Today, I’m happy to dive into Sean Quall‘s picture book life! I’ve been following his career and have been a big admirer of his artwork for a long time so this is a neat chance to showcase some of his projects for kid readers and viewers.
When I think of Qualls’s work, I think of smooth yet textured layers. I think of pastels and pencil lines. I think of muted pinks and purples and blues that still pop. I think of shapes—circles and winking stars—on abstract backgrounds. Vibrant. Impacting and engaging. Dreamy. Beautiful.
Sean Qualls has illustrated 20 books for children (and I might even be missing a couple)!
He’s a painter and you can see a sampling of that work here.
He sometimes collaborates with his partner, Selina Alko. (See all of her books.) I wonder if (and hope!) they’ll keep making art for picture books together. When they make work together, Alko brings more collage into the mix.
He’s illustrated projects by Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, and Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle.
Many of his projects have been biographies.
One of his latest collaborations with Selina Alko, Why Am I Me? written by Paige Britt, is a new favorite book of mine.
“When I work, I draw inspiration from an array of influences such as movies, childhood memories, aging and decaying surfaces, folk art, black memorabilia, golden books and more.”
—Sean Qualls, from his Brooklyn Library exhibition
Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2008).
Phillis’s Big Test by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2008).
“After getting my kids off to school, I spend some time (usually in cafes) journaling/self reflecting. I also use that time to figure out what projects to spend my time on that day/week. Green tea is my drink of choice.”
—Sean Qualls, from this interview
Skit-Skat Raggedy Cat by Roxan Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2010).
I studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for about a year and a half and then dropped out. Later, I took a few continuing education classes at SVA (School of Visual Arts) but much of my training has been trial and error.
—Sean Qualls, from The Brown Bookshelf interview
Lullaby for a Black Mother by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2013).
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thomspon & Sean Qualls (2015).
“In the late 90’s I discovered outsider and folk artists and was inspired to go for feeling in my work rather than an academic approach.”
—Sean Qualls, from this interview with M is for Movement
Grandad Mandela by Zindzi Mandela, Zazi Mandela, and Ziwelene Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls (2018).
The Case for Loving, written by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (2015).
Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, and Selina Alko (2017).
Two Friends by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (2016).
Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham & Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko (2018).
KidLitTV has a wonderful video featuring both Qualls and Alko. It’s a very special studio visit that shows the pair painting together while they speak about collaboration, expressing yourself, facing your fears, and more.
“Each time I sit down and make a piece of art…that fear comes up, that fear of not being liked or not knowing that people will accept me or the art or what I’m trying to say. But I think it’s important to keep on creating even though you may be afraid because in the end you’re only you, you’re yourself…that’s all we have is who we are and that’s all we can really share with the world…”
—Sean Qualls on Kidlit TV
You might also be interested in my last “Their Picture Book Life” installment featuring Julie Flett.