Kid’s Illustration and Colorism (aka black line art is a problem but not the only problem)

It’s not hard to build a certain level of diverse representation into your illustration. You get to choose your characters’ skin colour, features, clothing, body shape etc etc. 

But there’s one area where I just keep failing, and that is creating characters with very dark skin. I think the difficulty I’m having is this: picture book illustrations are simple and one of the aspects of simplicity is that my characters are each a flat skin colour. If that skin colour is dark, then you cannot easily read their expressions (because I haven’t come up with a way to draw their expressions). It’s hardly a good representation of a group of people if they don’t get to express emotion.

This girl’s expression is only easily readable because I didn’t make her skin any darker:


I tried to deal with this once by giving this kid paler highlights but tbh I wasn’t happy with the outcome.


Another time I added a little more lighting effect and this worked well imo, but adds a layer of complexity that, to me, makes the picture seem more ‘grown up’ (aka for older, rather than younger, kids):


Part of the problem also seems to be that against a white screen or pale background, our eyes see dark shapes more in silhouette – the contrast to white is greater than the contrast in the face and so that’s the part that draws our attention.


Do we just need to start over with black paper and a white pencil and see where we go? Do we need to throw out our simplistic picture book conventions? Do I need to give up the idea that I can make a face a single colour and still create v dark skinned characters with obvious facial expressions?

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while will know that this has been in my mind for ages. I am still no closer. I am still googling to no avail. I can’t even find other people having this discussion. So… this is just an update, I guess. And a plea for thoughts. Also a suggestion request: can you think of an illustrator who draws picture book characters with very dark skin?

(Let’s not even start on inked greyscale illustrations. They are even worse.)


to research:

  – institutionalised fatphobia and shadeism/colorism within illustration (in particular of the kind literally taught by art teachers and industry pros who say they are just making things “read more clearly”)

 – artists (of all time periods) who DESTROY the above

do any of you have any ideas of places i should look or have fave artists to recommend?

representation as an illustrator

okay so this is a real and serious question that I would ask of the ‘writing with colour’ tumblr only their askbox is not open. I have read through many many archives and I’m kind of stumped.

I am aware that the idea of being ‘historically accurate’ is a disastrous and racist reason to write stories with all white characters. 

Most responses I can find on the internet that deal with this basically say:

“The world wasn’t white up until some random point when suddenly PoC appeared. Look at history. See that, in fact, the world was always diverse.” 

Which is true and good.

What makes me nervous (as an illustrator who has limited control over the story but also wants to ensure I portray a diverse world) is the fear that I might erase the racism of the past. 

I know that the first Indigenous Australian police officer (in the regular Australian police) was Colin Dillon in 1965. So, if I have an Indigenous police officer in the 1940s in Australia, that’s historically inaccurate. And that worries me because I feel that I would be pretending that Australia’s history is better than it actually is. I don’t want to minimise the very recent and very severe issues that Indigenous Australians faced. (also: ongoing but that’s not the point right now.) I don’t want to pretend that the police forces of Australia have been shining enlightened beacons of equality when in reality they’ve been racist af. But I also don’t want to show a world where everyone (or in this case 5/6 of the main characters and all of the named characters) is white.

(I have no information on any other racial diversity within Australian police forces within the 1940s despite many hours of googling.)

But I guess the main point is not specific to this story but a general one I am sure I am going to come across in the future as well:

When illustrating historical fiction how important is reality when it comes to racial diversity? When there are organisations that were Very Definitely White (such that (eg) the first Indigenous member was a big deal), is it trivialising the racism of the past to make characters of those organisations non-white?