Behind the Book: I Color Myself Different
last updated 07 April 2022
We aren’t sure where you’ve been if you haven’t heard about all the praise I Color Myself Different has received since hitting shelves last week. Written by athlete and advocate, Colin Kaepernick, and illustrated by Bright artist, Eric Wilkerson, this title has opened a conversation the author has been thinking about since grabbing a pack of crayons to color his self portrait in elementary school. Being both the author and illustrator’s picture book debut, there are more reasons than one to celebrate this title, one being its message of being proud of what makes us different. We had the opportunity to talk more with Eric Wilkerson about his time illustrating this book, as well as his collaboration with Colin. We hope you enjoy!
What was the most fulfilling part of illustrating I Color Myself Different?
I’ve always loved children’s books. Fifteen years ago, I was studying the medium and who all the great award winning artists were. I mentored with Children’s book artists like James Ransome, and got to talk about art with Jerry Pinkney. I created sample after sample but I didn’t know any literary agents. So I became a member of the SCBWI. Even with all the advice and info I was given, I had no luck so I gave up after a few years of trying and went back to focusing on other fields of illustration. Doing this book is a dream come true and never would have happened without the help of the Bright Agency. Special thanks to my super awesome agent, Alex Gehringer!
This book is also a love letter to my daughter who I used as my model reference for a young Colin. Every page will forever be a reminder of what we did together in the summer of 2021.
Tell us a bit about your journey in illustrating this book from beginning to end!
I approached this job the only way I knew how- like a concept designer. The process started by creating a character design sheet showing various facial expressions, clothing style, and hair texture of a young Colin Kaepernick. In some cases I treated the pages like storyboard panels. I put an extensive amount of thought into the overall palette of the book and explored ways of handling both figures and environments. I aimed to create stylized, yet realistic, looking characters with believable lighting that sets a mood per page. By the time I illustrated half the book, I hit a confident stride. Colin’s team, and everyone at Scholastic, were so supportive through the entire process. It was definitely a masterclass in how to make a children’s book.
As this was my first children’s book I found the most difficult aspect of the job to be rendering the main character from multiple angles with a stylized level of finish and keeping it all consistent.
What was it like working with Colin Kaepernick’s team?
Working with Colin and his team was so beneficial to the success of the book. I was told that it’s uncommon for celebrity authors and the illustrator to ever meet or discuss anything. Colin and I met and discussed the visual direction of the book while I sketched characters in real time over zoom calls.
What message do you hope young readers receive when reading I Color Myself Different?
The book’s message that I hope readers take away is that our differences are what make us unique. Stay strong, believe in yourself, be proud of who you are but don’t make others feel bad for not looking like you.
Some other titles Eric has illustrated during his time with Bright
Miss March’s Behind the Book blog featuring You Are a Star Ruth Bader Ginsburg? See here to read all about Bright artist, Sarah Green’s experience in illustrating the story of such an icon! Check our blog site each month to learn more about our artists and how they came to shine so bright.