Illustrator Spotlight: Shadra Strickland (Giveaway)

© Shadra Strickland

Jan. 23, 2015
We are delighted to feature illustrator Shadra Strickland, who has illustrated many award winning books including BIRD, by Zetta Elliot. Her most recent book is PLEASE, LOUISE, written by Toni and Slade Morrison.

Shadra is giving away a print from her book, PLEASE LOUISE. The winner may choose from "Spot of Sunshine" or "Reading Hour" 

Tell us about yourself and how you came to children’s illustration.

I always drew. As a child I would make up stories and comics and spend time drawing my relatives. My mom encouraged my talents and put me in art classes as a young child along with other creative activities. Drawing and storytelling were the things that stuck. 

I studied illustration and design at Syracuse University, but it wasn’t until I began teaching elementary school and reading picture books to my students that I decided to pursue it as a career.

What was your big break into illustrating children’s books and how did it come about?

My big break was my first book, BIRD, published in 2008 by Lee and Low books. I had been showing my portfolio around New York City for months during and after graduate school with no luck. I was getting a lot of nice compliments but no work. From there I started making images in a more playful way and sent them out to art directors seasonly as web promos. Those made a few positive ripples, but mainly gave me a few small illustration goals every few months while I waited on my big break. 

© Shadra Strickland

One fateful evening, I went to The Society of Illustrators to see the Original Art Show. I casually bumped into Jennifer Frantz, an editor that I worked with right out of college who remembered my work and had been receiving the holiday promos. She invited me down to the office and had me share work with other editors at Lee and Low. That next day, they offered me BIRD, a New Voices Award Winning manuscript, written by Zetta Elliott. The story was beautifully written and had a lot of visual metaphor in it. I cried after reading it and knew it would be a significant project for me.
Tell us about your recent book, PLEASE LOUISE? How thrilling was it to be asked to illustrate a book by Toni and Slade Morrison?

PLEASE, LOUISE was an honor to illustrate. I was intimidated originally because of the authors, but I did feel I could help honor and uplift the meaning in the text. The most challenging part of illustrating such an abstract text was developing the visual storyline that accompanied it. 

© Shadra Strickland

What projects are you working on now?

I just finished my second book with Lee and Low titled SUNDAY SHOPPING, written by Sally Derby. I love mixing media in my work and trying new things. This story allowed me to play a lot and produce really whimsical images. It was soooooo much fun to do and was recently selected as a Junior Library Guild book for spring. I’m excited to share it with the world.

© Shadra Strickland

My next picturebook is a book of children’s prayers. It’s still in the beginning stages, so I can’t talk too much about it. I will try printmaking for this project and most looking forward to exploring a new medium.

What is the hardest part of illustrating for children?

All of it. No book that I have worked on has ever had an easy part, and if one ever does, I probably won’t trust that it’s any good. As torturous as the process tends to be for me, it’s also extremely satisfying. 

© Shadra Strickland

What are the best advice anyone ever gave you in illustration?

The best advice given to me was by my advisor, mentor, and friend, Pat Cummings. She told me to remember to have fun.
For a long time, I was working so hard to make a great portfolio and impress editors with work I thought they wanted to see instead of what I wanted to make. That piece of simple wisdom made all the difference in the way that approach book making (and life). 

© Shadra Strickland

I give the same advice to my students. Work hard, have fun and be open to possibilities in your work. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Lastly, make the work that is most exciting to you. It will find its place in the world.

 "Reading Hour" © Shadra Strickland

I've taken a great online course that you give on children's illustration. How did that course come about?

I teach Book Illustration and Advanced Book Illustration at MICA. One of my colleagues and fellow SVA alumn, Matt Rota had done an online class for Craftsy (Mixed Media Pen, Ink, and Watercolor). They were looking for someone to do a picture book class and he recommended me. I streamlined my course content from my class at MICA to lend itself to a wide range of learners for the online course. (See the course at Craftsy, The Art of the Picture Book)

"Spot of Sunshine" © Shadra Strickland

After working on the curriculum for a few months, they flew me out to Colorado to shoot the online videos. I had a wonderful producer and team, and we finished the course in two days. So far we have over 3,000 bookmakers signed up for the class. It’s been great to see the class take off. Such a great testament to the power of storytelling!

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I love to sing and dance and do them both often around my studio…and in my classes…and walking down the street…and….

Where can we find you on the internet?

The Art of the Picture Book -

I’m in the usual places…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube

all can be accessed from my web site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Shadra Strickland, studied design and illustration at Syracuse University and received her M.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has illustrated many award winning books, including Bird, which won a Coretta Scott King Award and and Ezra Jack Keats Award for new talent in 2009. Her latest book includes PLEASE, LOUISE, written by Toni and Slade Morrison. She is currently a professor of art at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD and also teaches online at


  1. Wonderful interview! BIRD is an incredible book—beautiful, layered, and moving. I'll look forward to this new one and more to come!

  2. I love Shadra! Im taking her course now at

  3. Thanks, Shadra! Your art is gorgeous. Looking forward to your new book! I especially loved the sweet and colorful illustrations in Please, Louise.

  4. Count me as another Shadra fan! I also love her Crafty class and her stunning illustrations. I can totally see her as someone who loves to sing and dance. Just watching her in the Craftsy class makes me happy. :)

    Thanks for the interview and giveaway!

  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work. As I scroll down I say, "Oh, this one is even more beautiful than the last." Every illustration has so much story. :)

  6. Lovely post, beautiful artwork, great advice and fabulous giveaway! Just signed up for your illustrating course

  7. Ooh, what lovely work! And I'm eyeing her class, even though I can't illustrate one bit. Thanks for the great interview.

  8. Wonderful interview, Shadra! (dang,I put a "w" on the end of your name, with my flibbety jibbit fingers, lol, but that is something do so well. Some of your work is just GORGEOUS. Congratulations on all your well-deserved success!

  9. Shadra, your work and your personal story is so uplifting! As a former school librarian, I sure would adore winning either print as they share the joy of literature. Gonna have to find BIRD as I have not yet read it. Lov your advice to us creators, too. TY.

  10. I already have copies of "Bird" and "Please, Louise," but it would be great to have a signed copy. Great interview, btw and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  11. This is so inspirational. And I am in love with the works of Shadra. So beautiful. I am so glad I stopped by.

  12. Shadra, you have another new fan here! Your illustrations are layered and beautiful. Wonderful!

  13. It was great getting to know Shadra! I know we willbe seeing more of her beautiful art. Love the advice given which is to have fun! It is true that our best stories, our best art comes when we are having fun.

  14. Shadra, what a wonderful feature. I love the advice about having fun and not making what you think others want to see. That's a good reminder! Keep up the joyous and beautiful work!

  15. What a great interview and such wonderful illustrations!

  16. Awesome illustrations! if I should win the giveaway, please write a note inside the book to the Little
    Free Library Walnut. I'll read it and then share it in my little library in the front yard.

  17. Sending gratitude for the inspiration from snowy, cold, Syracuse!


Post a Comment