March 21, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #241: Steph Littlebird

I recently got a chance to talk to artist, curator, writer, and now picture book illustrator Steph Littlebird about My Powerful Hair, written by Carole Lindstrom. We discussed Steph's deep connection to Carole's manuscript and how her work always serves to educate people about the history of Indigenous people in America. I'm proud to share that interview here with you all today.

About the book:
Our ancestors say our hair is our memories,
our source of strength and power,
a celebration of our lives.

Mom never had long hair–she was told it was too wild. Grandma couldn't have long hair--hers was taken from her. But one young girl can't wait to grow her hair long: for herself, for her family, for her connection to her culture and the Earth, and to honor the strength and resilience of those who came before her.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Steph Littlebird!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of My Powerful Hair? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Carole Lindstrom’s text?

SL: I was approached to be the illustrator for this project by Abrams Kids and Carole Lindstrom. The story connects to my own personal history as an Indigenous person, and I was flooded with memories of my grandmother and Native family. The book touches on some painful history related to the Indian Boarding School era, so it was important that my artwork honored the gravity of Carole's story. The biggest challenge I had was imagining how to depict some of the cultural concepts around our connection to the land. So, a lot of the first images that popped into my head were related to landscape, plants, and how I could combine them with the human body to convey the important lessons contained in My Powerful Hair. I ultimately want children of all backgrounds to understand that they are intrinsically connected to the land.

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

SL: This was my first children's book, so it was definitely difficult from the standpoint of experience. I was challenged to come up to speed and learn as I made my way through the process. Now that I've finished the book, I am so grateful for the experience because I learned so much about how books get made, but also gained so many new skills. This project strengthened my drawing abilities and has opened up lots of new professional opportunities.

LTPB: Can you tell us about what you do outside of children’s book illustration?

SL: I am a professional artist, writer and curator. When I'm not illustrating book covers or children's stories, I am usually working on projects that support my community. For example, my most recent exhibition This IS Kalapuyan Land opened at the historic Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon this February. This exhibit is a hybrid of local Indigenous history and contemporary Native art. I have a passion for educating people about my tribe's history and the history of Indigenous people in America, so I also lecture regularly on these topics.

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

SL: I mainly worked with the iPad and Procreate. I have experience in Adobe but have found that Procreate is far more accessible and easy-to-use when it comes to illustrating book content. I went to art school for painting, so that's my most favorite medium. Right now though, I rarely get studio time because most of my jobs are in the digital realm. Hoping to do some more painting after I return from the book tour with Carole!

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

SL: Right now I'm actually on vacation. I've been working non-stop for the last two years and finally took a break, to rest my body and mind before embarking on the book tour for My Powerful Hair. However, recently I was asked to do a portrait of a tribal ancestor named Shumkhi based on written descriptions of her. Shumkhi passed away before cameras were invented, so my tribe only has written stories about her. It was a neat project where I had to imagine what my ancestor might look like and create an image that honored her life.

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?

SL: As a young artist there were many creatives from history that I admired, but Ralph Steadman remains my favorite illustrator of all time. His drawings are always so energetic and free. He will use any medium he can get his hands on, from markers and ink, to women's cosmetics including lipstick and eyeliner. His process is so raw and inspires me every time I see his work. I'd be honored to have my life represented in his iconic style.

A big thank you to Steph for talking to me about her artistic process for this powerful book. My Powerful Hair publishes TODAY from Abrams Books Young Readers.

Special thanks to Steph and Abrams for use of these images!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my policies & disclosures page

No comments:

Post a Comment