I am a white woman. It's funny, because I don't think about this much. Besides being a fairly oblivious nerd who is often unconscious about my own appearance, (except for special events and nights out, when I shed my stay at home mom exterior and revel in things like jewelry, wrap dresses, heels and make up) I am surrounded and loved and love and adore many people in my life who are many different shades of brown. My husband is from India, my children are varying shades of brown and skin color has become something that is almost irrelevant to me.
I no longer notice when I am the only person in the room who is white and I try to teach my children this attitude of not noticing a person's skin color first. This has not always been, I was raised in a smallish town in the south and it was painfully important which racial group everyone belonged to. When I started dating my husband, one of my family members first questions was "How dark is he?"
Fast forward to my illustration career starting up and my first book being published and my daughter who is 10 years old now, becoming interested in my art. One day, as she was looking at my portfolio, I noticed that there were no brown children. Dear God, how could I have been so blind? Was it because, we are naturally inclined to draw something that reflects ourselves and thus I had reached for lighter skin tones to reflect my mirror image? Was it because I thought that there are so many talented artists of color that create images that reflect themselves, perhaps…just perhaps I would offend someone by creating images that did not reflect my skin color? That somehow, we are supposed to only create children that look like the the artists who create them?
Upon reflection, and looking at my world, I realized that this was a load of bull. For the sake of my children and the people in my family, I needed to create children in different shades. Children who are brown or white and like my kids, not this color or that color but shades between the traditionally accepted and categorized.
So, I have been trying to be conscious of this. I have been successful in adding a few pieces and want my latest book (when it's published 😉 to contain two princesses of different races. Because, while we have a long way to go towards equality and fairness, I want my children to grow up as blind as possible to the color of someone's skin.
So, as an illustrator I will do my best to have my portfolio reflect their world and life. So, as I was creating my latest piece, I was happy with the steps it took and how it was shaping up…
initial sketch, based on my daughter around 3 years old.
But something was bothering me. It took walking away to figure out that it was that I had inadvertently made the skin too light. It no longer looked like my daughter. So, after fiddiling around a bit…
Now, it looked like I had initially pictured and it most importantly, it was something my daughter could look at and see herself reflected… And, that's what is important to me. It is a subtle difference, perhaps not even noticeable by someone else. But, she will notice it and that is what matters.