• SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Hey guys, we need some input from you! We are starting to test the waters on doing a podcast that brings up the topic of culture, race, gender, etc. in illustration. Asking questions like What is cultural appropriation? Does an illustrators race, gender, etc. matter when they write or illustrate a book? Is it ok for someone of one race to illustrate a book about characters from another culture? etc.

    This is very emotional subject matter and we want to be respectful when bringing it up. We also know that Jake, Will, and I are all white and male. So we would definitely have some guests with different race/gender/etc. on this one to give different perspectives.

    What is your take on this? Would you want to hear a podcast about this? Is there anything in particular you would want us to cover? We are just feeling it out right now and may or may not do the episode. It's such a loaded subject and we don't want to accidentally start a war! : )

    Let me know what you think! Thanks!

  • Moderator

    @Lee-White Is there a possibility of having a guest speaker, maybe? Someone who has expertise in diversity in illustration? I know this is a hot topic with a number of SCBWI chapters lately... Is there a possibility of finding an Art Director who might be okay guesting on the subject? As much as I value the opinions and perspectives of you three, maybe there is someone whom you can invite tho share their experiences?

    I wonder if writers and illustrators might have different kinds of challenges that might help narrow the approach to the episode(s)?

    It is indeed a loaded subject, you're right--and parsing it all out in a single episode could be really challenging. But kudos to you for wanting to consider ways to engage with it at all. The issue is a real thing that illustrators need to be aware of, and an episode like that could really benefit developing (and working) practitioners.

  • Amazing!

    I dont think this is talked about enough and I think you being white men and also worked in the industry for a while, taking on a topic like this is very crucial.

    I think It’s ok to write and draw characters from different backgrounds than yourself but it is important to be respectful and you need to be aware of the message you are sending. It can be very easy to have blind spots and be led by unconscious biases. Do the research, ask people whose point of view on this topic you respect. Another thing I notice happens frequently is when creatives that are white men take on this topic they get more pats on the back for taking on these topics than creative professionals from minority backgrounds do. So I’m of the opinion that if you take this on, the guests you bring on should be women and PoC so you are using your platform to amplify their voices rather than speak for or over them.

  • I think this is an important topic that applies to many. I think it would only be beneficial to do it. I like the idea of a guest speaker though. If there were ever a topic to bring in guest...this would be it.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Coreyartus yep, we would be having different people on with a variety of race/gender etc. so we have a wide perspective.

  • I would love to hear more about this topic!! Two things that come to my mind:

    • I think it would be interesting to explore the role of 'breadth' (showing variety and diversity with respect to race/gender/culture in illustration) and 'depth' (being able to depict or investigate a certain race/gender/culture going beyond the obvious and in a realistic and profound way).

    • I would also love to hear thoughts on the concept of 'diversity' in itself and hear different opinions with respect to the importance of defining reality vs the importance of staying away from the temptation to label everything.

    Once I attended a super nice talk from Toca Boca (producers of many famous apps) on the topic and they have a very interesting perspective on this subject matter since diversity is at the core of every experience they design. These guys could also be an interesting guest BTW.

    Hope you guys will end up doing it!

  • 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.

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