Every October marks Black History Month in the UK, a time to celebrate the incredible contribution the African diaspora has given to British culture but also a time to reflect on the cost. In a year of protests and pandemics, it feels more important than ever to highlight individual stories and recognise those who broke boundaries. Enter the incredible ‘A Black Woman Did That’ book by author, editor and publishing stalwart, Malaika Adero featuring 42 world-changing women each beautifully illustrated by Chanté Timothy. As a former Nexus Studios employee and an exciting talent we wanted to catch up with Chanté about the book, her illustration practice and how she’s found creativity in lockdown.
Can you tell us how you became involved with ‘A Black Woman Did That? Do you have any favourites from the book and why?
Back in 2017 I joined a database called Women Who Draw as a way to get my artwork out there in front of more people, I had never really planned to work in children’s book publishing but I was approached by Downtown Bookworks to illustrate (at the time) 40 Black Women. My favourite illustrations from the whole book are Mae Jemison and Alice Coltrane I had the most fun with the detail in Mae and the bright colours in Alice Coltrane.
Can you talk us through your background and how you got into illustration?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, I was that kid that would ask for a pencil and some paper and entertain myself drawing instead of playing with dolls. I have always planned on drawing for a living, I just didn’t know how it would work as everyone always tells you you’ll go hungry. I went to Coventry University to study Illustration and Graphics, I originally thought I wanted to be a Graphic designer but during my stay at Coventry I went on an Erasmus year out in Berlin where I was a Design intern for Bethaus Berlin. Although I had an amazing time with great memories I realised the rules in Graphic Design are too stifling for me, in my final year I figured out the beginnings of my creative style by drawing every day of 2016. Straight after university I had a few professional gigs but my day jobs did get in the way of any real progress, my career is only now has it become stable. After illustrating ‘A Black Woman Did That’ I realised that I would love to work on more children’s books. I eventually found a course called Pathways into Children’s Book Publishing (I’m currently in my second year) and this has really helped propel me in to the right direction introducing me to different publishers which has allowed for a few exciting projects to come my way. In the end there was never a doubt, I don’t believe there’s another career path better suited to me, illustration has been the only passion I’ve ever had.
Where do you draw your influences from?
Everyday life, my past, my future, this question is always difficult because there’s no one thing I can pin down my influences on. I can tell you about the people that have influenced my life because of all the positivity they spread, mainly accepting others differences and one’s true self.
Malorie Blackman in the way she writes and in my favourite book series of all time “Noughts & Crosses”. Andrea Pippins as she’s already striving to create images that reflect what she wants to see in art, media, and design as a person of colour. Andy J Pizza’s amazing “Creative Pep Talks” for that week’s boost in positivity in the creative industry. Michelle Obama … well, it’s Michelle Obama what else can you say, amazing woman and amazing book. Frannerd is my role model and inspiration on where I’d like to be in my career and a freelance illustrator. Andre 3000 (Outkast), Anderson Paak, Lizzo are just amazing musicians and so expressive and passionate I aspire to have that kind of passion in my own work.
How have you found working in lockdown?
It was incredibly difficult for my mental state mainly because I was away from grieving family, work felt pointless and it was hard to find joy in the good things that were happening to my career. My room did turn into my prison which I think a lot of people can relate to but now it’s my sanctuary and stepping outside it feels alien, I worked on making the space comfortable with a host of plants and have now become a huge plant mum not something I expected of myself. It’s still difficult to separate work and rest and there is less that a metre separation from my desk to my bed but my productivity is up as there’s little distractions other than my sweet little mum checking on me every so often.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m in the middle of several large commissions so watch this space 2021 is going to be an amazing year!
Check out Chanté on Instagram at hey.chante