Bright Stars of Black British History: A blog by Angela Vives
Created: 16th February, 2024

What inspired you to illustrate this book?

The inspiration for this work started while studying for my Master‘s degree in Children’s Book Illustration. At the time, I was exploring the power of non-fiction in children’s literature, particularly picture book biographies. It was during this period that JT Williams introduced me to the captivating life of Ignatius Sancho. Enthralled by his remarkable journey, and the incredible fact that little Sancho was baptised and sold in the same country where I was born, Colombia, I immersed myself in his story. As we navigated through a global pandemic and the stages of acquisition for publication, Anna Ridley, our commission editor at Thames & Hudson, enriched our vision. This led us to immerse ourselves in the process of writing and illustrating the extraordinary life stories of 13 lesser-known figures, ultimately giving rise to "Bright Stars of Black British History."

How would you suggest primary teachers use this book?

Drawing from my experience as a children’s book illustrator, and my role as a lead art teacher in a primary school setting, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating workshops during the launch of our book. With these diverse experiences in mind, I want to encourage primary teachers to use the book as a starting point for discussing representation in history, and specifically in the arts. The primary goal for me, as the illustrator of “Black Stars of Black British History”, was to create a place for these 14 individuals, a never-seen-on-the-page world for them, a visual narrative that positioned them at the forefront of their own stories. This process was informed by elements like architecture, interior design, and costumes, contributing to the overall aesthetic and historical authenticity of the project. The implementation of various creative activities in the classroom, read-aloud sessions, art projects and writing assignments, will allow students to breathe life into the stories of lesser-known individuals. As we enrich historical narratives throughout the year and empower marginalised communities in the classroom, we are building a more inclusive and compassionate world.

What motivated you to begin a career in illustrating?

From a very young age, drawing was a natural expression for me. It also became my job, as I discovered the profound satisfaction of bringing ideas and visions to life with images. Ultimately, my motivation to pursue a career in illustrating stems from the deep desire to continue doing what I love, share my creativity with children, and make a meaningful impact through art.

What are the major influences in your work, and how do you decide on your subjects?

Encountering the work of South African artist William Kentridge was a genuinely transformative experience. At the time, I was working as a video editor for the advertising industry; in my spare time, I was stealing hours in the day for drawing and experimenting with visual narratives. Seeing Kentridge’s multi-disciplinary approach to art, drawing, animation, film, sculpture, and performance, gave me the permission to diversify my career.

It also inspired me to draw attention to human stories and journeys. In Kentridge’s work, themes of memory, history and politics deeply engage with the complexities of human existence. That is perhaps one of the reasons why, during my Master’s studies, I wanted to focus on picture book biographies, and it still remains my primary subject. I also draw inspiration from folk art and art movements, like the Fauves, and the work of illustrators such as Anno Mitsumasa, Ivo Bilibin, Ilona Karasz, Adrienne Segur, Carson Ellis and Isabelle Arsenault.

Which books had a lasting impact on you as a child and why?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” impacted me because I read it when I was too young, when I perhaps shouldn’t have. I read it clandestinely, hiding it from my parents under my bed, and for over a year. While I didn’t grasp all its nuances, the experience of reading it in secret filled me with a sense of exhilaration and a love for reading, as I discovered a fascinating world that only exceptional writers can evoke. But the book that made me an artist is the 1950’s edition of “The Fairy Tale Book”, illustrated by the Greek/French artist Adrienne Segur, which I discovered at home in its original French version. I don’t know where this book came from, its origins remain a mystery, yet it quickly became one of my most cherished possessions and has travelled with me since. Adrienne Segur's soft and sumptuous illustrations, and the profound connections between animals and humans, cast a spell on my young self. Her work continues to be a boundless source of inspiration today.