April 12, 2022

Let's Talk Illustrators #210: Daria Peoples

I recently got a chance to catch up with author-illustrator Daria Peoples, illustrator most recently of Angela Dalton's Show the World. Daria has created and worked on many meaningful books over the years, and Show the World is no exception, with a focus on self-expression and developing a unique point of view. Check out my conversation with Daria below!

About the book:
Look around! Can you see?
The many spaces, places, and ways to
show the world all that you can be?

From painting, music, and slam poetry, to engineering, protesting, and photography, a young narrator journeys through her neighborhood, encouraging readers to explore all the many ways they can express themselves. A gorgeously illustrated and powerful celebration of self-expression shows children that there are so many spaces and opportunities to use their voices--and show the world exactly who they are.

What will you show the world?

Let's talk Daria Peoples!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Show the World? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Angela Dalton’s text?

DP: I’m not quite sure! I’m always a little hesitant to do too much research or give much thought as to why I’m chosen for certain projects. I’ve learned to trust that the right stories for me will find their way to me! It is always a wonderful surprise when my agent sends me a new manuscript to consider.

The voice in Show The World is an unnamed narrator who seemed to be a quiet, but enthusiastic spirit observing and imagining the world a little more closely than others. I asked our editor who Angela had in mind as the narrator. She told me she envisioned a young girl walking around her community admiring her friend’s creative passions.

I dreamed Angela’s girl had a creative passion of her own as well, and the first image that popped into my mind was a girl who loves photography. It should be no surprise that I love photography. It was my first creative passion. (To this day, I still pretend to be a traveling photographer.) After our young heroine returns home from capturing her friends in their creative elements, she curates a Show The World photo book.

I also imagined this little girl lived with her grandmother. At the time I was illustrating Show The World, my grandmother’s health was rapidly declining. However, it wasn’t until the second round of sketches or so until I realized who the grandmother was in relation to me. I used to spend every summer with my grandmother as a young girl, and one of my fondest memories was helping her hang the laundry on the clothesline. I have to admit my subconscious worked on my behalf unintentionally.

And because the vision of the book is to capture Black joy, the city of Oakland seemed like the only plausible setting. It is Angela’s city and our West Coast Harlem, and a community I believe needs to be preserved and expanded with Black consciousness at its core in order for the next generation to thrive.  

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in illustrating Show the World? What did you find most rewarding?

DP: There wasn’t anything about the book itself that was difficult to create, but the circumstances I was enduring while I was illustrating Show The World were extremely challenging. As a result, I was probably more mindful and intentional of conveying joy, constantly asking my characters if they were happy and having fun. I often found myself smiling and laughing as they were. Illustrating this book during that time definitely pulled me through a very rough patch, and that was most rewarding.

When I illustrate for other authors, I don’t often create the heroine’s story arc, so I also appreciated the rewarding opportunity I had to create a visual narrative for the main character.

LTPB: What is the first thing you do when you receive a new project? How do you make a conscious effort to tailor your illustration style to each new manuscript?

DP: I read the manuscript multiple times with the purpose of memorizing as much of it as possible, almost as if it is a script, and I am an actor. During this time, I’m thinking about the story a lot, its characters, daydreaming about the world they live in, and imagining all of the story’s possibilities. It’s hard for me not to commit to an idea once it begins to live outside of me, so I prevent myself from drawing too soon.

When I know the manuscript well, and I have a good feel for where to begin, I hide it from myself, and begin sketching thumbnails. I had the extraordinary opportunity to be mentored by Floyd Cooper, and he taught me to do this. It’s something I continue to do each time I approach a new project. He encouraged me to remember the story by sketching pictures sequentially without giving too much concern for structure or form. Although, he was so good at it, editors would tell the author to revise the text to accommodate his narrative!

I learned to honor story first, and now, I never want the structure and form of a picture book to restrict my imagination. It’s a pliable form, a container that is much more expansive than it gets credit for in our industry. With each project, I challenge myself to push its perceived boundaries.

There are several rounds of sketching picture story thumbnails. Often, they they are not linear and take many different paths (as you can see). I will keep sketching until a path seems to be more direct than others. I really do want the illustrations to determine their own clear direction for me.

Once I choose a path, I begin to see how the words fits in. There is always negotiation until the day the sketches are due to the art director.

After final sketches are approved, I work out final art on one spread. I usually submit that spread for approval, then keep moving. But it’s that first spread I return to as my reference guide during the completion of final art. This was that spread for Show the World.

The only difference between me illustrating someone else’s text and my own is I usually write and revise my text as a result of the visual story. However, in early stages, I’m drawing and writing in my head. Words and pictures begin interacting in my imagination long before I write and draw the story out. I know it’s the right time to begin when one or both are moving too fast and expanding too large to live in my thoughts. And in my own work, the project grows the most through the revision process with my editor. We're both learning how to trust this step of my process much more.

I don’t know if I have an illustration style, but I do believe I have an artistic voice. I never tailor my voice. Well, I couldn’t if I tried. It is what it is, the breath of my work, a continuation of me as an artist. But if we are talking about mediums and techniques I use, how I express my artistic voice for each manuscript, then I would say my style for the manuscript definitely depends on the heart of the story.

I don’t always get to do what I want to do. As an artist, I think my responsibility is to serve the story. The story doesn’t serve me. All of my creative choices serve the heart of the story, and this is always a little more challenging when I don’t write the story. It is also the reason why I like LOVE illustrating texts written in a similar voice as my own work. It is much easier for me to get closer to those stories as the illustrator. Show The World is definitely one of those texts.

In Show the World, I wanted the art style to be reflective of another child who was also apart of the story, demonstrating a creative passion for making art. Children like using a variety of color, and anything they can find to make art. So, Show the World is collaged and painted and glued with oil paint and pastels and acrylic and tissue paper and construction paper and pretty much everything I have in my studio. It was a fun book to make and very messy.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book?

DP: My preferred medium is pencil and charcoal. Simple, and so beautiful.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

DP: I am working on my next book for Greenwillow/HarperCollins. It is called Hello, Mister Blue. Here are some early sketches!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

DP: Faith Ringgold. Hands down. Why? So many. But here’s the only one that matters: She should be a Caldecott Medalist, and who wouldn’t want a Caldecott Medalist to illustrate their autobiography?

A million thanks to Daria for taking time to answer some questions! Show the World published from Viking Books for Young Readers earlier this month!

Special thanks to Daria and Viking for use of these images!

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