Sharjah24: Ideas are everywhere and you just have to be open to seeing them, remarked American author-illustrator Vashti Harrison as she showed her young audience at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) 2022 how she drew Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. on the skin of half a green apple. The 13th edition of SCRF, running in Expo Centre Sharjah until May 22, has the theme ‘Create Creativity’.
“I just do that all the time because that is what creativity is,” she told a crowd of middle schoolers who observed and listened in fascination as she showed them how to draw captivating images and read out to them from her biographies of famous people written specifically for young readers. Harrison, whose Hello, Star and Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History are among her numerous New York Times best-sellers, also gave them tips and tricks to put into their artwork.
“When I work with books, I always start with sketches and they are messy,” she explained how her art takes colour and shape. She felt it important to share that it doesn’t all go in one step, and uses tools ranging from computer, iPad, Photoshop, paper and pencils to get the final product. Harrison, who has also illustrated picture books debunking racial stereotyping such as Hair Love by Oscar-winning director and footballer Mathew A. Cherry and Sulwe by actress Lupita Nyong of Star Wars fame, told them how she imagines everything that goes into a page from a few crisp verbal instructions.
The African-American artist with Caribbean Indian roots demonstrated how she could convert black and white outlines of people into colour images of her dad Ted and mom Chandra. She then went on to show them how to draw a girl’s picture, using a lot of ‘lazy Cs’ and a couple of Ss and 3s towards the end for hair curls.
Regarding the hurdles in the path of writers, Harrison pointed out that there is no one way to be an artist, and “you try out different things and learn from mistakes”. Rejections do not lessen your value as an artist or invalidate your work, she noted. She said she was lucky she had supportive people in her life, even if they didn’t always understand what she was doing. But what had been important was that she get over her fear – of mistakes – and continue to work hard, Harrison pointed out.
In reply to the volley of questions from her fans, she said that her favourite book to draw was Hello, Star while the book she enjoyed writing the most was Little Dreamers: Visionary Women from Around the World even though it was the most challenging since she had to teach herself history and science to be able to do it. Her dream project, she answered a student, is to turn her works into animated movies and television shows.
“What inspires me to draw now is sharing my work with young people, and I love talking to young artists,” Harrison noted. The popularity of the young author was evident when her books sold out in a matter of minutes during the book signing ceremony at the end of her session.
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