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, 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What Ever Happened to Sean Qualls's Blog?

In case you were wondering why I  haven't posted here in a while,
it's because I've moved things over to my artist page on facebook. If you're into the social media thing (I'm not so much, I really only do fb and instagram), browse my artist page Remember to click the "like" button. While I'll still post stuff here once in a blue, I've been updating my artist page about once a week. You can read about my new book LULLABY (by Langston Hughes) and also get details on things like the 5th Ave. Street Fair in Brooklyn where I'll be selling and signing copies of LULLABY, some of my other books and prints too, today!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Visit My Studio, Win a Free Book

I am participating in GO a borough-wide open studio project organized by the Brooklyn Museum. Over 1800 Brooklyn artists will open their studios this weekend
Visitors get to vote for their favorite artists. 
Artists who receive the most votes will be included in an exhibit at the 
Brooklyn Museum this December.

I’ll be showing art from over 13 children’s books that I've illustrated, 
personal work (including drawings and sketchbooks) and works in progress.

My studio (and my wife's) will be open from 11am-7pm Saturday, Sept. 8 and Sunday, Sept. 9.

Our address: 399A Prospect Ave. (bet. 7th & 8th Ave.- Brooklyn of course)

Drop by, sip wine, drink beer, be entertained by our kids and 

I would love to see you! Bring friends.

**Did I mention? Lucky visitors/voters will receive a free copy of one of my books!! 
I’ll be giving away five copies each day.

Check out the GO website for more details on how to participate.

If you want to support us here's what to do:
  • Register to vote (you can do this before visiting or up to 24hrs after visiting our studios.)
  • Add my studio to your itinerary.  Plan a walking studio day and see tons of art, have lunch at Thistle Hill, which is right near our place.
  • Tell your friends, neighbors, families and colleagues to come visit our studios this weekend.
  • Share your itinerary via Facebook, Twitter, email, or blog.
  • Download the GO App to assist your tour.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Way back in the day before I knew anything about making picture books, a friend introduced me to the work of Leo & Diane Dillon. Just a few months ago, my wife Selina Alko and I had the honor to meet with them in their home and discuss art, race, and the world of picture books. Sadly, Leo just passed on Saturday, the 26th. I’m forever grateful to them both for many years of inspiration.

The Dillons on the Dillions

dillon leo lee diane 500x318 The Dillons on the Dillions
The Dillons in 1976. Photograph by Terry Langendeon.

Diane Dillon

by Leo Dillon
DIANE DILLON is one of the finest artists I’ve ever known, and I realized it even before I met her. I was at Parsons School of Design in New York City when one day I noticed a painting hanging on the wall at a student exhibition. It was a painting of a chair—an Eames chair—and I knew it had to be by a new student because nobody in our class at the time could paint like that. I looked at the painting, and I thought, ”I’m in trouble now!” This artist could draw. That was all right—I could draw too. This artist knew perspective, which is one of the most difficult things a beginner has to learn. And most important—this artist had the patience to render! This artist was a whole lot better than I. I figured I’d better find out who he was. He was Diane.
I hadn’t spoken to her yet—in fact, I wasn’t sure I was going to—when she came over to me and said, “You are very good.” “Hah!” I thought. “Talented Miss Wasp is now going to condescend to tell one of the menials he’s good. I know better. I said, “I see that one of your pieces is very nice too.” And that pretty much set the tone of our relationship for the next several years.
One of the things about Di’s work that is so incredible is her use of color. She can do things with color I can hardly believe—make reds look cool and blues look warm, things like that because she really understands color. Once, after we were married, we were working on a piece and she mentioned very casually that we should do the color in pink and orange. “If we do it in pink and orange,” I said, “that will be the end! I can’t live with someone who’d do anything in pink and orange. We’ll have to get a divorce!” We did it in pink and orange, of course, and a couple of years later everywhere I turned I was seeing things in pink and orange. It’s a common combination now.
People wonder a lot about how we work together. But I don’t think people ever realize how hard it was for us to learn how to blend our styles. It was years and years before we could pass a piece of work back and forth between us and not get into a fight. One time we were working on an illustration, and we just couldn’t agree about the approach. It was a book jacket, I think, something about medieval knights. I thought the style should be rough and strong; Di thought it should be fine and delicate. We fought about it, but neither of us could convince the other, and neither was willing to compromise. We ended up using both styles – the bottom half showing the horses was done in woodcuts, or anyway, something that was rough and crude, and the top half, which showed the knights, was done finely and delicately. As I recall, it worked out all right, but I know how!
Things are good now, though. It used to be that one of us would do the actual drawing and the other would make comments or draw a change on a tissue overlay. But now one of us can just pass the piece of art to the other, and he or she can erase what’s wrong and redraw right on the original. Our egos aren’t at stake anymore.
As a matter of fact, everything’s going well now. It’s really one of the nicest times in my life. The art is good, and our son Lee, now twelve, is old enough to work with. I love working on things with him -like on the house. Once I was putting in a floor and Lee was helping me. I’d measured everything and
shown him what to do, and we were both working away. In about ten minutes he came over to me and said, “I think your measurements are wrong.” Very quietly. Very modestly. Very correctly. I let him measure the whole floor, and it’s a beautiful job. He’s wonderful. Having three artists in the house—or maybe it’s four, since Di and I do so much work together— is better than anything I ever dreamed of.

Leo Dillon

by Diane Dillon
WHEN I THINK about Leo, the first thing that comes to mind is his strength. Obviously he’s strong physically, but that’s not what I mean, although one strength is symbolic of the other. It’s more a matter of endurance and remarkable patience – although he’s terribly impatient waiting for rubber cement to dry! Leo is really a study in opposites.He’s patient with the big things, impatient with the small. He has incredible conviction, and yet he is able to admit mistakes, to change his mind and his direction if he feels he has been wrong.
The most wonderful thing about Leo’s strength, though, is his ability to transmit it to other people, to energize them, to act as motivator. He does this to many people, and he certainly does it to me. When we were first married, Leo had a job as an art director at a magazine. I was determined to be the model 1950s housewife, and that didn’t include drawing or painting. Leo took this for a while, then he casually began bringing work home, encouraging me to work with him on design problems, easing me back into art. That was really the beginning of our working together as one artist, I think. Finally there was a blowup and I got back to work!
Leo has incredible energy. I don’t think he’s ever quite understood that I need sleep occasionally; he feels sleep is a form of death—time spent not doing anything. In fact, until a few years ago he slept with his clothes on, so he’d be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Leo is, I think, the kindest man I’ve ever known—and really that’s part of his strength and his ability to motivate people. He doesn’t like crowds, big parties— things like—that but he truly loves people, and love radiates from him. He’s concerned about how people feel, about what they think—of themselves more than of him— and he’ll go out of his way not to hurt someone.
He can be tricky, though: “You’re so much better at such-and-such,” he’ll tell me, implying, “Why don’t you do it?” He had me balancing the checkbook for years before he sat down and explained to me a faster way to add! Obviously I wasn’t better at it at all—but I’m still balancing the checkbook.
Someone asked us recently who was the perfectionist, and I’d say it was Leo, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when you work so closely together. I do know, though, that our real feeling about aiming for perfection began with Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Suddenly it seemed that neither of us could tolerate even a tiny flaw, a minute speck on the black night sky, and we strove for artistic perfection on that book more than on any other except Ashanti to Zulu (both Dial). In a way, when Mosquitoes won the Caldecott Medal, it was as much a reward for us as an award. We had worked harder to achieve perfection—although, of course, we didn’t achieve it—than we ever had before, and people somehow knew it.
I don’t want to end a biography of Leo without saying something about Lee, for he is so much our pride. Lee has always been a sweet spirit and very much a part of us, never against us in any way. Other babies may have been fussy and colicky, but not Lee—he even seemed to know when we had a deadline to meet. And now that he’s growing up, he probably understands us better than anyone, puts up with our quirks, and stands now on his own in a beautiful way.

Leo and Diane Dillon

by Lee Dillon
WHAT I REALLY LIKE about my parents is that I can work with them. I can work with my father on the house, and we can talk a lot of things out without blowing up. I make jewelry, and I really enjoy going to the jewelry district with my mother and talking about jewelry designs with her. And we all have fun teasing back and forth, too.
What I don’t like is that they’re always working. Since they won the Caldecott Medal the first time, things have been lots happier around here, but there’s been a lot more work too, and I don’t like that so much. They’re really nice people, my parents, and I’d like to have more time with them when they’re not working.
My favorite book my parents have done is Ashanti to Zulu. I like realism more than abstract designs. I like the way Ashanti to Zulu shows how civilized and advanced the African peoples are, too. Too many people think Africa is primitive and uncivilized, and I hope Ashanti to Zulu will show them that this is not true. The research was murder, though, and I’m glad it’s over.
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears is a nice book, too, but as I said, I’m more into realism. The animals were okay, I thought, but the guy got a little weird.
I’ve had a lot of hobbies. I’ve been making jewelry for a couple of months. Before that I was studying Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. Before that I collected comic books and original comic-book art. Before that I grew bonsai plants. Before that I collected stamps. And before that I collected coins. I think what I’ll be someday, though, is an artist. I haven’t decided what kind of art work yet, but I probably will not limit it to just one thing.
Since I’m living with my parents, I learn a lot of things about art, and I can do some specific kinds of things now, but I wouldn’t call myself an artist yet. I guess what I mainly want to do is to live nicely, but in the background. I don’t think I want to be famous. For instance, at ALA last summer, I liked rolling posters at the Dial booth. It was sort of like a race, to see if I could roll posters as fast as my parents could sign them. And I met a lot of nice people too, which I enjoyed. But once somebody asked me to sign one of the posters, and that really embarrassed me. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt embarrassed if I’d done something, but I’m not sure. I think I’d just rather be in the background anyway.
From the August 1977 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.