Becoming a better illustrator: how to draw more inclusively

 It's been a weird old year- in-between lockdowns, elections and crazy weather, it's been humbling to watch the development and conversation surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. Personally, it's given me pause for thought, and made me think about how I can be a better ally. To be totally honest, it can be easy to sit back and think 'well I'm not racist'. However, after doing a lot of reading (among others- Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad), I came to the uncomfortable realisation that I'm definitely not doing enough.  And none of us are every doing enough! And sitting with that discomfort is important and should push us to be better. Acknowledging and challenging the position of living in a world where your race (white) is often seen as the default is hugely important, and it's vital to make your decisions with that in mind.

So, after taking a look at my personal life, I also felt I should turn that same scrutiny onto my work. A lot of my work features people, and really, people of colour have not featured in a large way in my work. My first reaction to this goes through a few different thoughts- I sometimes think I probably should 'stick to what I know', feeling as if illustrators who have a more authentic experience of life as a POC would represent those characters better. I also feel as if representing those characters might take work away from those illustrators (who are already very under-represented- between 2007 and 2017, only 9%* of children's book illustrators are people of colour (BookTrust Survey)). There's also the ever present worry about 'getting it right'- which applies to most of my work, about most subjects- but the worry that a mistake or oversight on my part might offend or cause upset is always a concern.

Following this, I decided (as usual) to do some reading. I found an incredible wealth of articles on the subject (of which I'll leave a few below)- Meg Robinchaud's article for Wix really made me think about how we choose our illustration styles, and how that has an impact on how diversity is represented in the work that we produce. It also made me think about how it's very important to not just represent what you know- because that's really boring! There is something to be said for showing your culture, your personality and your lived experience, but if I drew pictures of only labradors (my family dog), lanky white people (me) and messy desks covered in used tea mugs (guilty), my illustrations would be incredibly dull. I loved the part about over correcting- if you strive actively to include POC in your illustrations, in whatever you do, it will be a positive move towards showing a more representative cast of characters in illustration as a whole. 

With this aim in mind, I started some more in depth research- a lot of my characters and drawings are of people I've made up in my head, and so are drawn off the cuff. I started using some more reference images, particularly from the Humanae Institute (who take great straight on pictures of the whole gamut of human faces) to introduce some more variety into the hairstyles and face shapes I use. I also watched some brilliant videos on Youtube about colour mixing for skin tones that has improved my mixing of skin tones across all shades, not just the darker end of the spectrum. Learning about how cooler and warmer undertones affect how skin looks is very simple, but can make your work look a lot more realistic (as realistic as you can be with dot eyes and round blushy cheeks). 

It was also important to make some stylistic decisions about how I would represent different facial features, so that my POC characters weren't just 'darker white people' (which Meg Robinchaud mentioned in the article linked above). The faces I draw are quite simple, so I think for me it's quite important to research hairstyles, and to also try to make subtle changes to the way I draw noses and lips for example, in order to give those characters an identity. Having this background research, and a determination to change will make it easier to implement these features when I come to creating a commission or a piece at short notice.

Although it can sometimes feel like an impossible problem to solve by just drawing a bit differently, and that we won't really make a difference, using our drawn worlds as a place where nothing is impossible, and we can produce an idyllic, anti-racist place where everyone is welcome is a great place to start.

Excellent articles that I encourage you to read too:

We are DYING to see ourselves anywhere (Mira Jacob)

Diversity in Illustration (Harriet Lee Merrion)

Illustrating a More Inclusive Brand

Excellent books to further your reading on anti-racism:

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite

Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

*8.62% of children's book illustrators between 2007 and 2017 were people of colour, and POC illustrators of unique books (not varying editions) was only 4.98%.