Friday, December 5, 2014

Black Lives Matter

They stood surrounded by monuments to justice in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. The crowds gathered and grew to vent their frustration, confusion, disappointment, and anger. The appalling decision on Wednesday not to indict the police officer responsible for killing the unarmed black man, Eric Garner, in Staten Island, reignited the spark from the similarly disappointing decision in Ferguson, MO. The officer who killed Michael Brown, another unarmed black man, also walked free without an indictment from the grand jury.

Thousands assembled across Manhattan in Foley Square, Union Square, Times Square, and marched across the city to let their anger be heard. The crowd is made up of men, women, black, white, Asian, Latino, gay, straight, young, old, and every piece of the New York melting pot that should make it a safe place to live for all.

The police presence was immense and intimidating. They stood like a wall, diverting the bubbling river of protesters through the streets and across the bridges of the city.

In the recent months, social media has become full of #hashtag activism to call attention to racial disparities, especially in their dealings with the police.

#HandsUpDontShoot, recalling the surrender by Michael Brown that witnesses described before he was killed.

#ICantBreathe, echoing Eric Garner’s last words before he was killed by police.

#BlackLivesMatter, the phrase that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio lamented “should never have to be said”, but still does need to be said, because black lives are frequently undervalued by the law.

#CrimingWhileWhite and #LivingWhileBlack try to highlight specific instances of how black citizens are treated by law enforcement compared to white citizens. White people committing actual crimes are ignored, while black people minding their own business are hassled, arrested, and sometimes killed. (Although this has been criticized for focusing too much on white stories in the talks about racism.)

While I may not love Twitter and Facebook, I can’t deny that these platforms have opened up discussions on race in way that allows the privileged to see a small piece of what minorities endure on a daily basis, myself included.

At one point in the protest, people carried coffins bearing the names of black people killed by police. Like pallbearers in a time of mourning, they carried the black coffins through the crowd as reminders of lives lost.

I noticed a black family next to me as the coffins passed, with a young boy, about twelve years old, chanting along with his parents. Hopefully it is empowering and maybe as he grows he will know that he does not deserve the burdens of racism he is forced to carry.

It reminded me of another popular hashtag this summer within the children’s publishing community, #WeNeedDiverseBooks. (You can read more about it here) It is a call on publishers, editors, authors, and illustrators to show a more diverse world in books for children, to reflect the world we live in.


Part of the campaign's platform is that children of color need to see themselves reflected in the books they read as kids, or they may not ever want to read at all. Black lives matter, and black stories matter. Each individual has a story that matters. These are stories that need to be told, so that the legacy of this anger will no longer be a burden, but a source of power and empathy.

My friends Carly Larsson and Audrey Hawkins also reportaged the protest.

You can see their drawings here:
Audrey Hawkins
Carly Larsson

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cubic Greco-Romans

I had the chance to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time in a while yesterday! I got to check out the new 65 million dollar entrance (meh) and the new Cubism show (yay!). It was a quick trip, but I got to spend a little time drawing around the Greco-Roman galleries afterwards.

It is always a nice palate-cleanser to go to such an amazing museum after working on projects for a while. It helps to scramble your brain a bit, and point it in new directions.

Can't wait to go back next week!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi Updates!

It has been a great couple of months for Grandfather Gandhi!

Today it was announced that Grandfather Gandhi is one of 20 titles on the 2015-2016 Texas Bluebonnet Award list of nominees! Kids then read 5 of the books, and will be able to vote for their favorite book for the award. Such an honor!

At the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show

Also this week, I was so pleased to be a part of the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show! I went to the show several years ago (I remember ogling Ed Young's brilliant artwork for Tsunami) when I was an intern at Penguin, and it felt great to be there now with work hanging in the show! So nice to meet and see illustrators I've admired the work of, and reconnect with great art directors and editors.

I did a mini-interview with John Schu of "Watch. Read. Connect." where I finished his sentences on a variety of topics: Grandfather Gandhi, Morocco, reading, and tragic stories involving obscure animals. Check it out here:

I also did an interview with the always wonderful Bethany Hegedus for the Hunger Mountain VCFA journal. She asked some great questions, so take a look!

Finally, back in September, and also with the fabulous Bethany Hegedus, I had the chance to do a couple school visits in the New York area! We stopped by the Lincoln School in Fairview, New Jersey where we talked about the themes in Grandfather Gandhi, and how it relates to bullying. The wonderful Sammy Juliano did an amazing job setting up the talks, and we had a fantastic time with great kids!

Next, Bethany and I went to the Sycamore Avenue School in Long Island where we had the privilege to talk to another wonderful group of kids. The principal, Stu Pollak, even asked me to paint a mural on their wall. How could I say no? So much fun! A couple highlights:

A girl in the 5th grade who is blind came up and was able to feel the collage illustrations for the book as her teacher and I explained what she was feeling. It was amazing! I had never thought of collage artwork being experienced in that way. She could feel the outlines of the shadows, the puffs of cotton, and the yarn of Gandhi's mustache.

My favorite question from a student came for Bethany. She talked a bit about how, like the Boston Tea Party in the United States, India rebelled against British rule and taxes. A third grader then asked, "Why did Britain want to own so many countries?" Ha! That is a good question. A very good question.

If you are interested in booking me for a visit, please contact my fantastic booking agent, Carmen Oliver, at The Booking Biz.

Michael Mahin (Photo by Roxanne Young); Evan Turk (Photo by Veronica Lawlor)

In non-Grandfather Gandhi related news, an upcoming book project was just announced!

"Reka Simonsen at Atheneum has bought world rights to Muddy by Michael Mahin (l.), to be illustrated by Evan Turk. It's a picture-book biography of blues musician Muddy Waters, whose fierce and electric sound laid the groundwork for what would become rock and roll. The book is tentatively scheduled for summer 2017; Minju Chang at BookStop Literary represented the author and Brenda Bowen at Sanford J. Greenburger represented the illustrator."

So excited for this story, and to learn more about Muddy!

*Whew* That's all for now!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rainy England


It was a rainy day in New York City today, so I thought I'd post some drawings from some of the rainier days of my trip to England this summer. It rained for about half the trip, and although it impeded some drawing opportunities, I don't think I'd have had it any other way. The countryside just looked so much more English on the rainy days. The painting above is from the village of Ebrington in the Cotswolds, which is possibly one of the quaintest places on the planet. I started the painting during a brief break in the rain, but soon the rain began to pick up. The colors started to blend into one another, and everything took on a soft, squishy look that was much more what the village felt like. The mist dappled the watercolors and made them feel just like the moss that covered every surface.

Continuing the soft and squishy trend of the English countryside were the flocks of adorable sheep that dotted the hillsides. I painted these one very rainy morning from our bedroom in a local farm house that overlooked a field covered with sheep.

Sheep are hilarious looking animals, with silly, huggable shapes that seem predestined for nursery rooms and plush toys.

I couldn't get over how cute the lambs were. Often, two of them would run at their mother from a distance and begin suckling on either side with their tiny tails wagging.

The last rainy painting was from our journey to Highclere Castle, or as it's more commonly known, Downton Abbey. Like all good American tourists, my knowledge of English culture is dictated by a melodramatic soap opera with gorgeous production values! I have to say, TV show aside, the Highclere estate really is incredible. The house is surrounded by lush, rolling hillsides covered with dark forests, scurrying white lambs, and enormous bushes of rhododendrons and azaleas in sunset colors.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

People of Marrakech

I just returned from a trip to Morocco where I was exploring, drawing, and researching for an upcoming children's book about Morocco. I met amazing people, saw amazing things, and left feeling bewildered and inspired. Most of the work I did there, I will be posting closer to the release of the book (2016!) but I couldn't resist posting a few snapshots of people in Marrakech.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Charles W. Morgan: The 38th Voyage

Why should you be excited that a historic whaleship sailed into a marine sanctuary and saw whales?

It is a valid question, and one I have asked myself as I became increasingly excited and passionate about the trip. On July 10th I boarded the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world, as a part of the 38th Voyagers program with Mystic Seaport, funded partially by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. On July 11th we sailed into the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary on a mission of peace to the first whales seen off the deck of the Morgan in nearly 100 years. It is an event largely without precedence in our country's relationship to its troubled history with the environment. To use history as the literal vehicle for scientific education about the future is something to be excited about.

Sunset, moonrise, and glittering moonlight over the decks of the Morgan

We approached the Morgan, moored out past the harbor in Provincetown, in the glow of a radiant sunset. As we climbed aboard and began our orientation, I kept rubbernecking to the sunset behind us. After the orientation we had plenty of time to sit on deck, talk amongst the voyagers, and watch the nearly full moon glitter across the water through the rigging.

Captain Kip Files

The next morning, after breakfast, we awoke and began preparing for our sail. Captain Kip Files introduced us to the voyage as we prepared to hoist the anchor and head out towards Stellwagen.

Chief Mate Sam Sikkema, Second Mate Sean Bercaw, and Third Mate Rocky Hadler

Chief Mate Sam Sikkema, Second Mate Sean Bercaw, and Third Mate Rocky Hadler (whose birthday it was!) kept the ship and crew moving smoothly as the 38th voyagers wandered about, oohing and ahhing over the experience of being on board.

It took the combined teamwork of most of the crew and guests to haul the 1600 pounds of anchor aboard. With the ship liberated from her root, the tugboat pulled us out to sea.

The tiny figures of the deckhands were suspended 10 stories above us as they climbed aloft and began to release the sails.

As the sails began to descend, the entire landscape of the ship would change from one minute to the next. The sails became like canyons across the deck, funneling the wind up and propelling the ship forward on her own power.

As they unfurled the mainsail, it billowed down like a heavy stage curtain until it filled with wind and held taut.

In full sail, the masts soared over the deck like immense, luminous towers that the crew would rotate to follow and catch the wind. The ship moved forward towards the Sanctuary, with its crew of artists, educators, and researchers.

Anne DiMonti and Gary Wikfors

Myself and the other 38th voyagers scurried about, working on our various projects. The scientists began their observations and measurements. Anne DiMonti of the Audobon Society and Gary Wikfors, marine biologist and musician, were two that assisted in dropping a phytoplankton net over the side to examine the types of microscopic life that were living in the bay. On a voyage into a whale sanctuary, it's amazing to see the other side of the size spectrum of life in the same sea.

Beth Shultz

Beth Shultz, a literary scholar, professor, and collector of the art of Moby Dick, was on board absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of a whaleship and creating poetry from the experience. Other voyagers used photography, video, and historic navigational tools to record their fleeting time aboard.

Then came the moment we had all been waiting for. With the tugboat gone, we were at full sail and entering the Marine Sanctuary. Suddenly, from up in the masts, the shout came out: "WHALE!"

And there, just over the starboard side of the ship, a minke whale's arched back crested the water and slithered back underneath. This was the first whale seen from the deck of the Morgan in almost 100 years. We watched her fade into the distance as we sailed by, her glistening fin surfacing every so often until she disappeared under the water.

As we sailed deeper into the sanctuary, the whaleboat was lowered over the side, in the same way it would have been during a whale chase.

In the distance, we began to see spouts, the shimmering exhalation of the whales.

Soon we were surrounded by humpback whales, surfacing, feeding, and spouting. The tiny whaleboat gingerly approached them, becoming dwarfed by the massive creatures.

With no malice on either side, the crew on the whaleboat watched as humpback whales surfaced, fluked, and fed just a little ways from their boat. How magical to be in the same place as a whaler from the Morgan, but with no task to do, no prey to kill, just time to sit and watch in awe.

The whales came closer to the Morgan, raising their elegant tails into the air and mightily slapping the surface of the water right next to the ship. It's hard not to think that the whales are aware that they are communicating with us. Whether or not they were trying to directly say something, their actions communicated with us nonetheless. They were not fleeing, they were not attacking, we were merely two species sharing the same speck of ocean for a time.

The crew and guests, meanwhile, buzzed about in a state of euphoria. Nearby, prominent marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle was interviewed about her thoughts on the Morgan's voyage into the Sanctuary. She spoke about how until recently, and in the time of the Morgan's whalers, it was always taken for granted that there would always be enough fish, enough whales, enough ocean. It is only a new change in perception that we realize that, small though we may be, we have an enormous impact on our environment and it cannot be taken for granted that it will always be there. This new awareness fills the sails of this 38th voyage and propels the Morgan forward on her new journey.

Gary Wikfors plays a German waldzither built during the same time period as the Morgan as we were towed back into port.

The Charles W. Morgan is an amazing confluence of what is important about history, and what is important about the future. Her history knits together the entire world, through her journeys and through the men who sailed aboard her. The cargo she brought back, spermaceti, oil, and baleen, served as the predecessors of the plastics industry and the industrial revolution. The light created from the oil and wax of sperm whales lit the world of the 19th century. The bodies of whales fed hungry people across the world after World War II as mechanized factory whaling took hold and decimated whale populations.

Today, our oceans are in an even more deplorable state as we harvest them beyond their breaking point and pollute them beyond all reason. But as perceptions of the natural world change, whales offer a symbolic embodiment of this change. These immense creatures that were once floating commodities, are now seen as one of the greatest ambassadors of the awe of the natural world.

The sailing of this ship is not just an event that is important to New England and its community that is so inextricably linked to whaling history, it is of nationwide and worldwide importance. To be able to resussitate a piece of history and use it as a catalyst for education and change is an amazing feat, and one that can act as an inspiration going forward. History and tradition do not need to be impediments to change and progress; they can be the wind that carries this change.

Through history, people can reaffirm their connections to their roots, while also becoming educated and invigorated about how that history connects to the changes that need to be made today. Provincetown, from which I sailed on the Morgan into the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary, used to be one of the busiest whaling ports in the world. Today, it is a huge center for whale conservation and related tourism. A large part of the town’s image today is based around the idea that protecting and learning about whales can be good business.

Imagine if communities across the world, entrenched in history and tradition, saw conservation as a viable way to preserve those histories.  Because of the Morgan’s new message, the history and tradition associated with whaling will be relevant for many more decades to come.

The Morgan sailing again does not mean our oceans are fixed. It does not mean our relationship with our oceans is fixed. The Morgan's voyage is not a victory lap, but it can be the starting pistol.

To see video and photos of the Morgan's voyages in Stellwagen, check out the links below:

From Whaling to Watching

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 
Evan Turk Travel Illustration