“Baltimore chose me,” said MICA Illustration Department faculty member and Trustee Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching recipient Shadra Strickland. Many people would say that illustration chose her as well.
Strickland is an award-winning artist who studied illustration and children’s illustration during her undergraduate and graduate studies, respectively. “Book illustration was the thing that resonated with me the most,” Strickland said.
Strickland came to MICA in 2010 and had previously worked as an elementary school teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools system, where she was profoundly impacted by her pint-size inspirations. “I had been reading so many books to my students in the classroom, and I would see myself among the pages in works by Kadir Nelson, Pat Cummings, and other African-American illustrators,” she said.
One of her first significant book offers was Bird, written by Zetta Elliott and illustrated by Strickland. Her illustrations brought to life the story of a young boy who escapes reality into his art. Published in 2009, the book received the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, and was recognized on the Association for Library Service to Children’s (ALSC) Notable Children’s Books list.
Other opportunities began to blossom. She was offered several picture book manuscripts. In the queue was Please, Louise by Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison and the late Slade Morrison, who died in 2010. Strickland’s illustrations in the children’s book tell the story of a young girl and her fears, traveling through what she perceives as a scary world and seeking refuge in the library in the discovery of books.
Strickland began her yearlong process of creating and completing the visual narrative for the book—sketchbooks, thumbnails, discussions with the editor and art director, and sample illustrations. Her team looked at the character, Louise, in relation to diversity and being inclusive, and played around with portraying different types of children, including racially ambiguous children.
Being inclusive is something Strickland has talked about with her MICA students. “If you are living inclusively, you don’t have to think as much about being diverse as an artist and reflecting diversity in your work,” she said. “So open yourself up to different types of people and experiences because you’ll get to use all of that in your work, and it just makes it richer and more valuable for many different types of people.”
Strickland continues to teach and create—with a new illustration project, Sunday Shopping, a children’s book, and her very own book in the works.