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Shadra Strickland is an award winning author and illustrator and she’s living her childhood dream. Her illustrations are an instant magnet that will have you wrapped in the story’s adventure. Her first picture book Bird won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2009. Strickland talks about what it meant to win such honoring awards and her process of creating fun whimsical and diverse characters in books. Strickland also shares her views on the power of storytelling in pictures and her proudest moment.

Keyundra: Did you always know that you wanted to become an author and illustrator?
Shadra: I always liked drawing and writing stories, comics, and songs when I was young. It wasn’t until I had finished college and started teaching elementary school art that I figured out I wanted to be a picture book illustrator. I would read picture books to my students each morning and thought, I can make these too!

Keyundra: How do you embrace cultures of the characters in your illustrations?
Shadra: Living an inclusive life and being curious about many different cultures and human experiences helps me bring another layer to my art.  

It frees me so that I can add personality traits and truths from many different types of people in my life. The more I believe in the thing I’m drawing, the more life it will have on paper.

Keyundra: Is it different for each book?
Shadra: Unfortunately, yes, each book is different. It could be as subtle as color palette, but most times I try to push myself to grow as an artist. That means constantly trying new techniques and tools when I’m working. The preliminary steps are the same though. I begin each project with research, and from there make small thumbnail sketches of all of the ideas that come to mind from the story. I send that to my editor and once agree on the overall pacing and concepts for the book, I begin to make the final illustrations.

Keyundra: You have won many awards. What was your most proud moments?
Shadra: My proudest moment is always finishing a book! Lol
Winning the John Steptoe Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Award in the same year was a huge accomplishment for me.
It was the validation I needed to assure me that I had made the right decision with my life and following my childhood passion.

Keyundra: You have a class on Craftsy! Could you tell us about your class?
Shadra: The class I teach on Craftsy is called The Art of the Picturebook. I teach at Maryland Institute College of Art and the online class is a condensed version of what I teach there. Many of my online students are working on self-published projects, or are making books for people they know. I have a few high schoolers and college level students as well. One of my online students actually published the books that she created in class. The great thing about the class is that students have access to the lessons forever and can learn at their own pace.

Keyundra: As a professor are you constantly being introduced to new trends?
Shadra: I am interested in what’s out there because I’m naturally curious. I also like to stay current to share the most recent ideas and trends with my students. I don’t have any favorites though. I think it’s interesting to see how far digital art has come. Between Wacom tablets, Cintiqs, etc. digital tools are steadily evolving and I’m excited to see how it effects art in the future. Trends change everyday. There are new artists that pop up on my radar every now and then, but not because they are trendy. There has to be more to an artist than a trendy style to survive a career in the arts.

Keyundra: Is there power in storytelling in pictures for any age?
Shadra: I think so. We are moving more and more to a visual society. Though language may still separate us, images are universal and quickly absorbed.

Keyundra: What are some favorite art supplies for students of all ages?
Shadra: I’m a traditionalist…pen and paper is still my favorite. I encourage all of my students to purchase a good sketchbook, brush pen, and a gouache set for location drawing. Other than that, try everything!

Keyundra: What are three things you must have while you are working?
Shadra: Coffee…sweatpants….peace & quiet

Keyundra: Do you still get excited when you see your work in the world?
Shadra: YES! It never gets old…even when my paperbacks have come out, it’s just so cool to know that the work has a new life and will find its way to more and more people.  That is thrilling to me also.  I try to deliver my best work each time, so when a book is released, I am elated to know that it will be shared with others.

Keyundra: How do you sprinkle your day with fun?
Shadra: I stay so busy most days that there isn’t a lot of room for play. I’m lucky though because being an artist everyday is the most fun life can get for me…even when the work is slowly going.