I grew up in a hot, sunny, tropical country in West Africa called the Ivory Coast, where people speak French (and many other languages). Since my mom is American, she wanted to make sure that my little brother and I could speak both French and English, so she read us a lot of bedtime stories in English after we came home from speaking French all day at school. As a little girl, I loved to draw, paint, make up dances, and play dress-up, and as I grew up, I didn’t really change! I went to art school in the United States and decided to focus on children’s-book illustration. In school, I made a lot of paintings and books that were filled with images and memories of my childhood in the Ivory Coast. I still love thinking about life there and drawing palm trees, tropical flowers, people in busy marketplaces, and days at the beach—especially since I now live in Upstate New York, where it gets cold and snowy!
For Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby, looking at photographs of people living in Tanzania prompted me to research aspects of daily life there, like the clothing and landscape. For me, the key to falling in love with a story is feeling a connection with the people and places native to the setting. To get the feel of the story and the characters that I paint, I try to dress up as them and take pictures of myself posing in various positions. These are the reference photos I will look at when I’m drawing and painting. Since this story takes place in Tanzania, East Africa, (and I grew up in West Africa), I researched how women in Tanzania tie their head wraps and how they carry their babies on their backs. I imitated the head wrap and baby wrapping styles that I found and took pictures of myself posing the way I wanted the characters to pose in the book. It is very useful to paint from my photographs, so I know where there will be highlights and shadows in the final painting. It’s a really fun process, and I get to keep playing dress-up and pretending!
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I have been known to break out in dance, mid-painting, around the living room, paintbrush in hand (when no one is looking, of course!)
2. My secret wish is to be a ballerina.
3. I always buy a new paintbrush and a new paint color I’ve never used before when I start a new project. It makes every painting even more exciting, and the new color adds something unexpected!