May They Aspire: Guest Post by Darnell Johnson

Darnell Johnson is the illustrator of the upcoming graphic novel, Power Up. In today’s guest post for the Mackin community blog, he discusses his process of creating art that inspires children.

Like many kids, my childhood involved watching cartoons, playing video games, and reading comics. I never missed Saturday morning cartoons. Once the shows were finished, I would grab my sketchbook and draw before going outside to play. But, let’s rewind a little bit. My mother tells me that I followed after my dad one day and redrew something he erased on a chalkboard we had; that’s when she noticed there might be something there. My elementary teacher also confirmed it was a gift from God when she told my mom that I had potential in art. So, my mother enrolled me into a magnet art school in Miami, Florida.

Fast forward to now that I have children of my own, I want to be present in their lives. Just as my mom did for me; praying to know who I’m training up so that I can help nurture their gifts and talents. I think that’s important for every kid. It’s also important for children’s books, among other content that they consume, to be diverse. They need to see themselves in the stories they read and view. Not only does it reflect the real world, but teaches them to love others and celebrate our unique differences. It also helps eliminate any mental walls on how a child may think about what they aspire to be in life.

My creative process involves me sitting down with the words of the author. I’ll read through them once to receive initial feels for the story. Then I’ll read them again, but this time I’ll start to doodle and take notes on the characters and environments of the story. I also take this time to see how I can connect with the story by bringing in my life experiences. After designing the characters, I sometimes move onto rough thumbnails of the pages to figure out composition. Then I do tight sketches of the page layouts. Next, I’ll do rough color comps for the pages. Then from there I move to rendering the final illustrations for the book.

As an illustrator, I aim to draw lines that help connect with children to show them their value. Also, to inform them that they are created for so much more than what the world may say they are. There’s greatness inside of them. I hope the art I make empowers them to see it for themselves. I want children to aspire to be the light of the world and