Featured Writer of the Month

Javaka Steptoe, Illustrator

“Rejection is part of a powerful learning process.”

Javaka Steptoe creates books, but not through words, he tells stories through pictures. He's the illustrator of In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall, which won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and an ALA Notable Book. His latest work is A Pocketful of Poems by Nikki Grimes.

Steptoe is passionate about collage, the art of making unified images from arranging seemingly unrelated pieces. "I really like collage because it's a lot of fun. I get to work with all sorts of objects and mediums and I don't have a set of rules saying what is a right or wrong way to do something. I find this freeing for me as an artist it's like playing. I tend to use a lot of found objects. One of the benefits of using found objects is that they already have meaning to the viewer," he explained. A five year old holding a Steptoe picture book may not understand pointillism, cubism, or impressionism, but he or she will recognize the spoon, sponge or bar of soap that might appear in the pictures. "Then they have some connection to the picture," Steptoe said.

Just like writers, Steptoe is familiar with rejection and creative blocks but he has a pragmatic approach to coping with those obstacles. "If one is blocked," he said, "Go do something else. You need to have a rest, have a break. You need to have time to let your energies rebuild". By way of example, he describes the pattern of drum music. Drumming is not continuous hitting but the combination of both striking the drum and the quiet interval between each strike. It is the alternation of sound and silence. "If you didn't hear the absence of sound, you wouldn't hear the drum's rhythm," he pointed out. "What's more important - the time you hear the drum or the silence in between?"

Steptoe is even more pragmatic about rejection -"You just gotta get over it. You can't take it personal. You never know why a person responds to your work in a particular way. It may have nothing to do with you or your work. It's up to you to get the best out of a situation. Be willing to keep going even when people say 'Not this time.'"

For more information about Javaka Steptoe, go to javaka.com.