NaShantá Fletcher of Hanover Park always liked to draw, but it was hard to find time for it with her full-time job at WGN News.
“While I was on maternity leave with my son, I found myself drawing as a way of journaling,” NaShantá said. “Just little scenes of my son or things I’d seen or even ideas I’d make up. One day, my son put drumsticks in my hair, so I drew that.”
With her passion for art reignited, she joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and went to an Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago. She met other illustrators, like Christina Wald, and they really inspired her. She entered a drawing contest through SCBWI on the theme of girl power and won! Using the attention from the contest as a springboard, NaShantá was able to get representation from a literary agent.
“When I got the contract to do the illustrations for two books, I still had a full-time job. I realized I’d be spreading myself thin,” NaShantá said. “Once I decided to go for it, to leave my job and be a full-time freelance illustrator, it was exciting, but also scary. I thought, ‘I have this dream and here’s the opportunity,’ but also, ‘I have a mortgage,’ you know? Then I found myself on a tight deadline for the books and thought, ‘Ok, I need to figure this out.’”
So, she packed everything up and headed to the Library. “I’d go to the Hanover Park Branch or come here, to Central. It can be tough to get into a rhythm from home. I try to ignore everything around me, but I can hear my son and my husband and I just wonder, ‘What’s going on downstairs? You guys ok?’”
In the summer of 2021, NaShantá was in the Library, creating the illustrations for Happy and Healthy and Me + You, books based on songs by Divinty Roxx. She would put on headphones and get to work, researching from her laptop and sketching on her iPad.
“Because I was drawing illustrations that were placed over photos, I actually had to do a lot more research than you might think,” NaShantá said.
She explained how on one page, the characters are on a bus and the sun is coming through the windows. “See all the shadows in the photo?” NaShantá flipped to a page in Happy and Healthy. “I had to understand how placing my characters there would change the shadow. How would it fall across them? I wanted it to look real – so you don’t even realize that they are in a photo.”
“Now, this is my life,” NaShantá said proudly. “And sometimes, the Library is my workspace, which is really nice because I love it here! I like to move around a lot – you have so many different work stations with outlets! So, I could sit by the windows or find a quiet corner or a comfier chair.”
NaShantá and her son also like flipping through the picture books at the Library. “Children’s books are so gorgeous. They have all these different art styles – some even seem like fine art. But the biggest thing is that the illustrations are part of the narrative. You can look at the pictures and those tell a story right along with any words on the page.”