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.
Yesterday, I was waiting in the back room at my eye doctor’s office, scrolling through my facebook feed before I was cut off from electronic communication for a few hours. I saw a notice that my daughter’s (and several surrounding) schools were on lockdown. I immediately jumped up, ran through the maze of waiting people and slightly shocked receptionists and asked my husband (who was sitting in the waiting area) if he knew what the heck was going on. He didn’t, but started searching. (He’s quite good at retrieving information) After a few minutes, he informed me that there had been a shooting in a residential neighborhood close to ours and the schools had locked down as a precaution.
The schools lifted the lockdown in time for pick up, and my daughter explained exactly what had happened during the lock in procedure. They have had a few drills before, and each time she tells me the details of the safety procedures, her own fears and how the teachers (masterfully) walk them through each step I tear up. I hide these from my daughter, I don’t want to frighten her. But, I (the adult) am scared.
As I sat at the computer this morning, reading updates and emails from friends, the dark pit in my stomach grew and I sat feeling helpless. Then I remembered (I often forget) that I do have an outlet that comforts and soothes. It is the art of creation. It doesn’t have to be for anyone else, it does’t have to be beautiful and anyone (regardless of talent or schooling) can do it.
It is the thing that we as writers and artists are compelled to do and for me provides glimmers of hope, of moving forward and of adding things to this sometimes scary world. I am the type or person to cry at the news. I don’t read the paper everyday because I am easily able to slide into the pit of despair and frustration that I can’t change something or save someone. But I can do my best to keep my kids safe and to comfort them and remind them of the good things in life and the possibility of magic in the world. The kindness of strangers, the joy of creation, the power of imagination.
Even if it is not creating a piece of writing or painting, it can be the act of using their imagination in a game of superheroes, or of turning a blob of playdoh into a dessert for a king. It is the joy of putting something new into the world, even if it is destroyed by a grumpy sibling or is cleaned up by a parent tired of stepping on legos.
It is putting something new and good back into the world that keeps me hopeful.
2013 was a big year. And it was due to the support and kindness of so many people.
Thank you so much to my husband, family, friends, editor, agent, book sellers, librarians, kids, fellow writers and illustrators, teachers, fans and readers of Maya was Grumpy.
You guys (every single one of you and anyone I forgot) are truly awesome and make me work harder each day to improve my craft and try to be a better artist and person and made 2013 a year to remember.
It was the year of….
First book published, holding it in my hands for the first time.
seeing it in Barnes & Noble for the first time in NY. (I might have been a little excited)
First panel at Books of Wonder.
First reading at Hooray for Books.
First batch of release day book cookies.
First sightings of Maya by friends and family around the country.
IndieNext Kids Top 10 Summer selection.
Presenting at the June SCBWI NJ Conference.
Scholastic picked up Maya.
Went to Italy.
*other fabulous firsts that I don't have photographic evidence of, being interviewed by Jarrett J. Krosoczka for his awesome radio program, Booktalk and presenting at my first bookfair, Fall for the Book. (I resolve to document more events in 2013)
Here's to a fabulous 2014, full of new opportunities and dreams!