‘If you don’t see enough representation of yourself, then you can create your own stories’: Roanoke artist decides to draw for a purpose

Black History Month

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — It’s important for all voices from different backgrounds and ethnicities to be seen and heard across all platforms of media.

Experts say representation is important for a child’s development. For many in the African American community, that level of representation is gradually being recognized.

One Roanoke illustrator is trying to do his part by providing positive and innovative images for children.

Meet Theodore Taylor III, or what his friends like to call him, Teddy.

“He’s a gentle soul. He’s a gentle, quiet, creative, deep thinker,” said Leslie Taylor, Teddy’s mother. “He was always capturing life from moment to moment.” 

“I just remember being a kid and having a ton of sketchbooks and being really into cartoons,” said Teddy.

Growing up in the Star City, his love for drawing led him to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“I was doing a lot of music-oriented work and that’s where my first art director found my work online and asked if I wanted to do When The Beat Was Born,” Teddy explained

While bringing his illustration of DJ Kool Herc to life, thinking about how he created break dancing, that was when Teddy — with some help from his mother — noticed that something was missing. 

“I said, make sure you include more women. He had a crowd scene, and it was full of, of young man,” said Leslie.

“So I went back and added some in cause I felt it needed that,” said Teddy.

“I said, ‘make sure your work represents diversity, even if, you know, whether it’s racial, gender, or age,” Leslie said.

Teddy’s illustrations for When the Beat was Born won him the American Library Association Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award, and the Texas Bluebonnet Award.

From there, it opened doors to other projects like a children’s series with Shaquille O’Neal, Woke a Young Poet’s Call to Justice, and his last project, C is for Country, in which he did the illustrations for rapper Lil Nas X.

“I just remember when, uh, when I was working on Lil Nas X, it was during a lot of the protests going on,” said Teddy.

No matter what he’s working on, Teddy is always conscious of representation. 

“It makes you think a lot more about what you’re drawing and how you represent characters and things like that,” Teddy said.

Even though the level of representation is gradually being recognized for people of color, Teddy has this message for the next generation. 

“If you don’t see enough representation of yourself, then you can create your own stories.”

Teddy has illustrated nine books and is currently working on his own project, writing and illustrating a children’s book about street art. 

For more information about Teddy’s work, click here.

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