“When I started I was the only black children’s book illustrator – now more of us are finding work”
âDon’t stop drawing because you’re really good,â Dapo Adeola recalls of a teacher who encouraged him to pursue his dreams of drawing when he almost gave up.
The illustrator, originally from Brixton, is best known for his character Rocket, which he created for the story Look Up! in collaboration with author Nathan Bryon who was the 2020 Waterstones children’s book.
Rocket, who took inspiration from Dapo’s niece, has become an emerging editorial phenomenon from a brief brief; a black girl with big hair and glasses who loves space.
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âAnyone can read this story, but there’s an extra layer if you’re a black kid,â Dapo says of creating a character who could relate to black kids.
Since then he has illustrated 10 more books and won two national awards, becoming an important face in children’s book publishing.
Dapo, 38, describes his childhood hobby of drawing his favorite cartoon characters with a friend, sketching and doodling all day long as ‘having fun like kids’.
Growing up in a household that did not champion the arts, he never believed that his love of art and illustration would lead to a viable career path.
âI didn’t have any conversations about what I wanted to do,â he said.
He credits his teachers for his graphic design course for spotting his talent and for whom he was the âcatalystâ of his career.
As one of the few black illustrators in his post, he spoke about the importance of portrayal “seeing people like you in positions goes a long way in stimulating your imagination”.
He embarked on creating illustrations alongside a day job in 2009 to hone his skills.
Later, a chance meeting with author Nathan Bryon was the start of a creative partnership.
Speaking about the lack of diversity in book publishing, he said: âI entered the industry with myself and another black British illustrator (Ken Wilson-Max).
“Only one person has managed to maintain a career over the years.”
Navigating mainly in the white spaces of publishing, Dapo is keen to pave the way for others to forge their career path.
He said, âUntil I started defending more people, I was the only person; the industry is lazy. “
He sought to make a difference and to get publishing houses that valued diversity “to really stand behind what they say.”
He wrote his latest book Hey You! a celebration of black growth that was illustrated by 18 black illustrators, 10 of whom were black Britons, who he said “all work now”.
Along with his book projects, he works with aspiring authors and illustrators from the community, training them to navigate the industry and learning to stand up for themselves.
âThere are a lot of talented people in my community doing what I can do, they just don’t call themselves illustrators, they don’t get paid to do what they already do,â he said.
“Illustration and the book industry need you, it should be a partnership, ignore the feeling of gratitude for being able to work, I tell everyone to get rid of it immediately.” “
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He also advocates for creatives pushing their own careers. He documented the character creation journey on his Instagram and says people fell in love with Rocket’s character “before we even got the book deal.”
âThere are so many ways to do your job, to learn the craft, to focus on becoming a better storyteller illustrator, and to present your work to the world on your own terms,â Dapo said.
Tired of Black History Month associations, he is very attached to organizations that demonstrate a constant and genuine commitment to the fight against diversity.
Speaking of the requests that have flooded his inbox since the start of the month, he said: Black History Month – give black people a break. “
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