Celebrating EMMANUEL’S DREAM: An Interview with Sean Qualls

Sean-QuallsWe continue the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s new book, Emmanuel’s Dream (out today!), with an interview with the illustrator, Sean Qualls. Sean Qualls is an award winning, Brooklyn-based, children’s book illustrator, artist, and author. He has illustrated a number of celebrated books for children, including Giant Steps to Change The World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Before John Was a Jazz Giant, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor. Sean also created the art for Dizzy by Jonah Winter and Freedom Song (The Story of Henry “Box” Brown) by Sally Walker. His work has received two Blue Ribbon citations from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books where he was also cited for his “serious craftsmanship” and an “original style.” Qualls has created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. His work has been shown in galleries in New York and across the country.


What drew you to this story? How did you research and prepare for working on it?


I was drawn to the story by Emmanuel’s determination, his commitment to define himself and not allow the outside world to define him. The film Emmanuel’s Gift was very helpful in preparation. I also visited a few shops in Brooklyn that sell African clothes and beauty supplies.


What inspired you to use the silhouettes? 


I’m always looking for ways to simplify the art and to visually strengthen the story. Silhouettes seemed like the perfect device.


Do you have a favorite spread, and if so, which one? 


That’s hard to say, I spent so much time with each one and feel attached to them all. If I had to chose one it would either be the very first spread where Mama Comfort is holding baby Emmanuel or the third spread which begins  – “Mama Comfort told him he could have anything but he would have to get it for himself.”



Work-in-progress spread for the book.


Which spread was the most challenging and why? 


Several were particularly challenging but the one that immediately comes to mind is the one where Emmanuel pledges to himself to do something with his life. His mother had just died, so much had already happened in his life and so much more would still happen. At one point in the film Emmanuel’s Gift he is standing in a field with a pensive look, almost as if he’s praying. I thought this idea would work well in the book but it really took me a while to figure that out and then after to really get his facial expression right in the art. It’s a simple image but a lot went in to it.



Work-in-progress spread for the book.


Could you tell us a bit about your process?


 After collecting reference and doing research,  I start by doing a lot of sketches of various sizes, figures, trees and such. I then use a photocopier to enlarge, reduce and flip images. I then start to construct sketches by cutting and pasting these element together. Afterwards, I’ll edit and add to the sketches with pencil and black and white paint.



Work-in-progress spread for the book.


Thank you so much for stopping by, Sean! And congratulations to you and Laurie both on this beautiful book.
*     *     *
 Remember to comment on any post this week and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Emmanuel’s Dream. Pick up a signed copy at  Secret Garden Bookshop (if you add your personalization request in the comments section, Laurie will sign it for you!) or check out IndieBound for a local bookstore near you. Of course, you can also find it on Amazon.com or BN.com.


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9 responses to “Celebrating EMMANUEL’S DREAM: An Interview with Sean Qualls

  1. mariagianferrari

    Thanks for the great interview, Jenn! I’m a new fan of Sean Qualls’s art–it’s so beautiful. And congrats to both Sean and Laurie for creating on such a lovely and meaningful book!


  2. tamaraellissmith

    Gorgeous art, oh my gosh. I loved reading a little bit about Sean and his process. Thank you!


  3. It is always interesting to hear from illustrators what steps and processes they use bring their part of the story. The illustrations for Emmanuel’s dream are just amazing. Thanks for the interview, Jenn and Sean.


  4. Excellent interview. I love Sean Qualls’ work.


  5. Thanks for introducing me to Sean Quall’s work. Can’t wait to see beyond the cover at his finished pieces!


  6. So very interesting to hear about the preparation and process behind these amazing illustrations! Thanks so much, Jenn and Sean!


  7. Such a lovely match between text and art. I love it when that happens.


  8. Lindsey Lane

    This was a beautiful interview. Thank you, Sean. and btw your favorite spread is mine as well. Brought tears to my eyes for its simplicity.


  9. Always so interesting to hear what all goes into a book via the illustrator or the author. Thanks!


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