By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
Illustrations by way of children’s books are some of the first teaching aids, when someone is teaching and when someone is learning how to read. Illustrators in the Black community are not nearly celebrated enough, when considering that they provide a visual for a reader’s mind that may not be creative enough to conceive what the words are trying to portray.
I have known children’s author Tiffany Golden for my whole adult life, and even before she was a published writer she has always been a very sincere, passionate, fun-loving, righteous, culturally immersed, and artistic person that I have always gained inspiration from being around her. Since our time of youthful adulthood while organizing with the Black Dot Organizing Collective in the late 90’s and early 2000’s,, she has matured into a published children’s book author, and has been using the forced at-home time of the covid pandemic to learn the new skill of being an illustrator for books. I wanted Tiff to share the journey of her story, from inspiration to fruition, with the hopes of inspiring more people in the Black community to answer their call from destiny and chase their dreams, no matter how old they are.
JR Valrey: What inspired you to transition from being a children’s book writer into adding being an illustrator to your skill set?
Tiffany Golden: I’ve always liked doing portraits. I tinkered with drawing faces but found expanding past that challenging. When Covid hit, and there was more time to learn things, I decided it was time to get past my fear of making “ugly/wrong art” and just learn to do what I love.
JR Valrey: What kind of drawing style do you have? What kind of characters do you draw?
Tiffany Golden: My style leans towards “cartoon big eyes”, thicker outlines, and bright colors. I love that flat, 2D look. I always loved Looney Tunes and Saturday morning cartoons coming up, so my style has a bit of that in there.
I love drawing Black people, especially kids. Our looks range so much with hair types, skin tones, facial features, and body types, there’s an infinite supply of inspiration.
JR Valrey: Who are some of the people that you have been inspired to draw? Why?
Tiffany Golden: I took an online class with Tamisha Anthony and Lilla Rogers called Redrawing Black History. We studied time periods and drew folks like Alice Coltrane, the late Betty Davis, and also artists I got to learn about like Edmonia Lewis (she recently got a postage stamp), Elizabeth Catlett, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Betye Saar (who’s in her 90s and still making art).
That class inspired me to do portraits of other people who inspire me while I’m learning different techniques. So I’ve done Stevie Wonder, writer Audre Lorde, and activist Tarana Burke, with the plan to do more.
JR Valrey: Who are some of the illustrators that you are inspired by? Why?
Tiffany Golden: Firstly, my dad, James Golden. Our houses always have his artwork on the walls. I really enjoy the work of Vashti Harrison, Dave Reed, BEA JACKSON, Dapo Adeola, Kadir Nelson, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Rafael Lopez–this is just the tip of the iceberg! Each one has a signature style and is great with texture, mood, lighting, and capturing a strong essence in their work.
JR Valrey: Can you describe the relationship between a story and the illustrations? What does the illustration add to the story? How?
Tiffany Golden: In picture books specifically, I see the prose as the bass and drums. The heartbeat. The illustrations add the voice, the harmony, the soul. Images can deepen metaphors and add layers to the words, in ways that are quite meaningful.
JR Valrey: Are you working on just illustrating your books, or are you going to be working with other writers?
Tiffany Golden: I’d like to do both. It’ll be nice to come out of my introverted world to collaborate with others.
JR Valrey: Do you start your illustrations from pictures, or from memory? What is your creative process as an illustrator like?
Tiffany Golden: Initially, I did research for visual references. That can be photographs, already existing illustrations, or styles, whatever helps me create a moodboard for the project. Then I start sketching, very loose and non-committed. Next, I tighten up the sketch and think about what kind of linework I want. After the linework is done, I add color and texture until I’m happy–and voila!
JR Valrey: Have you been taking online courses to become an illustrator? How has that been?
Tiffany Golden: Yes, I’ve been fortunate to have had some great teachers through UC San Diego Extension’s Children’s Illustration certificate program, Skillshare has had some great opportunities to learn new techniques, and Domestika has inspired great projects for my portfolio. I’m a lifelong learner, I love growing and getting better at things, so I’ll continue to be in some kind of workshop or course throughout my life.
JR Valrey: What have you been working on as a writer?
Tiffany Golden: I continue to work on my middle-grade novels and picture books. I can’t wait until more of my book babies are out in the world, some as soon as next year!
JR Valrey: How can people see your work? How could people keep up with you?
Tiffany Golden: People can keep up with me through www.tiffanygolden.com or see my artwork on IG @msteesdaily or @tiffany.golden.13 for writing, art, and personal posts. Thanks for thinking of me, and we’ll chat soon!