For the longest time, I had the distinct impression that there were precious few women illustrators in the children’s book market. Can you blame me? According to one noted illustrator, a scant 20% of the illustration work goes to women. If that’s true, no matter how you look at it, that’s a pretty low percentage. When you set that percentage next to the rather large, comprehensive list of female artists available today, the percentage seems even more egregious. What’s going on here? Time to ask some hard questions.
Questions are what led me to write this particular blog. Recently, I approached the editor of a current work-in-progress about seeking out a female illustrator for one of my new books. The book is written by moi, a woman, and is about women, and so I thought it only right that the book be illustrated by a woman as well. He did not disagree. So, to help matters along, I decided to put together a comprehensive list of female illustrators from which to choose. To build that list, I went on Facebook, suggested I was building such a list, and asked my FB friends who should be on it. The response? A veritable deluge of names! I was pleased, but more than a little surprised. Why did I not have a sense of their presence in the marketplace, I asked myself. I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years, and yet I had no idea of such a dominant female presence. What were the reasons?
Are the skill sets of male and female artists significantly different from one another? A female art teacher I spoke with suggested that, on average, men have a better spatial sense and a better intuitive idea of perspective than female artists, while women, on the whole, are better at drawing figures. I find that argument intriguing. I can personally think of an artist couple I know for whom that is exactly true. But I don’t know how common that is. I do a little painting, myself, but I’ve never attempted illustration, so this is not my area of expertise. Still, it would seem to me, for the many different kinds of books that are produced, more than 20% of them would benefit as much from the skills of a woman as that of a man, whether or not those skill sets differ.
There may be another reason why the lion’s share of illustration work seems to go to men rather than women.
Even a cursory look at the publishing industry will reveal that women dominate the field. How many male editors or art directors do you know? Go on. Count them. If you need more than one hand, I’d be surprised. When it comes to illustrators, which gender do you think a female editor or art director will be inclined to hire? Go on. Be honest. And if that male is cute? Forget about it! I’m not blind. I see all the flirting that goes on between male artists and the women who hire them. Still, I’d never thought about how that casual interplay might impact the selection of illustrators for book projects. (And don’t even get me started on the number of women NOT winning the Caldecott!
Do all male artists flirt? No, not all. Does sexual heat always play into the hiring choice of an illustrator? Absolutely not. To suggest so would be an insult to many outstanding men working in this field who eschew the very idea of using their manly charms to secure a contract. However, to deny that gender preference is, indeed, a factor on many occasions would be, at best, dishonest. That’s not happening here.
So, what is the solution? How can we even the playing field for women artists? That’s a tough one. I have a suggestion, though, a place where we can begin.
We can and should encourage editors and art directors to do a better job of sharing projects with female illustrators. We should raise our voices whenever we encounter this type of gender inequity. And, as authors, we can make a concerted effort to suggest and recommend more female illustrators for our own books. That’s my plan, and I hope other authors will do likewise.
Heck, my own future might include cover art and picture book illustration. If it does, when I venture out into the marketplace, I’d like to find a level playing field. Wouldn’t you?