript, is that pandering? Whew, it gets tricky real quick. But as illustrators we need to get a feel for this type of thing. It comes up A LOT in acquisition meetings when publishers are deciding on which books to make a bid on.

    Interesting right!? And confusing!! I like @mrsdion's idea of only using animals from now on. It easily solves the issue! haha! : )



  • @Lee-White I absolutely agree with your exploration of the 7 questions you have posed. And you’re right, it’s good to have discussions about this. My statements below may open a WHOLE other can of worms....but it creates discussion. While my classroom reflects the reality in my high school (I have 1 black student out of approximately 90 students), if I were to illustrate my stories with people instead of animals, I would incorporate a wider diversification. But I have to keep in mind that when rendering ethnicities that aren’t “black” or “white”, the color choices used or the features to draw can cause even MORE problems...such as just how much “olive” or “yellow” or “light umber” do I put in the other ethnicities. Am I being “tokenistic” if I slant the eyes too much...or not enough??? Who gets to decide how much change needs to be done to my illustrations? If “Latinos” and “Blacks” don’t get along in one area of the country but they do in other areas, which version gets depicted? Is that boy Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or Japanese?....the list goes on.

    That being said, (and I may catch some disagreement here, but I’m “going there” because I think it’s the “elephant in the room”) there is another “diversification”. I will not illustrate books that delve into the controversial areas of “gender identity”. I am surrounded by it every day. I have a caring and open relationship with my students who will often confide in me what is going on in their lives. I have girls that want to be called by boy names; girls that are wearing chest binders; students who want to be referred to as “they”, boys that want to be referred to as “she” and who are taking medications to stop the normal hormones in their bodies. I love these kids and my heart breaks for them as I watch them struggle and I listen to their stories. It’s a “coming of age” that I certainly didn’t experience in high school. But it all started in their childhood.

    Am I supposed to be illustrating those topics in children’s books? Am I supposed to be contributing to that mainstream narrative? I cannot be a part of what is causing these young teens to be in such turmoil. I see the end results of this social experiment. Many of these teens have grown up without honesty and stability in their lives. I want to illustrate stories for our children that show hope, love and stability within a family unit and not stories that are contributing to their turmoil or confusion. Another reason to stick with animals.

    Then there are library story hours that are featuring “drag queens”, teaching children how to “twerk”. This is something I strongly oppose. They have taken the library, where the beloved children’s books that I grew up reading, the books that I would get lost in that had good and positive themes were found, and turned it into a dark and scary place. It is a world that no young child should be exposed to as they do not have the cognitive development or formal thinking skills to properly process the information in a rational, understandable manner.

    Hence, another reason why I will stick with animals.

    Your #6 question may be a reference to the “minefield” that is out there. I know that as an illustrator I will most likely be working through much smaller publishing houses. I’m fine with that. I am not putting all my eggs into the illustration basket and my multiple streams of income will continue to support me (shout out to Podcast #39 Starting an Online Shop.)

    I’ve been teaching for 28 years. The world of children and why I got into teaching has changed into something that I do not recognize. I grew up with the survival/adventure stories of “Little House on the Prairie”. Good, clean, wholesome, family stories. I was a top winner in the annual “Read-a-thon” and read so many books. I had a passion for reading. I always chose the picture books to read for their beautiful illustrations (sorry Jake I had the Richard Scarry books and I hated the illustrations! LOL. Even though they were animals! They just weren’t “beautiful” in my eyes.)

    When I walk into a major book seller and I peruse the picture book shelves, there are some wonderful choices. But too often I have to dig past the books pushing political ideologies or books focused on the mindset of the adult and not on the inquisitive curiosities of an innocent child, in order to find a book that takes a child on a wonderful journey into their imagination. I LOVED being transported in a story to a place that was simply amazing! I want my illustrations and my stories to take young children on that very same journey!

    I may have digressed into an area you did not intend to explore. But when I saw the word “diversity”, and it comes to the public high school classroom, these days it means so much more than just skin color or abilities. These kids come to us with a LOT of baggage from their early childhood years. I have to take a stand on what I will promote in the illustrations I create because it will have an effect on the reader (as you were effected as noted in Podcast #18 The Life Cycle of a Children’s Book.)



  • Please do press on and make this one Lee, it's tremendously important.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @mrsdion I wouldn't worry about that particular topic too much as a children's book illustrator. The chances of being offered a book like that is almost zero (even from NY publishers). In doing this for 20 years I've never been offered anything like that. And even if you were offered that, you could just decline it.

    So that issue might be a like .01 % of the stories being offered to illustrators, the other things I mentioned above will affect a huge number of stories. Things like race, gender equality, and handicaps are going to be much more prevalent than the subject you were mentioning. Rarely will a children's book venture into anything having to do with sexual preference and identity. I'm sure that is out there too, but it's a very small percentage.


  • SVS OG

    This could be a multiple part series. There may be too many points and skimming over them isn’t going to cover it in the quality you want. But hey, that gives you lots of topics. Will coveted this a long time ago with an interview on YouTube. Bring that guy back. He was great.


  • SVS OG

    I happened to be at a bookstore right after reading this thread so I checked the Children’s book section. This is a large chain book store in upstate New York. The majority of picture books have animal characters or are based on commercial characters (e.g. Disney). Of the rest, most of them feature white people as the only characters or as the main character. (Sidekicks might be diverse but they are the sidekicks.) Interestingly, children of color when they are the main character tend to be in books that are deliberately “you can be anything you want to be” kinds of books or books that explore the character’s culture. It’s nice to see that effort to help kids see themselves in a variety of careers etc but I saw very few (less than .01%) that featured a child of color as the main character in a general audience storybook with a story line that is just meant to entertain not necessarily teach or “uplift.” When it came to gender, there was more of a balance - there were lots of girls featured as main characters even in adventure stories or silly stories.

    As a side note, I was also made aware that lots of the people in this forum are waaaaay better illustrators than a lot of what’s out there 🙂


  • Pro

    @demotlj Interesting observations! I also have to agree with that last sentence 🙂 When in a book store I often look at the art and find myself thinking along the lines of "@Braden-Hallett would have done a better job" or "This would have fit @Judy-Elizabeth-Wilson 's art really well and her style is cuter" or "@Whitney-Simms does better watercolor" There really is an unbelievably high level here ❤


  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration Ness, thank you. 💛💜💙💚❤ We have some great talent on the forum and with smart discussions and in depth thinking on topics such as this one, we will have so much to offer the world of publishing. Well, you are already there! I love your nativity illustrations you just did! 😀


Log in to reply