Coffee & Conversation with Shadra Strickland!

Happy Friday, all! Since our theme for July is Illustrators Show Us Your Independence, I’m happy to kick things off by featuring an interview with illustrator extraordinaire, Shadra Strickland!

Shadra has illustrated many books such as Please, Louise by Toni Morrison, Eliza’s Freedom Road by Jerdine Nolen, White Water by Michael S. Bandy, and most recently, Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby!

Sunday Shopping

Sunday nights are special for Evie and Grandma. That’s when they go on their weekly shopping spree. Grandma flips open the newspaper to see what’s advertised, and the imaginary tour of neighborhood stores begins. Toting a wallet filled with colorful pretend bills, Evie and Grandma take turns “buying” whatever catches their fancy. A big chunk of ham, a “sofa with a secret,” and a dress with spangles are just a few of the treasures they “purchase.” Most special of all is the jewelry box Evie chooses for the gold heart necklace Mama gave her before leaving to serve in the army—and the bouquet of flowers Evie leaves as a surprise for Grandma.

Overflowing with whimsy and a sweet grandmother-granddaughter relationship, this picture book is a joyous celebration of imagination, family love, and making a lot out of what you’ve got.

“Both old-fashioned and fresh-feeling, this book is thoroughly worthy of a shopping trip.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A splendid choice for collections in need of picture books that feature African American characters, but, more significantly, a lovely title that celebrates imagination and the importance of family.” – SLJ

“Notable for its honoring of tradition and aspiration; matter-of-fact, loving treatment of a custodial grandparent; and energetic illustrations that will inspire creative imitators.” – The Horn Book

And now that Shadra is cozy in our cyber chair with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, a coffee with two creams and one sugar …


… and her favorite snack, ginger snaps…(when she’s under deadline stress it’s honeybuns,)

Ginger snaps

 Let’s begin! First question, Shadra–what was your favorite book as a child?

I had a few, but I remember THE SNOWY DAY, C.L.O.U.D.S., and I distinctly remember sitting under my grandmother’s kitchen table reading ALEXANDER by Harold Littledale.


As a teen?

I loved the Nancy Drew series as middle schooler. In high school I was really into Maya Angelou and Alice Walker.

Nancy Drew

And now, what is your favorite book as an adult?

I don’t really have one. I am currently reading Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I run during the warmer months and love to make the correlation between starting running season and beginning a book. It’s always painful in the beginning, but with every step, you get better at it and eventually forget about the pain and begin to enjoy yourself.

What I Talk About

I must read this since I’m a runner, too! Okay, what’s your favorite medium?

Mixed media. In college and grad school, I was taught to finish a painting in one medium from corner to corner. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to mix media that my work really came to life.

Where’s your favorite place to work? 

I work in a lovely blue room in a townhouse in Baltimore. MD off of Sweet Air Street. It’s a quiet street that smells like Honeysuckle in the spring and my studio gets really nice light during the daytime. I have an extra desk next to my drawing table and love to have friends come over for work dates when possible.

AVPageView 682015 83550 PM

Awesome, I love it when guests share pictures of their work area! Okay, which illustrators inspire you?

Early on I adored one style of work – representational. At Syracuse University, where I studied, I was exposed to the Golden Age guys – Rockwell, Parrish, Pyle, etc. and I thought my work had to look like theirs in order to be considered successful. After college, I taught elementary school for a while where I discovered Jerry Pinkney, Pat Cummings, The Dillons, Kadir Nelson, Peter Sis, and others. Their work really inspired me to try my hand at becoming an illustrator. Now, that my eye and hand are more trained, I am able to find inspiration in most work that I see, where in the past, I only liked & responded to one style.

How do you describe your style and has it changed throughout your career?

BirdI try not to think of myself as having a style. My natural inclination is to draw somewhat representationally, but I try to stay open to the manuscript that I am working on and allow the story to dictate what the work will look like. My first book, Bird, written by the very talented, Zetta Elliott, was a breakthrough for me. It was the first time I mixed media so intentionally. With such great reception from that book, I gave myself permission to be as playful as I wanted to be when making books. Of course, many publishers wanted me to imitate the style of that book, but the books that have been most successful for me are ones where I am given freedom to come up with something new and most suitable for the voice of the story.

How were you inspired to illustrate your current or upcoming release?

SUNDAY SHOPPING, written by Sally Derby was a challenge. When I read the manuscript I saw two distinctly different visions for it…realistic watercolors and bright, vivid collages. I tried my hand at traditional collage but failed miserably (I have always hated working in collage). It wasn’t until I found a Roberta Flack and Michael Jackson video of “When I Grow Up”, that the idea of realistic characters against flat digital collage became clear. It was a challenge, but I am thrilled with the results.

What was one of your favorite assignments?

I took a picture book seminar with Brian Ajhar where I attempted to illustrate Rapunzel. I did tons of thumbnail work and research, but fell completely flat on my face with finished art. It was the first time that I fell in love with the process of research and experimentation.

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?

I’d be a famous artist. Still working on the “famous” part. 😉

For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased artist you want. Who do you pick?

Elizabeth Catlett


You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?

Sushi dinner for me and a few friends.

What is your favorite quote?

“Coffee…work” – Shadra Strickland

If you could sum up your best advice for new illustrators in only four words, what would they be?

Live the mothaflippin’ dream.

LOL, love that! Okay, it’s time for the lightning round! No more than four words per answer, please.

Do you . . .

Work from photos or imagination?  Both

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Chatty Kathy

Prefer sketching or final art?  Sketching

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?  Both

Enjoy brainstorming more or researching?  Brainstorming

Read Kindle or traditional books?  Both

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work?  9AM-1PM 3PM-10PM or later if I’m finished final art.

Music to listen to while drawing?  Depends on the day

Traditional media or digital?  Traditional

Pair of shoes?  Flip flops

Guiltiest pleasure?  Netflix

Line from a movie?  “You sure look like a master to me”. – The Last Dragon


Awesome, thanks so much for stopping by, Shadra, and giving us such a great interview! We wish you the best of luck with Sunday Shopping and all your future illustrating endeavors!

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
This entry was posted in Interviews: Illustrators and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.