Animal artwork by Yohani from Tanzania
When I first met John, I wanted to sit in on one of his art classes to see how he taught children to draw and paint. I was so impressed. As we began to talk about our work (I think I was working on a book about the rainforest for National Geographic at the time), we found we shared a creative vision and appreciated each other’s processes. And we shared some unusual overlapping interests as well. I discovered that John had a playlist with big band music that I could use to teach the children how to tap dance!
We didn’t know what we might create together, but before we said goodbye, we promised to give some thought to a joint project. As I reflected upon my time with John, I came to appreciate more fully this young, talented man who was donating his talent as an art teacher, as well as his time every summer, to teach painting and drawing to children in east Africa. I knew we had to do something to highlight their art.
When deciding on the format to tell this informational nonfiction picture book, why did you both decide on focusing on using the phrase “if you want to draw a lion…”?
My recollection is that, like most creative things, the idea to use that phrase just came to both of us from some creative force in the universe. When we started seriously bouncing ideas back and forth, it stuck. Even though I don’t usually write in second person, it seemed like the right approach for this book—I hope readers agree!
Not being an artist, I am in awe of anyone who can paint or draw something recognizable! But when I first saw this artwork, I was stunned by its beauty. It fills your eyes with vibrant color and depicts such gorgeous creatures. And it reminds us all that art has no boundaries, geographic, or otherwise--it is for everyone.
I agree! Why did you decide to donate your portion of the proceeds of this book to John’s nonprofit, How to Draw a Lion?
Actually, we are donating all of our proceeds to the nonprofit. We are both committed to continuing John’s teaching every summer in several African countries because it helps children who would not otherwise be exposed to his art lessons. Naturally, airfare and lodging for three months is expensive and John has been spending his own money to provide this creative outlet. But he can return year after year if some of his expenses are covered through the donations to drawalion.com. Further, the children can continue receiving their art education.
Why do you hope children here in the United States will read LIONS & CHEETAHS & RHINOS! OH MY!?
I hope they will see the incredible artwork that children who live far away from them have created--especially children from different cultures with different lifestyles. And I hope they will be inspired to make art of their own. In addition, as an animal lover who has written a number of books about animals and who has been lucky enough to go on several safaris, I want children here to get learn something about the amazing animals that live on the African continent.