January 31, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #234: London Ladd

I am so excited to kick off 2023 by sharing my interview with award-winning illustrator London Ladd! London most recently illustrated You So Black, a poem by Theresa Tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D, and the book is a designer's dream. You So Black is all about celebrating Black joy, and it was such a joy, in turn, talking to London about how he developed Theresa's poem into a picture book for kids. Enjoy our conversation and a peek behind the curtain of how this book was made!

About the book:
Black is everywhere, and in everything, and in everyone--in the night sky and the fertile soil below. It's in familial connections and invention, in hands lifted in praise and voices lifted in protest, and in hearts wide open and filled with love. Black is good.

Accompanied by powerful yet tender illustrations by award-winning illustrator London Ladd, Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. has adapted her poem, full of gorgeous lyricism and imagery, to show readers the love, joy, resilience, and universality in the beauty of Blackness.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk London Ladd!

LTPB: How did you first hear of Theresa Tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.’s poem “You So Black,” and why did you decide to turn it into a picture book, also called You So Black?

LL: Someone from the publisher messaged me on Instagram a video link of Theresa performing it with the possibility of me illustrating it. The idea of me putting into pictures what Theresa put into words intrigued and terrified me all at the same time.

LTPB: What struck you most about Theresa’s words?

LL: Many things!! Her cadence and delivery. They weren’t just words she spoke but something deeper she shared with us; To feel, understand, live and breathe it. It’s difficult to convey in words I’m saying...like a spiritual affirmation. She articulated Black representation so well in a way that gives strength, honesty, and love. Everything that makes Black so beautiful. Theresa’s poem had such an impact on me that my grad school thesis was about Black Representation.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book?

LL: Representation of Blackness in a way that is genuine and honest. Where the artwork is a reflection of Black people, as shown through Theresa’s words.

LTPB: What did you find most rewarding?

LL: So many things!!! The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the publishing team, especially Denene and Theresa. Theresa’s opinion meant a lot because of how important You so Black means to her. Denene Millner because she saw something in my work years ago that appealed to her. Also, the art directors and editors were extremely supportive of my artistic vision for this book. And lastly pushing myself to create artwork that is so close to my heart visually.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? 

LL: Mixed media of acrylic paint on colored paper cut/torn into shapes, tissue paper, palette knife, brayer, just about anything nearby in my studio that will create the most interesting textures for a particular piece. I love it because it’s all me, heart and soul. It took years to figure things out stylistically, and I’m still learning each day with each piece of artwork and project, but I truly love what I do and am passionate about it. This approach is absolutely the truest representation of me: loose, free, organic, and emotive. 

LPTB: How does your process change from book to book? 

LL: It depends on the theme, whether it’s Blackness, the universe creating a child, a child’s relationship with the American flag, or Black hair. Each project has its own theme, charm, color palette, and subject matter unique from each other, so the colors will vary, compositions differ,

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

LL: My Hair is Book by Maisha Oso. It’s an amazing book and excited to be a part of it. I can't show anything at this moment. I’m in the early stages of creating the images and don’t want to spoil anything. I’m sorry.

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?

LL: There isn’t anybody i could think of at the moment which sticks out, BUT I have a list of Black authors, dead and alive, I’d love to work with because I’m a fan of their work.

A big thank you to London for talking to me about this beautiful book! You So Black published last month from Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers!

Special thanks to London and Denene Millner for use of these images!

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