After a long, sometimes treacherous, yet fulfilling journey, we have a cover! My next picture book biography, “Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes,” will publish with Abrams on August 17, 2021. That’s lightening fast by publishing standards, especially considering that I was still tweaking final art and text this time last week. But now, it’s off to the printer—whew!
Of all the picture book biographies I’ve written and/or illustrated, “Pigskins to Paintbrushes” is probably the one closest to my heart. As a teenager, I was a big fan of artist Ernie Barnes. His artwork was displayed behind the credits of my favorite TV show GOOD TIMES.
One of the main characters was teenager J. J. Evans. He was an artist who busied himself painting pictures no matter what chaos was happening in the family at the time. The paintings were of Black people with graceful, elongated bodies. Honestly, I really thought J.J. painted those images. Years later, I learned the real artist was former football player Ernie Barnes.
During high school art classes, like most young artists do, I emulated Barnes work—long, graceful limbs, bold colors. Little did I know, I was emulating Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, and Michelangelo, too, as they were artists who inspired Barnes’s art.
Ernie Barnes’s childhood experience was similar to my own. I was not good at sports, and I often felt ashamed about it. Boys, especially in the Black community where I grew up, were expected to excel at baseball, basketball, football. But I was always the last choice when teams picked players. I could not dribble a basketball. I could not catch a baseball. While playing right field in Little League baseball, I prayed the ball would not come my way. I certainly wasn’t going to catch the thing— and if I did, people would have expected me to throw it somewhere. And football? Just freaking no.
“Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes” is the story of a young man’s journey to defining himself and being the best man that he can be—an artist and a football player.
I can’t wait to share this book with you!