Tag Archives: illustrator

Photo of the Day

Okay so we don’t have a photo of the day segment but it seemed the best tag for this image these images of Antiguan and Barbudan artist Zavian Archibald, fresh from the facebook #artistchallenge.

Zavian is captured at the Best of Books Bookstore (photo source) holding copies of Barbara A. Arrindell’s Turtle Beach, which she illustrated, and my (Joanne C. HIllhouse’s) book The Jungle Outside, both from the Harper Collins international Big Cat series of children’s books. Both books had their UK release in January, becoming available in other markets after that.

From Fish Outta Water

Zavian, a professional artst, art educator, and illustrator, has previously worked on Fish Outta Water (now Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure illustrated by Danielle Boodoo Fortune) by Joanne C. Hillhouse. To find and commission her, see our listing of publishing and publishing related professionals.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, The Jungle Outside, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Lost! Book Chat

November 30th 2017 was publication day for my latest book, the children’s picture book, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure  which tells the story of Dolphin, an Arctic seal who finds himself stranded in the Caribbean.

On December 1st 2017, the illustrator (Trinidad and Tobago artist and poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné), publisher (CaribbeanReads), and I (author Joanne C. Hillhouse) engaged in a promotional live facebook chat, which I’ve copied (with minor editing and a bit of jigsawing) below. Oh, there were emoticons but you’ll just have to picture (most of) those; I’ll keep the hashtags.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Since I first read Lost! and started illustrating, I’ve been wondering about the true story of Wadadli the seal. It’s fascinating! Joanne, did the idea for a book come to you immediately?

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Immediately, no. Actually Wadadli’s story was some years before I wrote this. I was as surprised as anyone that it had imprinted on me in any particular way. I do think because I was doing a lot of school visits at the time and because I read to children as a volunteer reader with the Cushion Club, I kind of wanted to experiment with writing a children’s story. And the children at one of the schools I visited and the kids of the Cushion Club were actually the first to hear this story.


Joanne C. Hillhouse  …An image of the actual seal Wadadli that inspired this story (quite literally finding himself stranded in the waters off Antigua and having to be helped home). I think you did an amazing job re-interpreting him and creating all of the other creatures he meets along the way, plus the world of the story.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Yes, I think this was one of the first photos I saw in the early stages! It’s sometimes hard with animals, to give them human expressions, but luckily Wadadli had those gorgeous eyes to begin with.

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Very soulful eyes, yes.


Joanne C. Hillhouse …I’m always curious about a visual artist’s process… how did you approach this project?

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné …I wanted to get a feel for all the characters’ personalities, especially Dolphin. I wanted to bring out those qualities of curiousity and playfulness that make him so endearing in the book. It was a joy to illustrate because the underwater setting made it the perfect fit for watercolours, my medium of choice.

Joanne C. Hillhouse …I always thought your aesthetic and style would be a good match for this story. #superfan

CaribbeanReads …I agree this definitely fit your style. As soon as I saw some of your earlier work I knew it would work well.

CaribbeanReads …How did this story come about Joanne?

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Wadadli, of course – the arctic seal who had made big news here and in environmental circles in the wider Caribbean after being stranded in waters off of Antigua. The need to have an actual children’s story for this children’s author label I carried erroneously (lol) for so long (since my first book The Boy from Willow Bend). The invitation the story extended for me to delve in to fantasy, which fascinates me. And the characters, the characters are always a draw, the main draw, when I’m writing – the main character’s challenge of making new friends when you’re in a strange place and feel like you’re sort of a weird one yourself (that’s actually what came first and everything kind of filled in around that). So that meeting scene between new friends is the first thing I remember clearly.

CaribbeanReads  …Why did you picture him as a daydreamer?

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …lol projection?

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …He’s clearly a lover of stories – see his bond with his nema – and stories are all about living a little bit in your head. Plus it helped define him as a little bit different from his friends and provide an instigating incident for his adventure.

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …I say that after the fact; in real time, as I was writing him, because he was a daydreamer.

CaribbeanReads  …It definitely works

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Thanks.

CaribbeanReads  …How did that day dreaming influence your illustrations, Danielle.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Dolphin’s daydreaminess really helps define him, I think. It was the first thing that struck me when I started doing concept sketches of each of the characters. It set him apart from his friends…. aside from his nose of course. In the illustrations, I wanted his eyes to always be wide and filled with wonder.

CaribbeanReads  …You definitely got that right!

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …CaribbeanReads, as a publisher with an independent press, you have to be careful in your selections as your booklist is much shorter…what moved Lost! up the list in your mind? Why did you want to publish this book?

CaribbeanReads  …We fell in love with the story. The two main characters are so different and equally loveable. The words conjured up beautiful images.

CaribbeanReads  …We do have to be very careful about what we invest in but this was a no-Brainer. Children will love the story and the characters.

CaribbeanReads  …My only concern was finding an illustrator to do it justice. I think we all agree that was a success.

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …yep, agreed.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Yay! Such an honour. I agree that children will love the story and the characters. It’s a bedtime favourite in my house already.


Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Danielle, have you illustrated any other books or was this a new type of project for you?

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …I’ve worked on a few illustration projects, but this was definitely one of my favourites as I got to do full watercolour, every single page! 😀 I’ve always wondered, Joanne, how do you choose illustrators? Do specific ones come to mind for a book, or is it a process of looking through several options?

Joanne C. Hillhouse  … Cool. It’s the publisher’s choice ultimately. But I was asked to make recommendations and you were at the top of my list …the only mark against you was that you weren’t Antiguan and I like to rope Antiguan artists in to my projects if I can…but I didn’t hold it against you (lol)…and clearly I didn’t know if you did book illustrations though I knew your art…and really it was your art …there was one underwater piece in particular that made me think heeeyyy …it was a woman sort of suspended and the suggestion of movement and at the same time stillness/solace…don’t remember the name…but really your entire oeuvre generally…, your style, your aesthetic, something about the delicacy and beauty and flow of your lines and the whimsy of your artistic voice (different in some ways from your poetic voice) that made me think you could see the world I imagined. I’m glad to know I was right.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Lost! was really a delight to work on. Thank you for inviting me to be such a big part of Dolphin’s story. 😊

Joanne C. Hillhouse …☺️

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Danielle, any particular challenges during the process?

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Working with a wee one-year-old assistant clinging to my legs! 😂 My little one, Rafael, was so fascinated by the illustrations. Other than that, not at all. CaribbeanReads was a pleasure to work with, and the story was so visual and lovely.

Joanne C. Hillhouse …😆😀

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …And thanks. I’m just glad  the story didn’t leave you uninspired. Lol.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Joanne, how do you switch so seamlessly from children’s fiction to poetry to blogging, etc? And you do each one so well. I’m in awe. #superfantoo

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …It’s not seamless at all, but it helps that I don’t think in terms of genres. I don’t like boundaries around art (and some of the snobbery that inspires it) either as a reader or a writer. I write from character and curiousity (the things I’m trying to understand, or in this case the what if…). I did learn, and this was the challenge, that editing something you’ve written for a young reader poses certain unique challenges – in terms of reading level, vocabulary, abstract v. non abstract thinking etc.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …That makes a lot of sense. I find that when I don’t think of myself as a ‘poet’ or ‘writer’, but just someone trying to explore an idea through poetry or painting, the work is so much stronger. I love that idea of writing from curiousity.

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Yeah writing helps me process and make sense of the world. So if you see me being miserable, I’m probably blocked.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …Me too! It all feels like chaos when I’m blocked. 😂

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …For me, it feels like being cut off from myself. Hate that space.

Joanne C. Hillhouse  …Oh, you know what else I’m curious about, the process visually of distinguishing between the world of the Arctic and the world of the Caribbean…underwater.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …I had to show some restraint with the Arctic underwater world, not go too crazy with colour. Lots of cooler blue hues, less undersea life. When Dolphin got to the Caribbean Sea, I used lots of warmer tones, swirls, different kinds of application techniques.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné  …And CaribbeanReads was really great about giving feedback!


Joanne C. Hillhouse  …p.s. for anyone who doesn’t know Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and I first met in 2008 when we were presenters at a panel Celebrating Caribbean Women writers in Barbados (early in both our writing journeys) – so thrilled to have had the opportunity to work on a project with her FINALLY – she is one of our distinctive modern poetic voices. Don’t sleep on her talent. It’s actually not fair that she’s just as talented with images as she is with words.


(So that’s pretty much it. We opened it up to anyone to ask questions but, short of that, had fun having that conversation among ourselves; I think you’ll agree there were some interesting insights.)


Joanne C. Hillhouse  …This was a rare treat. …Thanks for hanging Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and CaribbeanReads … Joanne C. Hillhouse signing off from Antigua. Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure to the world. #bestseller #speakingitintoexistence

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Meeting Ashley Bryan

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Ashley Bryan, third from left, with, left to right, Edward Albee, Nora Ephron, and Salman Rushdie - co-honourees at a New York Public Library event

Meeting award winning artist and children’s author Ashley Bryan was a trip. Not literally. His directions to his hilltop view of the waterfront at Olive Mt. in Donovan’s (Antigua) were quite clear. Nor was it a literary disciple’s delight at meeting one whose celebrity in the world of children’s writing preceded him, and whose connection to Antigua, though little known, was solid and true.

No, it was the man himself; a lively man who didn’t seem a day past middle age even as he spoke of sketching the scenes around him during his tour of duty on the battlefront of the Second World War. Though several sources put his birth year at 1923, the question still nagged, just how old was he? This question was put to him another way; how do you stay so young? His answer: “I think it’s just the excitement of each day.”

In a promotional video found online, Bryan declares, “I try to be like a child in what I do.” Truer words were never said. Kids, for the most part, throw themselves into life, embracing it with an enthusiasm that life has not yet taught them to mistrust. Bryan is not a child. The greys brought on by experience –and the startling and funky white of his ‘fro – are there, certainly. But they add texture to the images and words that flow from him, they do not overwhelm them. At least, that was this writer’s sense of him after that single meeting. But then, he seems to have that effect on people. Lonnae O’Neal Parker wrote, in a 1998 article found at the Washington Post website, “…Bryan doesn’t talk, he spins stories. And recites poems. He doesn’t just recite them, he performs with deep rumbles, grand trills and a ba-doom-boom, scatman’s rhythm.”

Bryan’s grizzled youthfulness makes one think, well, I could welcome old age, if it would be so welcoming.

Speaking of welcome, when cultural activist Conrad Luke met Bryan during the latest of his annual visits to the island, he decided that it was time for Antigua to do just that for this grandson of the soil. Luke took on the role of press officer, making bookings and ferrying Bryan to media house after media house.

So, Antigua, meet Ashley Bryan.

He’s one of six children born to Ernest and Olive Bryan, who migrated to the U.S. sometime after Ernest’s time in North Africa during the First World War. His dad was from Cedar Grove, his mom from Gray’s Farm; the family made their life in Bronx, New York. Dad was a printer (and musician) and mom “made the house beautiful”. In his mind, they were artists. Certainly, they fostered an appreciation for art in their children. While they didn’t have the means to pay for music lessons and trips to the museum, coming of age in the 1930s, the era of the well known Great Depression, Bryan benefited from the Works Programme Administration, which funded, among other things, arts programmes.

It fostered in Bryan an endearing appreciation for art. “Art is a part of being a whole being,” he said. “If you cut out the art, you don’t have a whole human.” Moreover, he added that “the aesthetic is in everybody”, that just as you need people to create art, you need people to appreciate it.

Scour the pages for his books on Amazon – from West Indian folk tale The Cat’s Purr to Let it shine: three favourite spirituals to his latest, the autobiography Words to My Life’s Song released January 2009, and the appreciation for his work is largely evident. Part of what feeds Bryan’s work, meanwhile, is his own appreciation for the art of others. In a single conversation, he moves from the folk tales of Africa to the spirituals born on the plantation to the poetry of the likes of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes to the music of (Antiguan soca diva) Claudette Peters – overheard as he rode the bus to the beach where he floats on his back taking in the natural art all around. These influences feed naturally into his work, giving it a certain agelessness, or so he sees it, describing his books not as children’s books per se but as books for all ages. “Good stories are for everybody,” Bryan said.

How does an artist become a writer?

Well, for Bryan, it began in childhood, as shown, and continued at the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering, which is where he began illustrating African tales. Tuition was free, but getting in wasn’t easy; he even remembers being told that though he had the best portfolio, it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a “coloured” person. He did get in though, only to be drafted into WWII in his third year. His sketchpad was a constant companion; he drew, he said, “everything about the life” and when he returned home in 1946, he continued his studies. Of war, he said, “many people can’t readjust; those who do have some way (of coping), my way was to start over again, to find answers. I thought if I studied philosophy, I would get some insight into how the mind works.” The art continued to tug at him, though. He remembers summers on the Cranberry Isles, off Maine, where he now resides full time; and remembers using his GI Bill to go to France to paint.

The conundrum, one common to artists, was how to live by this art. For Bryan, teaching at the university level has been one answer; all through the years putting food on the table, until leaving Dartmouth as professor emeritus. In fact, he was into his 40s by the time he started doing books. He referenced Nancy Larrick and her groundbreaking article ‘The All White World of Children’s Books’ which helped jump start the publishing of books for that demographic, and initiatives like the Coretta Scott King Award instituted to encourage and reward outstanding African American children’s literature and illustrations. Bryan has won that award a few times – for books like All Night, All Day: A Child’s First Book of African-American Spirituals, Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry, Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum, Beautiful Blackbird, Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and other African Folk Poems, and What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals.

This chapter of his life began when editor Jean Karl, after visiting his studio in the Bronx, sent him a contract to begin work as an illustrator with Atheneum Publishers. It was Karl who urged him to write. Bryan turned to the great African American poets for inspiration; and in fact, to this day, when he does readings, he normally begins with selections from these poets before plunging into his own work – the thread of connection being made clear to his listeners. In fact, connections to the things that inspire – visual and literal – are there throughout Bryan’s work. Take Antigua, for instance, which he visited for the first time in his 20s; while his artistic style varies with subject, he notes one feature: “how very colourful my work is, that’s because of that inspiration (Antigua); your roots are always with you.”

Originally published in the Daily Observer, Antigua, 28th May 2009 under the headline ‘Ashley Bryan, Welcome Home’. My Blogger on Books section also contains mini-reviews of two Bryan books: The Dancing Granny and Beautiful Blackbird.  See the Children’s lit section for more of Bryan’s books.


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