The Columbus native discusses her career path and new book.
Keturah A. Bobo never planned to be a children’s book illustrator. After graduating from the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2006, she found work painting murals across the country. But when she was laid off two years later, it challenged her to figure out her next steps and focus on her own art.
Today, Bobo is an accomplished artist who creates and sells her own art and merchandise—often depicting empowering representations of black women and girls—through her company, Ariel Brands. But she is perhaps best known for illustrating the popular children’s book “I Am Enough.” The 2018 release was written by Empire actor Grace Byers and encourages children to embrace each other’s differences and practice self-love. (If you’ve been anywhere that sells children’s books in the past year, you’ve probably spotted the book’s cover drawn by Bobo; it features a young black girl with a head full of curly hair and a shy smile.)
The book was a New York Times bestseller and turned Bobo into a sought-after illustrator. This year, two new children’s books illustrated by Bobo were released: Anna Forgerson Hindley’s “A Is for All the Things You Are” in April and Abdul-Razak Zachariah’s “The Night is Yours” in July.
Bobo, who lives in Columbus, was named as one of the 2018 “People to Watch” by Columbus Alive.Get top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly e-newsletter, The Bulletin.
We caught up with Bobo to find out what motivates her and her work. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: Can you talk more about your life after college, both the struggles you faced career-wise and how you were able to turn things around and begin focusing on your own art?
A: Because the transition from college to full-time work was so seamless for me, I really didn’t expect to get laid off in two years and have trouble finding another full-time art job. It was very difficult, but I used it as an opportunity to reinvest my time in my own work by creating two series and participating in a few exhibits as well. I also taught myself more about Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop so I could pick up graphic design freelance work, which was extremely helpful. Bottom line: Although things didn’t work out as originally planned, I made a point to always rely on my artistic ability to learn, grow and make money.
Q: Both “I Am Enough” and “The Night is Yours” feature young black female protagonists. What is it like to see your art in public places and to know you are filling a void for children who often don’t see themselves reflected in art?
A: It’s everything to me. Family visits at the library were a regular part of my childhood. My mom forced us to participate in every summer reading club and various community-based events/programs throughout our pre-teen and teenage years. I remember that feeling of wanting to see more characters that looked like me and who shared my experiences. My brothers and I even created our own characters to supplement the lack of representation. So, to understand that I am a part of changing that misstep for the next generation is mind-blowing and inspiring.
Q: How did “The Night Is Yours” come about? Message-wise, it seems to follow similar themes as “I Am Enough” as far as self-confidence and celebrating who you are.
A: I love that although the books are very similar, they’re also quite different in the way they express self-love and acceptance. “The Night is Yours” is a beautifully written bedtime story by Abdul-Razak Zachariah, and I wanted the illustrations to be just as beautiful as the words. I was very intentional in making the pages colorful despite the setting being nighttime. I felt it was a great way to illustrate the beauty and peacefulness of darkness, blackness and a black community. Once the idea for the setting was together, I had the most fun creating the main character, her family and friends. I wanted them to represent the diversity of skin tones you might see in a black community or family. The process of illustrating this book was absolutely great, and I genuinely loved every aspect of it.
Q: Did you expect illustrating children’s books to be such a large part of your art? How does your approach to illustrating children’s books differ from how you approach other forms of art?
A: As much as I love drawing children and telling a story with my art, I somehow did not foresee myself being an actual children’s book illustrator. It was something I’d assumed I’d do one day, but I didn’t expect for it to be as big of a presence as it is in my work right now.
Children’s books are usually 32 pages, and it can be very time consuming. I was used to seeing immediate results in my work and getting feedback from consumers right away. The whole approach to children’s books is a lot slower, so it’s definitely taught me how to be patient with myself and the process.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Currently, I am working on a series of large-scale paintings that will hopefully be completed by the end of the year. I have another children’s book scheduled for release in spring 2020. I’d love to paint a mural here in the city as well.
Bobo will be at the Polaris-area Barnes & Noble, 1560 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, for an author event at 11 a.m. Aug. 17.