Friday, May 13, 2016


** Alex Haley's Roots,

as a kid, got me interested in my own family's ancestry. Although, it wasn't until about 10 years ago, around the time my son was born, that I finally started digging on my mother's side of the family tree. If you've ever done any digging yourself you know how exciting and time consuming it can be, but in a short amount of time I made decent progress.

Then a couple of years ago, my aunt gave me these two portraits of my great-grandparents.I'm guessing the photos are about 100 years old. 
Their daughter, my grandmother, Blanche, was born in either 1916 or 1917 so I estimate the photos were taken around then, give or take a few years. These portraits are a part of my family history. And until seeing them and delving into my family's ancestry online, it was a family history that I was not too sure actually existed let alone connected to a larger American history.

Part of what fuels my art (and illustration) is the desire to shine a light on those who have been forgotten by history, underrepresented or misrepresented. My goal is not to merely tell their stories but to reframe them and their lives. By reframing, I mean looking at people and events from a different vantage point and thereby changing the way we perceive them, reminding us that identity is perception and therefore malleable, not static. The first piece of work where I consciously used reframing was A Brief History of Sambo.
For me, the portraits of my great-grandparents suggest that they were people that mattered, even though their names may only be a small piece of a larger historical record. Often times African-American history is linked to the history of oppression, poverty, brutality and blight, as though they are all synonymous. In terms of success, names like CJ Walker, George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglas are important and familiar but by no means the whole story. There are countless people who we learn about during the 28 days of February, many who were part of the Civil-Rights Movement but still that's just a portion of the picture. Industries such as law, medicine, art, invention, publishing, hospitality, real estate and apparel are all areas where numerous African-Americans made a name for themselves. People like Arthur Gaston, Jeremiah G. Hamilton, John Coburn and Chloe Spear are just a few names but their success defies the perceived norm and that success was not confined to just one era but was a truth, for some, throughout the history of Blacks in America. Given the circumstances of how we arrived here, our presence in America today conveys a success that pervades all of American history. Back to this week's piece. In the spirit of those industrious people who's stories remain untold (and the portraits of my great-grandparents), I created this week's piece-"Black Business 1890."
The portrait is of no one in particular and the date arbitrary but the objective of the piece is to emphasize my previous points. The print is 10x10" including 2" borders on all sides. Printed on heavyweight, ph-neutral, cold-press watercolor paper with archival inks. Just respond here or email me with Weekly Painting #9 in the subject if you would like one.

I apologize to anyone who has been waiting for these updates. It's been awhile, I know. I have more to share so stay tuned!

Oh,one more thing. 
This Sunday, May 15th in Brooklyn, 
I will be at the 5th Ave Street Fair, 5th Ave between 1st and 2nd Street in the artist area. I may have one or two proofs left of the Black Business 1890 and a Brief History of Sambo. Hope to see you!


Copyright © Sean Qualls 2016, All rights reserved.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Part of the joy and challenge of being an artist for me,

is not knowing exactly how a work a will evolve or look when finished. And although I usually have something of a vision of what I want, rarely does a painting turn out exactly how I imagined - sometimes it's close and I'm satisfied and sometimes I'm
happily surprised by the results.
Much of my personal work has been inspired and influenced by vintage advertising graphics, more specifically products featuring African-Americans or those geared to

A few years back, I created this piece based on the idea of a fictitious line of hair products called New Age Hair Grease.
On the same theme, later I did this piece but with no hand lettering.
Fast forward to 2015, I wanted to do more with the NAHG theme. I didn't have a really strong vision of what I wanted the piece to look like but knew that I wanted it to be a step forward from the previous ones.
Especially with my daily/weekly paintings, I try to keep things simple (and small) so
that I can easily move onto the next one and not get stuck. Simple enough in theory but it seems like there's often a "hiccup" which impedes progress - as it was this piece was leaving me very dissatisfied.

I decided to move onto other paintings but eventually came back to it and decided to strip away most parts, the hand lettering most of all. 
I also wanted to base the face on a woman from a previous piece (above) that I was happier with.
I added more overall contrast. This was definitely a case where I did not have a strong vision for the final art, but I 
knew it still wasn't quite there. I integrated hand lettering but decided not to continue with the original NAHG theme. I added more subtlety of color and values.

Finally finished.
I have a few prints of some of the above images available ranging from $30-$50 plus shipping.

NAHG #1 is 13X16", image size 9x12" with 2" boarders on all sides - $50 
Star Power is 9x9", image size 5x5" with 2" boarders on all sides - $30 (currently sold-out, back in stock soon.)
Afro Psyche #1 is 10 x 13", image size is 6x9" with 2" boarders on all sides - $45 (currently sold out-order now, back in stock soon)
Red Psyche is also 10 x 13", image size is 6x9" with 2" boarders on all sides - $45
Fro is also available 10x10", image size is 6x6" with 2" boarders on all sides - $40

I have a limited number of prints, first come, first serve. Each one is printed on, 
oba-free, watercolor paper with archival inks. Just leave a comment and we can work out the details.
Again, stay tuned. If you know anyone you think may be interested please direct them here to my blog or have them contact me and I’ll add them to my list.
Apologies to those who have been waiting for updates. Now that I'm in my new studio I hope to keep the blog updated with new work more regularly. 


Saturday, November 7, 2015


I don't remember exactly when I first heard the story of Sara Baartman, 

nor do I recall the first time I heard the term "Hottentot Venus" as she became known but what I do recall is my fascination with her and her life. If you don't already know it, read more here.Briefly, she was born in South Africa in the 19th Century and was taken to Europe in her early 20's to be examined by doctors then shown off in a circus because of her unusually large buttocks.When she died her brain and other body parts were displayed in a museum in France until the 1980's. Author, visual artist and poet Barbara Chase-Riboud wrote a novel based on her life.
Part of the animating force behind my personal work is uncovering "invisible histories" or untold stories. Another book (and similar story) I recently discovered is about Ota Benga a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who lived in the 19th & 20th centuries.
Here's this week's piece:Displaying This one is 6x6, mixed media on masonite panel.
Again, I'll be creating new posts every week, hopefully on Friday but if not, before the weekend is over. If you know of anyone interested please refer them here.
Right now, I'm in Columbus, OH  about to speak on a panel: “The Power of Picture Books: Illustrators Who Use Pictures to Speak” for the 17th Annual Conference for American Association of School Librarians, AASL. Also,next weekend, Selina and I will be at the Brooklyn Museum's Ninth Annual Children's Book Fair on Saturday Nov. 14 from 12-4pm.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


In the first picture book I illustrated,

The Baby on the Way, I was required to alternate between scenes of the rural south and an urban rooftop garden. This was back in 2004 when I first began using hand-painted paper as collage for grass and other foliage.
Soon after, I was offered the opportunity to illustrate The Poet Slave of Cuba While I did use some collage for the art, I mostly painted the foliage.
Around the same time I was creating art for the book Dizzy, about the life of jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie. I used the same stylization for flames as I had been for grass.
I came to really enjoy adding these decorative elements to my art not only enhanced the imagery but also gave me an opportunity to be more abstract in my work.

By the time I illustrated Lullaby , I wanted to take a different approach to these elements and began including magazine collage along with my hand-painted collage papers and the foliage took on a greater prominence.
And with Emmanuel's Dream, I decided that a dialed back, hand-painted collage paper approach would work best to accent the landscape of Ghana.
This week I have two pieces to share:

From time to time, I like to return to my earlier art to see what I was doing at the time. Often, I'll find elements in the work that I want to explore further. I like to think of it as finding forgotten conversations.
These are both mixed media on 6x6" on masonite.
Next week I'll be in Columbus, OH speaking on a panel: “The Power of Picture Books: Illustrators Who Use Pictures to Speak” for the 17th Annual Conference for American Association of School Librarians, AASL ( . Also, Selina and I will be at theBrooklyn Museum's Ninth Annual Children's Book Fair ( on Nov. 14 from 12-4pm. Thanks! Sean

Friday, October 16, 2015


Hair as a crown.

In a previous post, I wrote about my childhood afro-envy. Because hair adorns one's, head
 it can be likened to a crown. Personally, I see hair as an outward extension of one's consciousness,  
one's inner personality and not just a fashion statement, although it can be

The sixties were a perfect example. Long haired hippies made a statement about how 

they were different than their parents' generation and about their desires to be free from 
social norms and constrictions.

Similarly, in the 60's, the afro became a statement for African-Americans about being comfortable with themselves, defining their own values and replacing the conk
Similarly, in the 60's, the afro became a statement for African-Americans about being comfortable with themselves, defining their own values and replacing the conk

and other previous straightened hair styles with their natural hair texture. Even James Brown stopped straightening his hair and proclaimed - "Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud.
And of course there were the the Black Panthers.  

Finally, this week's piece was inspired by these two women:
Angela Davis

& Kathleen Cleaver

Afro Psyche #1 is 6x9" (slightly larger than my usual 6x6" pieces) mixed media on 1/2" plywood.
Again, I'll be sending out updates every week, hopefully on Friday but if not before the weekend is over. If you know of anyone interested please send them this way. 
Lastly, Selina and I had a blast last week at The NAIBA Conference where we accepted the Carla Cohen Free Speech Award for The Case for Loving. Here's a very blurry photo of us giving our acceptance speech.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Going to the movies

isn't always fun for me. I find myself fighting not to surrender to the messages they intentionally or unintentionally feed us. Are films (and television) only entertainment or do they suggest how we see ourselves and the rest of the world?

In considering this question, I started to think about how much (or how little) the role of African-Americans has changed in Hollywood. At the most elemental level, I asked myself, "Are there more leading and supporting black characters in Hollywood now than there were 100 years ago?" This led to thoughts of who were the first black actors in Hollywood?" I thought of Stepin Fetchit, Amos & Andy, Mantan Moreland and, of course,D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation which did employ some black actors but also featured white men in "black face."

I asked myself, "who were these men (and women) and how did they see themselves compared to the one-dimensional stereotypes they portrayed?"

I began doing sketches for paintings on the subject.

First, I did a larger piece about the actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry also known as Stepin Fetchit - A Brief History of Stepin Fetchit 24x30 mixed media on 1/4" hardboard.

That lead to these two smaller pieces I did for my daily/weekly painting. They are not about the characters the actors played but more of a contemplation of the inner lives' of the actors.

They are both 6x6, acrylic, pencil and collage on 1/8" hardboard. Again, I'll be updating my blog every week, hopefully on Friday but if not before the weekend is over. If you know of anyone interested in receiving updates please direct them here. 



Monday, September 28, 2015


Before coming to Brooklyn

In the early 90’s, I didn’t know a thing about jazz. I considered it the soundtrack to the affairs of old folks.
Later as a student at Pratt, I began listening to WKCR in my dorm room. Although they played other genres, jazz was a large part of their programming. They often played day long marathons of one artist. I heard the music of Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. I started to learn about the different types of jazz and how distinct one is from another. I learned that jazz is as sophisticated as the art forms I was learning about in art school. I started to view jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sun Ra not only as great artists but as iconoclasts and men of mystery who were forging new paths in music and creating “the shape of jazz to come.”
When Ornette Coleman died this summer, I decided to pay tribute to him with a painting.
This one is 6x6”, acrylic paint, pencil and collage on 1/8” hardboard.
Again, stay tuned if you want to continue receiving updates. If you know anyone you think may be interested please share this email with them or have them contact me and I’ll add them to my list.



Friday, September 18, 2015


As a kid,

Growing an afro was one of my greatest ambitions and frustrations. All of my attempts resulted in a lumpy, uneven, grease packed mess! Still, ads for afro-sheen and other black hair products gave me hope. In the end, they never seemed to deliver what they promised - my hair was left unchanged, sometimes worse off. Eventually, I gave up.
To this day, afros still fascinate me and leave me longing. People who sport them seem to have a sense of pride and personal power. For me, the memory of these ads (and their promise of a better life) still reverberate from my childhood. Years after the fact, I find myself inspired by the optimism and mystique of the graphics used to promote them.
This painting, FRO #1, is 6x6”, acrylic paint, pencil and collage on 1/8” hardboard.

Again, stay tuned if you want to continue receiving updates. If you know anyone you think may be interested please share this with them or have them contact me here and I’ll add them to my list. If you missed my first daily painting you can check it out here


Thursday, September 10, 2015


** For the past two months

I've dedicated myself to painting daily. You may be asking yourself, "Don't most artists paint everyday anyway?" Well, I can only speak for myself and the truth is I wasn't. I allowed other things to take over my day instead of making time to do personal work i.e. painting for me. Even if I was doing commissioned work like illustrating a book, I could spend most of my work day gathering reference material or responding to emails but not painting or drawing let alone doing it for myself.

By personal work I mean art that speaks to me about how I see myself, the world, race, identity and the media, I've been inspired by the Daily Painting Movement which is a growing number of artists who have dedicated themselves to painting everyday, some starting and completing a new piece every 24 hours, generally a small work. So far, for me, I'm averaging one and a half pieces per week.

If you're interested in keeping up with my progress stay tuned, I plan to send out updates every Friday with new work. If you know someone you think may be interested, please share this blog post with them or have them contact me and I will add them to my weekly mailing list.

For this week I'd like to share this piece:

Reverend Ike was a minister my mom listened to and watched on television in the 1970's. Recently, I found a link to one of his interviews on youtube. I was instantly brought back to my childhood and my mother's $ contributions to his ministry watching this flamboyant televangelist. Ever since hearing about the minister Jim Jones when I was a kid, I've been fascinated by extreme religious personalities and their lives. I'm sure Reverend Ike is only one of many off-beat religious characters that I will paint. This one is 6x6", ( a little larger than a cd case but slightly smaller than a 45rpm record) mixed media (acrylic paint, pencil) and collage on 1/8" hardboard.
#reverend ike, #rev ike, #Frederick Eikerenkoetter, #preacher,  #seanQualls, #dailypainting, #mydailypainting,