Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lunch with Sean Qualls


We had the pleasure of having Sean Qualls over for lunch today; a number of Sean's children's books have been in our annual and Sean was one of our judges in last year's children's show.

A somewhat-native of Florida--he was born there but his family moved to a small town in southern New Jersey when he was three months old. Sean always liked to draw and become acquainted with illustration mostly through books and album covers--he had no interest in being a children's book illustrator, not then anyway. His high school art teacher encouraged him to take two classes his senior year, someone had seen the raw talent. He went to Pratt for a couple of semesters first as an art-ed major, dropped out of the illustration program transferring to the fine arts department and then had to drop out due to financial constraints. He had every intention of going back to school, took a job at the Brooklyn Museum bookstore and went about self-educating himself as an artist which was made easy since he was surrounded by books on artists and of course the exhibits in the museum.

That lasted eight years, in the meantime he was also self-educating himself about illustration, took a class at the SVA, invited critiques from Marshall Arisman whom he credits of giving him the best advice and anyone who would take a look at his book. He also developed his list, bought lists, sent out mailers, usually postcards done at the copy shop and waited for the phone to ring. It took a long time for that to happen. One senses the trial and error of an artist finding himself, the early work was influenced by Picasso's Red and Blue periods with layers of charcoal, acrylic and oils--many thought the images to be too much on the dark side but slowly the artist matured, his style evened out though Sean will admit he's not looking for perfection, he likes things to be on the gritty side. Other odd jobs followed whether it was working as a mover or working at another bookshop or being a tech manager, all the while building his book with eventual goal being a graphic novel, or editorial. It was almost out of the blue that he got his first children's book assignment--only one of the postcard mailings he did had a child on it--obviously an editor and/or art director saw something they liked and a career was born. Sean tells us that the process can take six months or more and expects to complete at least four new projects this year.

When speaking with the soft-spoken Qualls you sense a deep seated intensity devoted to his art and practice of illustration, while he may feel that he missed some of the tuteledge he might have received if he had finished his education, he has more than managed to overcome that obstacle by self-will and self-criticism. For someone so young he has the maturity of someone far older than his years.

Sean likes to keep his style less-than-perfect and what I see is the influence of Brooklyn itself on his work. The King's County melting-pot has always had a bit less glamour than Manhattan but a warmth that comes from cheerful hellos from our neighbors. There's no slickness or high-fashion to Sean's work, it is of the people, for the people.

A vegan, we had to modify our menu to include a veggie-burger made wtih kidney beans, oats,onions, spices and parmesan cheese with a side salad and chickpea fries that were out of this world. That followed by chocolate cake, again with no egg or dairy. Thankfully our snow had melted which made Sean's walk back up Prospect Avenue less of a trudge. it's always a pleasure to get to know the personal stories of artists and how that influences the work we know about them. Sean brought his new children's book, Little Cloud adn Lady Wind by Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison.
He lives right up the street from the studio in South Slope with his illustrator wife, Selina Aiko and his young children, Isaiah and Ginger.

We'll continue to watch Sean's growth as an artist, illustrator and hopeful writer.

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