Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Raise up your paintbrushes! By Barbara DiLorenzo

This week's The New Yorker cover
by Abigail Gray Swartz. 
What a crazy January. While normally quiet or mild about political issues, I've found myself in a healthy group of authors and illustrators voicing strong opinions across different social media platforms. The shifting political winds caused this strong reaction. Speaking only for myself, I'm concerned we are losing hard-earned reverence for equality and diversity for all people. For that, I'm willing to risk losing some of the good-graces earned from being a docile online community member.
But the other day, a well-known author and illustrator posed the question about whether we should voice our concerns, since we may lose some folks who like our work–which may affect book sales. This is probably going to happen. And if the topics at hand were slight, I'd agree to keep our opinions to in-person conversations. But today, anyone writing and illustrating books for children has to have an opinion on how those children are treated–in terms of gender, ability, orientation, cultural background or geographical birthplace. If we don't voice our opinions now, it will only become more difficult down the road. 
For me, having spent years researching World War II for RENATO AND THE LION, I don't have a choice. I can't know what I know about that period of history, and turn a blind eye to this. And even if I tried, I can't ignore the numerous art classes I teach for children where they bring up their own fears about deportation. And even if I could somehow ignore that, how could I ignore the three Syrian refugees in one of my after school classes? They are siblings, sweet and bright, who I've gotten to know since September. I can't see the finer points of the current partisan dialogue because I've got real children to lead, to inspire, to encourage that this is their country too, and they can be anything they can dream to be. 
I don't know what is right for all artists, authors and illustrators. We must all follow our own hearts and our own paths. I think healthy debate and dialogue can help opposing views find common ground. But I also know that if we use the skills we have been honing for years, instead of simply drawing a cute character, our words, our illustrations, our art can become so much more. I've reposted so many home-grown illustrations inspired by today's events. And I just discovered that the recent cover of the New Yorker Magazine was done by an artist who felt compelled to create the artwork (above)–then decided on a whim to submit to the magazine. The editors went right past their normal illustrators (some of whom I worship!), and chose her. How amazing. This encourages me that when we feel so moved to make art from the heart, we should. We may lose a few fans, but those that resonate with our art, will only build a stronger connection to our work. And in the process, we give a more polished expression to feelings they may have trouble expressing themselves. 
Use your skills, creative people. This is what we have been practicing for. 

My art from the heart.
"Sowing the Seeds of Love"
Illustration by Mike Ciccotello


  1. Well said Barbara - and very inspiring. I love your earth with the pink hat as well. Thanks for writing this post!