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Alleanna Harris

A common sentiment shared by a lot of the guests I’ve had on the podcast is that you can’t be what you don’t see. That starts at a young age, too — think about the book covers and other visuals you saw as a child and how that’s shaped you to where you are now. Luckily, there are dope illustrators like this week’s guest, Alleanna Harris, who are creating images that captivate and inspire kids so they can truly see themselves.

Alleanna and I went over some of her recent projects, including a portrait of Will Smith she drew in front of The Fresh Prince himself. She also shared her process on how she conveys a book’s story through pictures while also making them stunningly appealing. Later, Alleanna talked about growing up in South Jersey, attending UArts, spoke on the benefits of being represented by an agent, and told me what she appreciates the most about her life right now. Alleanna is a rising star, and according to her, a career in the world of illustration is possible! (So keep drawing!)

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Alleanna Harris:
I’m Alleanna Harris. I’m a freelance illustrator from South Jersey. I mainly illustrate picture books, but I also do editorial, commercial, advertising, chapter books. I illustrate a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far?

Alleanna Harris:
It’s been going pretty well. It’s kind of different than last year. Last year, I took on a lot, and the year before that, so I’ve been trying to just chill a little bit and take on less just so I could align myself with projects that I really want to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I find that a lot of creative folks I’ve talked to just on the show and off the show, they really started the year off kind of slow. Like, they’re really kind of easing into 2023.

Alleanna Harris:
Definitely, definitely. That’s what I’ve been doing my best, just picking things that I really, really like that I’m really, really into.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, based on all that hard work that you talked about before, I hear that congratulations are in order. There’s a book that you illustrated that won in the Black Kidlit Awards, is that right?

Alleanna Harris:
Yep, yep. It won best biography in the first Black Kidlit Awards ever. It’s called Marvelous Mabel. It’s about the life of Mabel Fairbanks. And she was the first Black figure skater, just the first Black famous figure skater. She came up in 1930s, 1940s, New York City. So it’s basically about her early life and all the things that she went through while trying to learn how to figure-skate, and it actually won. And it was the biggest surprise ever. I just went on Instagram and people were like, “Hey, Alleanna, you won,” and I was like, “What?” And I looked and it said, “Best biography,” and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I actually won.”

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, congratulations.

Alleanna Harris:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
I also saw, just from peeking around through social media, you also recently did some work with Pentagram, which is a extremely well-known agency. How was that project?

Alleanna Harris:
It was pretty awesome. They emailed me and they said that they wanted some work done in the picture-book style for an animation for the Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And basically, they said that they wanted me to illustrate a character named Abeo, and she was about six or seven, and they wanted a good representation of a kid in early elementary school just so that they could show it to policymakers. And it was up to me to come up with the character and what she looked like and how she moved around. So I actually ended up illustrating a lot of the key frames for the animation and a lot of the assets, the things that she’s holding, like her books and pencils and different formulas. And it was a really amazing process. I got to work with the great folks at Pentagram and another animation studio named Kong in the UK, so that was really, really awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
How long did that project take, just overall?

Alleanna Harris:
You know what? Animation… Well, actually, that would be more advertising. Those kinds of projects are really, really fast-paced, so that took about, I would say, under a month, maybe about three weeks. So it was-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, it was fast.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, it was really, really fast, but it went really well. It was pretty straightforward.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, since we’re already getting into your work, I want to keep going down that road. We talked a little bit before we started recording, and you mentioned that you started professionally as an illustrator in 2017, but prior to that, you were, I guess, testing the waters, maybe, on Etsy. Is that right?

Alleanna Harris:
Yep, that’s right. I started right after college in 2015. And it was funny because my mom, she said, “Well, if you’re right out of college and you want to do this illustration thing, then you know what, I’m going to give you two years so you could figure it out. Do your best to figure it out in two years, and if not, then you could go right into probably, like, a master’s program.” So I was like, “Okay, I really have to figure this out.” And the best thing that I could think of was to just sketch and draw what’s around me or things that interested me. So I did a ton of sketches of places in Philly, and I also did a ton of illustrations of different Philly foods, and different pop-culture things, like living single in a different world. I ended up putting them on a Etsy shop, and it actually did well as soon as I started offering those prints. And that’s where I got my start.

Maurice Cherry:
How was Etsy like? Was it a good platform for you to, I guess, test out whether or not you had a market for your work?

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, it was really good. I was really surprised, actually, because when I put them on, I was pretty convinced it would take a long time. It’s crazy, but it was a week, only a week that someone first bought one of my prints. And I actually think it was a Ferris Bueller print that was my first sale. And then around that same time, I started sharing my illustrations on Instagram, too, so I started building an audience on there.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that the one where they’re at the Sears Tower and they’re leaning over and their foreheads hitting the glass?

Alleanna Harris:
Yes. Yep, that was the one.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that one. That one is so good. It’s so good.

Alleanna Harris:
Thank you. Thank you. That’s the one I did. That one, and then I did different ones of Cameron’s… I think it’s Redhawks jersey, Sloane’s white leather jacket, and then Ferris’s shirt/vest combo, and that did well, too. So, that was kind of my start on Etsy.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned earlier, when you were working with Pentagram, that they wanted, quote, unquote, “a picture-book style.” What does your process look like for illustrating a picture book? I would imagine it’s probably different from working with an author than it is working with a company or a nonprofit.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, definitely. Well, for picture books, it can actually take a long time. It could take a year or more. Because I don’t actually work directly with authors; I usually work directly with the publishers. So I usually get those projects through my agent. My agent, Alex, she usually emails me with a manuscript and she’s like, “What do you think about this? Do you like how it sounds? Are you interested?” And then I look over it and then I say yes or no. And then if it’s a yes, then I look over the manuscript again, and then they might send me these thing called art notes. Usually they’re within a template for the book, so usually they place the text within the book so that I have a place to sketch everything. And then they give me art notes, which basically tell me what to draw.

But lately, they haven’t been giving me art notes. They’ve just been saying, “Okay, here’s the manuscript, and go for it.” So, I just sketch things, whatever comes to mind, whatever I think fits the story best, and then I send it back to them. The editor and the art director go over it, and then they come up with feedback and notes, and then I revise. Usually it’s a bunch of revisions, just a cycle of revisions. And then I go to final art, I start to add color. Sometimes I do rough color, I just place colors around, and then they give me the “Go ahead,” and then I fix that up. And then it’s another cycle of revisions. And then after I finish the final color, I usually go over it again. And then that’s it. It’s a long process, but it’s totally worth it.

Maurice Cherry:
And you mostly work with the editors, that’s interesting. For some reason, I thought you’d be working more closely with the author since it’s their words and everything.

Alleanna Harris:
I know, and usually… Well, when I started, I thought that would be the case, too, but no, I work directly with the art director and then the editor. Usually it’s both of them together. For my last couple of books, I talked to the authors after the process. It’s really funny. I usually don’t talk to them, not unless it’s through the editor.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would imagine the authors are… I mean, do they like that process, I guess? I don’t know. I guess that’s not really for you to decide, huh?

Alleanna Harris:
Not really. Usually, I guess they rely on the editors for that. If they have things that they want me to include, if they have reference photos or other things like that, they send it through the editor, and then I work from there.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting, interesting. Well, I guess if the author’s writing the book at that point, they’re like, “Look, you got it from here.” No, I mean, I guess it sounds like the authors are happy with it. I would imagine that would be kind of awkward if you do all this illustration for the book and the author’s like, “I don’t know if this is really what I wanted for the book.”

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah. Oh, no, that would be so awkward. But I mean, I would work with it and then I’d get it to a place where we’re all happy. But yeah, they leave it up to the editor and the art director. I’d say for one of the books, it was actually a early reader, and it was about Geoffrey Holder, the actor and Broadway star. I actually had to go through a lot of revisions for that one just to get it to a place where the author was happy with it. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy with the art, but it was just a certain kind of feeling that she wanted, because he’s from Trinidad and she just wanted it to have that homey, bright feeling, just, like, Caribbean feeling. It took me a few revision cycles to get there, but I got there, so she was happy with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, to that end, when you’re illustrating for a book, is it more about trying to accurately convey the story, or is it about making something, like you just mentioned, making it more visually appealing?

Alleanna Harris:
It’s both because you want the reader… And usually the reader is a kid. You want kids to want to know what they’re looking at, and two, to feel something from the book. So it’s usually my job to get it there, to get it accurate enough where they know who they’re looking at just by their parents, but also, it’s up to me to make it look good enough in terms of color and mood so that it really affects the readers.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, yeah. I mean, you said it’s a picture book, so the picture has to be sort of the primary focus almost, it sounds like.

Alleanna Harris:
Right, right.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Aside from that Geoffrey Holder book you mentioned, was there ever a particularly challenging illustration you had to create for a book, whether it was technical or just getting the look and feel right?

Alleanna Harris:
Oh my goodness, yes. It was actually my first picture book called The Journey of York. I’d say it was more like a oil painting-type style. It was way more realistic. And it had a lot of different landscapes, and all the people had to look really real. So it took a lot of work to get it to a point where it looked right. It had all these different locations in the Pacific Northwest and all this vegetation and all these people. And it was just a lot of going back and forth with my art director, Laurie. It took a lot of research, too. They actually sent me a book, and I do not remember the name of it, but it’s somewhere in my bookcase at back of me. But they had to send me a book, and it had a lot about the clothes that they wore during that time. It also had some examples of the places that Lewis and Clark went, because it was basically about the enslaved man that went along with them, and it was basically the brains of the operation alongside with Sacagawea. So, it was just a lot to that artistically.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I want to get more into your work and your career. There’s some really dope things that you’ve done that I want to talk about. But before we get there, let’s learn more about you. Now, you’re originally from Philly, but you were raised in South Jersey, is that correct?

Alleanna Harris:
Yes, yes. I’m Philly born. My parents are both from Philly. And I was raised in South Jersey, about 20-30 minutes away, Northeast. So, Philly is really important to me. Yeah, just raised in South Jersey and in a very, very close-knit family. It was a pretty cool upbringing. The town where I was raised in, it’s predominantly Black. I mostly went to Quaker schools growing up. And for those that aren’t familiar with Quaker schools, it’s basically Christian, but they believe that the light of God is in everyone, and they don’t have worship services. They just sit in silence for a little bit of time weekly. They’re known for just very rigorous academic programs. So, I went to Quaker schools for K through 12, kindergarten, all the way through 12th grade, and it was really a awesome experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you do a lot of drawing as a kid or as a teenager?

Alleanna Harris:
Oh, yeah. I’ve been drawing forever. When I was little, when I was a toddler, I would just scribble in all of my mom’s legal pads. Every single page, I’d just scribble. Like, turn the page, scribble, turn the page scribble. And then she’d go to work and then take out her legal pad, and then all of them were just covered in scribble. When I got a little older, I would always doodle in the church programs. By the time I got to middle school, I would keep a sketchbook with me. And my mom and my grandma were super supportive because they’d always be like, “Did you remember to bring your sketchbook? Always remember to sketch.” And I would just sketch everything that was around me. In high school, I was more of an academic-type kid. I was very math and science-y. So I didn’t really take a lot of art classes, but I always kept that sketchbook next to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, that’s interesting. You mentioned that about being more math and science-y, but also into drawing and art. Is that kind of what initially pushed you into architecture at Temple?

Alleanna Harris:
Yep, that was it. Because I was into math and science, but when I was trying to decide what to do, I was like, “I need something with a artistic bent,” and I thought that would be architecture. So, I got into Temple. I was in their honors program, actually, and I was also accepted into their architecture program at their Tyler School of Art. It was a really, really great program, but I did not enjoy it one bit. I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but I got there and I was like, “I don’t really enjoy this like I thought I did.” I mean, I did well, but I was like, “No, there’s got to be something other than this I could do.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can imagine… I mean, when I went to school, for example, I went to study computer science, computer engineering at first because I wanted to be a web designer. Now, granted, this was late ’90s, early 2000s, so web design was not… I don’t want to say it wasn’t a profession, but it certainly wasn’t one that you could, I think, really study in a lot of schools. Most schools just didn’t even have a curriculum for it. And I remember taking it that first semester and talking to my advisor about it, and he was just like, “Oh, the internet’s a fad. You don’t want to get into that. Nobody’s going to be interested in that.” And he’s like, “If that’s what you want to do, you should change your major.” So I did change my major. But you went even further. You completely transferred schools.

Alleanna Harris:
I did, I did. I’m pretty sure everyone thought, I don’t know, maybe that I was a little bit crazy, because they’re like, “You’re at Temple, you’re at a great art school. What are you doing?” I had a really chunky scholarship that I was just not throwing away. But yeah, I need something more creative, so I actually ended up looking up other schools, and I found University of the Arts. And it happened to be on the other side of Broad Street. Temple University is on North Broad, and University of the Arts is on South Broad, on the other side of City Hall. So, I looked them up and I saw that they had an animation program, and I was like, “I think this would be really great.” I sat my mom down, I was like, “Listen, I have something to tell you.” And she’s staring at me, like, “What is wrong?” And I was like, “I want to go into animation.” She’s like, “Oh my God. Okay, that’s fine. Just figure out how to apply and we’ll just go from there.” So, I went to the Open House, I applied, and I actually ended up getting a bigger scholarship there than I had at Temple.

Maurice Cherry:
Whoa, look at you.

Alleanna Harris:
I know. Thank you. But it’s like, who knew? So, I ended up at University of the Arts as an animation major, and that’s where I graduated from.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your time there?

Alleanna Harris:
Oh my goodness, I loved it. It was different from Temple because, number one, it’s smaller. It’s private compared to Temple, which is public and it’s bigger. But it’s smaller, but it’s right smack dab in the middle of Center City, so right on the Avenue of the Arts. It doesn’t have a campus, it’s just within everything. This is within Center City. So, when I got there and I got to the dorm and everything, which is basically like an apartment, it was kind of culture shock because you have to learn how to navigate. It is kind of like “living as an adult,” quote, unquote, even though you’re in college. So it was just interesting having to meet people again because… I transferred, so I didn’t get to go to orientation, so I had to meet people.

It was really great because I always liken it to Fame, the school in Fame, because UArts has so many different majors. It’s just such a comprehensive arts university. It has musical theater, and fine arts, and film, and photography. And then I tell people it’s like Fame because we would sit in the dining hall and then people would just start singing and dancing and everything and just be in the midst of that. But it was a really great time. Just so many creative people, so many things to do, so many great professors. It was really awesome. I enjoyed it. I made a lot of great friends, still friends with them today.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, do you feel like it really sort of prepared you once you graduated and got out there working as a creative?

Alleanna Harris:
Yes, definitely, because it allowed me, just going there, to take different types of classes. I had my animation… my core classes, but I was also able to take film classes, and I learned a lot in those. And just the things that I learned within my film classes, it directly applies to how I see illustration, just my point of view. I also took illustration classes. And actually, my illustration classes, that made me realize that I really wanted to go into illustration more than animation. So for sure, definitely. Definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can imagine that kind of environment because, one, there’s so many different creative disciplines happening at once, but then also, like you mentioned with that lunchroom example, you’re getting to see people exhibit their craft. You have the possibility and the potential to go into anything else just by getting inspired from being in that environment, which I think can sometimes be a lot different when you’re at a traditional liberal-arts school because you’re so locked into your major.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, definitely. I agree.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And then as you said earlier, after you graduated, for your early career, you started out with just, I guess, freelancing, starting out on Etsy, seeing if you had a market for it, and then that’s sort of where things took off. But you said you started professionally in 2017. So what were those first two years like after you graduated from UArts?

Alleanna Harris:
They were really interesting because I did things on Etsy. I was starting to build an audience on social media, but I was also doing commissions for friends and family members. So there’s some people who were like, “Hey, can you do this cover, because I have a book coming out,” so I do stuff like that. So, I did a lot of commissions. I even taught senior citizens how to paint. I would go to assisted-living places and we would have little paint-and-sip nights. And that was fun. That was interesting. I also do stuff like that. And actually, closer to 2017, I illustrated a book. Well, my cousin worked within the Philadelphia School Board. And she was working with someone who had a company that had to do with the school board, and she wrote books. So she was looking for an illustrator, and my cousin was like, “Hey, my cousin is an illustrator. You might want to check her portfolio out.” So she did, and she checked my portfolio out and she liked it, and she was like, “Hey, can you illustrate this book for me?” So, that was actually my first experience illustrating a book, and I absolutely fell in love with it. And actually, that was the main experience that made me want to illustrate books.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. Now, you’ve said that… We talked about this before we recorded, but you said there are a lot of different paths when it comes to illustration as a career and that you can make it lucrative. It sounds like for you initially, you tried out a bunch of different things, like you were teaching senior citizens, you were doing Etsy, you were doing commissions. What are some of those paths that people can take if they’re looking to pursue illustration as a career?

Alleanna Harris:
There are a ton of different paths. I guess just thinking about my major, I was an animation major, so most of my classmates, they ended up going the animation route. They also illustrate, but they’re within story of the animation. So they come up with the storyboards, they come up with the plot points, they do stuff like that. And then I also have friends that are animators now. So, you can definitely go that way.

Within illustration, I know people who illustrate commercially, so they do different advertisements or they work with brands like Google or Apple or Adobe.

I know people who work within art licensing, so they do the patterns that go on clothes or that go on different products.

There are just so many different ways you can go. Or, like me, you could go into picture books, or you could do comic books, and there are just so many different ways you can go.

Maurice Cherry:
And it sounds like, I guess maybe once you get further along on one path, you can maybe bounce between others. Like, if you’re doing picture books, maybe you can also do editorial illustrations or something like that.

Alleanna Harris:
Exactly, yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of leeway. There’s a lot of leeway because some people can look at your work and be like, “You know what? That will work over here. Do you want to try it out?” That happened with me. Someone from… I think it’s called the Phoenix International, they’re making a graphic novel about Ida B. Wells, and they’re like, “Do you want to work on this? I know it’s a comic book, and I know that you do picture books, but do you want to work on it?” And I said, “Sure.” And I ended up doing a graphic novel. But yeah, that’s definitely how it happened. You could just kind of jump from style to style.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would imagine your process probably still mostly stays the same, even if you’re doing these sort of different types of illustration.

Alleanna Harris:
Yep, yep. Yeah, it pretty much stays the same. You’re right.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m curious to get your take about AI-generated art. That’s a discussion that has really popped up, I’d say, within the last, I don’t know, I’d say, four to five months particularly, once people started using… what was the app called? Lensa?

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And they started making those AI-generated avatars and putting them out there and everything. I don’t know, the discussion around it, I think, has been so interesting because I’ve heard from artists that are like, “I hate this. This is theft. I can’t believe this is happening,” that sort of thing. And then I hear it from the average layperson that is surprised for two things. One, that the art looks nothing like them, which, I mean, yeah, you had a computer do it, that makes sense. But then secondly, they’re more perturbed that they had to pay for it.

Alleanna Harris:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Like, you paid money for that? You gave them how much money? And I would see people on Twitter and stuff searching around, trying to find a free alternative because they didn’t want to pay Lensa. I think it was $8 or $10 or something like that. So they’re like, “Well, I found this Chinese app called Meitu, and I can do it there for free,” and da, da, da, da, da, and all this stuff.

From your perspective as an artist, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, all these AI-generated art’s algorithms and apps and stuff like that, what are your thoughts on all that?

Alleanna Harris:
I have so many thoughts. First of all, well, just, I guess, the bottom line, I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan because some people want to use it to replace working artists. I saw this big thread on Twitter with this guy who used… I think he used Stable Diffusion to make a picture book, and everybody was getting on him about the picture book because all of his characters, they weren’t consistent. It just didn’t look right-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah, I saw that, I think because he also used ChatGPT to write the book.

Alleanna Harris:
Yes, that’s it. That’s it. Yeah, I’m not a fan because it is theft because it needs other people’s work, at least Stable Diffusion does. It needs other people’s work to create art. So why don’t you just actually pay an artist to actually do the art instead of stealing the work to make something out of it? Also, I feel like using AI, you’re not really being an artist, you’re more being a client because AI is doing the work. You’re telling it what you want it to do instead of you actually actively doing it. I know it’s less work to tell software to do what you want, but the process is the biggest part of making the art, and you’re taking all the process out of it.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a friend of mine, he’s an art director at an ad agency, and he’s been learning Midjourney and been posting the results on LinkedIn and stuff. And it looks nice. I find that the AI art has a particular style-

Alleanna Harris:
It’s a look.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s a particular look. Very stylized, heavy shadows, all the art kind of looks the same regardless of who the subject is. But he’s been taking a class. Apparently people have written classes about how to ask the right prompts to get it to do the right thing. It’s so interesting seeing how far people are willing to take it, I think, just to see what the possibilities are.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah. Well, there are so many ways that we could use AI that would help or make our lives easier, but I just don’t think that that’s the best way to go about it. It’s like, why don’t we use AI to figure out our taxes or do the work that we don’t feel like doing, having to do bookkeeping or something like that. But the actual art part that really takes a human to do, you’re taking that away. I’m not really a fan, but hey.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s so interesting, at least from what I’m seeing people trying to do. I think it does unlock some people’s creativity that doesn’t necessarily have the skill-

Alleanna Harris:
It does.

Maurice Cherry:
… to maybe take the idea that they have in their head and really draw it, or even spend money to get someone to draw it. So they’ll say, “Oh, well, let’s see what AI can do.” I saw… I think this was on TikTok. Someone had done a Racebent Addams Family, where the Addams Family is all Black, so then they had all of the… Gomez and Wednesday and Morticia, et cetera. It’s like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then you look at all the comments that are like, “Somebody needs to take this to Netflix.” I’m like, “Netflix already has both the movies and the new series.” Not saying that they couldn’t do this, but what is… I think when people see that, one, I don’t know if they’re under the assumption that the person created it, but two, if they were to take it to that extra level, that’s when you got to get humans involved.

Alleanna Harris:
Exactly. And you were talking about the level of skill. That’s so true, because I think people want to avoid, I’m going to say this, but the ugly phase, when your work doesn’t look that good, when you’re still learning. But you can’t avoid it. To make good art, you have to make bad art first. That’s also why I’m not a fan, but yeah. You kind of skip over that phase where you’re just learning the materials, learning… If you work on a computer, you’re learning the software. You skip over that to try to make art that’s presentable. And you can’t.

Maurice Cherry:
I do have some writer friends that are using it just for character sketches. It helps them to take the character that they’re writing about to visualize it. So they’ll do it for that purpose, but they’re not going to take that and then go to a designer or an illustrator and say, “I made this on Midjourney. Can you touch this up,” or “Can you do XYZ?” I would imagine some people will go that route. Don’t do that. But I can see some useful applications of it, as long as it doesn’t get too… The person creating the picture book, I mean, come on.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s like, if there is a way to do it without stealing other people’s work and styles, then that would be interesting to see. But I just don’t like that a lot of the different programs are stealing other people’s work, and not even paying them for it. They’re just taking it, “Oh, I like this person’s style, so I’m just going to plug it in.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, I know Getty is suing… I think they’re suing Stable Diffusion-

Alleanna Harris:
I heard.

Maurice Cherry:
… because one thing that Stable Diffusion does, and I guess all of these algorithms or AI things do it, is, they’ll take the watermarks, too. Getty Images always has that big rectangular watermark across their picture. And so there are AI-generated images that have malformed versions of that, and Getty’s like, “Ah, ah, I don’t think so. You got to pay us for that.”

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah, exactly. And there’s this thing going around on Twitter. People were saying, “Oh, maybe you should plug in Disney and see what happens.”

Maurice Cherry:
Because yeah, you can feed stuff to it to make it better. But to what end is this going to come from? Because I’m starting to see applications of folks using AI for music, for example. I think Google has this beta program out now where you can give it a couple of phrases and have it generate music in a particular style, which I know musicians will hate that. But it’s interesting how far we’re trying to take artificial intelligence in a way that subverts human creativity.

Alleanna Harris:
Exactly. Along with creativity, it makes you think of ethics, too. Like, where exactly do we stop? When is it okay, and when is this not okay? It’s a bigger conversation.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, educators now are already having to deal with that with ChatGPT. I’ve been talking with a couple of educators now that are just like… Some are still trying to wrap their heads around it, others are already changing their syllabi to say, “Don’t do this.” And we’re starting to see school districts and stuff crack down on it because students… And this is to a point where, in an educational perspective, this is really dangerous. Students don’t know the difference. They don’t know the nuance or the particular human parts of this. They just see it, it’s like, “Oh, this can do my homework for me.”

Alleanna Harris:
Yes. Yes, you’re so right. It’s really something to see. It’s so many new developments in such a short amount of time. Technology.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw this while going through your Instagrams. I was doing research, but you even got to draw Will Smith in front of Will Smith.

Alleanna Harris:
I did. I did. I did. It was crazy because the folks at Harriett’s Bookshop, they contacted me and they were like, “Hey, we’re having this book tour stopping in and we were just wondering if you’d work with us in setting it up.” And I was like, “Oh my God. Of course.” So as I was working with them and getting everything set up and working with possible drawings, I was like, “Okay, something’s up because, one, this project is really rush. It’s going really fast. So I feel like this is someone important, and I don’t know who this is.” And then I emailed them and they were like, “Yeah, we figured we’d let you know. It’s actually Will Smith. And this is a Will Smith’s book.” And I was like, “Oh my goodness.” So, they were like, “Okay, so people from Westbrook-

Maurice Cherry:
Westbrook, Westbrook, yeah.

Alleanna Harris:
Yes. They’re like, “Westbrook is going to call you and they’re going to ask you to do a portrait, and you’re going to say yes.” And I was like, “Okay. Okay, I’ll say yes.” And I actually had to meet with them and send them past sketches to see if they approved. And then they told me, “Well, we’re going to show this to Will, see if he likes it.” And I was like, “Oh my God, you’re going to show it. He just [inaudible 00:39:17] to be Will Smith as just Will. Okay.” So, they showed it to Will Smith, they showed it to Will, and he liked it, and I ended up sketching him in front of him at the event.

It’s funny because I didn’t get to finish the sketch because the whole day was actually pretty hectic, but I was able to give him a drawing that I did. And I actually have the process video up on my Instagram, too. I was able to give that to him and he’s like, “Wow, that’s definitely me.” And I was like, “I know.” But it was great to just be able to say hello and shake his hand and say thank-you. And just to see how it went in person, it was just amazing. That was an amazing day.

Maurice Cherry:
Is he Philly royalty?

Alleanna Harris:
Yes, without a doubt.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve always been curious about that because, I mean, so much of… Of course, his early story has been about in West Philadelphia, born… We all know that. But then I think so much of his professional career has been wrapped up in Hollywood and California. I was just curious about that.

Alleanna Harris:
Oh no, he’s definitely royalty. And actually, before he got there, it’s just tons of people. There was even a guy dressed up like him in his Fresh Prince days. Like, the striped shirt on, the sideways cap. These would people that are like, “Oh, we walked so far to be here.” And there are people from the Carolinas, I think, they were just waiting for hours. And he pulled in and people were just losing… 6abc was there. They’re like, “Fresh Prince returns.” He’s definitely Philly royalty, no doubt.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, nice. Now, you’re represented by The Bright Agency, and The Bright Agency reps, a ton of animators, artists, and authors. How did you go about getting representation, and what are the benefits for you as an artist of being represented by an agency?

Alleanna Harris:
It’s funny, it was actually pretty serendipitous. My friend Loveis Wise, they’re a illustrator. They’re really amazing. We went to college together. We both went to UArts. They were a illustration major. And they told me, they said, “You should join Women Who Draw. It’s a really great website. It’s basically a database of women illustrators. You just put a piece of your work there and you say your name and different things about your identity, and then people go there and look for artists.” And I was like, “Okay, cool. I’ll do it.” So I uploaded my info. And not too long after that, I’d say months, my first agent, James Burns, he said, “Hey, I like your work. Is there anything that Bright can do for you?” And I was like, “You got to be kidding me, because it’s…” Actually, Bright was the agency that I was looking at when I was starting to plan, sending out my artist postcards. And the fact that he found my work on Women Who Draw and then reached out to me was absolutely amazing. So, from there, I said yes, and I’ve been represented by Bright ever since.

Maurice Cherry:
What are artist postcards? What’s that? Is it, like, a calling card of some sort?

Alleanna Harris:
Basically, yeah, you put a strong piece of art. It could have different themes. It could be seasonal or just whatever piece of art that you like most. And you put that on one side and then you put your information, your name, website on the other side, and you send it to art directors or agencies. Basically, if they like them, they keep them and they keep you in line for projects.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So you use that to sort of shop yourself around a little bit.

Alleanna Harris:
No, I didn’t even start. I went on, I put my stuff on Women Who Draw, and he found me there-

Maurice Cherry:
And they came to you.

Alleanna Harris:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Okay. What are those benefits of being repped by an agency? I would imagine it sort of just takes a lot of the admin stuff off of your plate.

Alleanna Harris:
It does. It really does. That’s what I like most because contract stuff that goes through them, they have people who specifically work on contracts. So I could go to my agent even about payments or deadlines, and they could talk to the publishers and the companies on my behalf. It’s just great having someone in your corner who knows the field better than you do.

Maurice Cherry:
And then all you can do is just draw and get paid.

Alleanna Harris:
I love it. It’s so much help.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean, that’s the dream for all creatives to be able to have the freedom to do that. Like, just do your work, get paid, and not have to worry about all the in-between stuff. So that’s great.

Alleanna Harris:
Yes. Yes, yes. It’s definitely a blessing. I’m definitely grateful to work with them. It’s really awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve got a couple of books that are coming out a little bit later this year, right?

Alleanna Harris:
Yep, yep. I have two. The first is Good Things by Maryah Greene, and that’s a picture book about a boy named Malcolm. Lives with his dad, and I believe it’s in Harlem. [inaudible 00:44:33] grandma, and his dad actually passes away, so he has to learn how to take care of the plants that his dad left him. And it’s a really good book about grief, and about plants, too. I got to illustrate a lot of plants because Maryah is a amazing plant doctor in New York City. So, there’s that book. These books come out in August, I believe, the 1st of August. There’s also Recipe for Change, which is by Michael C. Platt. And he is pretty young. I believe he’s in his late teens or his teens, but he’s a chef. It’s a cookbook. And I illustrate different foods in different scenes, based on the civil rights movement. And each of the recipes align with the scene. So you have a recipe and a story and a portrait, and it’s really, really educational. So, I have those two coming out in August.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Are they both available right now for pre-order? Because I want to put links to them in the show notes so people can check them out.

Alleanna Harris:
They’re about to be. Recipe for Change is actually about to be open for pre-order in the first week of February, and I am still waiting on word for Good Things.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Well, hopefully by the time this comes out, which will be right around mid- to late-February, we’ll hopefully have links to both of those, but we’ll certainly mention them, as well.

Alleanna Harris:
Awesome. That sounds great.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How do you stay motivated and inspired with your work?

Alleanna Harris:
You know what, I just think it’s a part of my personality. I’m really self-directed. I have a lot of family support, especially from my mom. And there are certain things that I just want to see on the world, and I want kids to be able to see themselves in books. And that drives me. That’s always the thing that pushes me. So I have no lack of passion or drive. That always pushes me.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project of sorts that you’d love to do one day?

Alleanna Harris:
Oh my goodness. I feel like I have a lot of dream projects. I’m always into little-known stories of figures that we definitely should know about, but we don’t. So I love picture books that have to do with subjects like that. But I’m also interested in going back into animation. I’m not leaving picture books, but going maybe into the visual-development part of animation, maybe character design and maybe, one day, art directing, that would be amazing, for a animated series. That would definitely be a dream for me. That would be amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Is this a series that you’d create yourself?

Alleanna Harris:
Ooh, I’m open to it. I didn’t even think of that, but now that you say it, yeah, that would be great. It could be existing, too, but any way that I could art-direct or do character design, that would be a dream.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate the most about your life right now?

Alleanna Harris:
I just appreciate being able to use the skills that I’ve worked on. I guess I could say gifts, too, just to be able to use them to help people learn and just give them material to look at, just new books and being able to help kids read and learn new things. That’s just a blessing, and I never would’ve thought that this would be what I do as a career, but I absolutely love it. I love being able to sit down in my room and just draw and then actually have it turn into a book, into things people see on bookshelves. That’s just amazing to me and I’m just forever grateful for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work would you like to be doing?

Alleanna Harris:
Definitely more picture books. I guess, along with the animation thing that I just mentioned, I could actually see myself working on a series. But other than that, I could see myself doing more commercial work, kind of like what I did with Pentagram. Actually, last year, I illustrated a gift card for Target. It was a Christmas gift card. I can see myself doing more of that, more brand work. But yeah, those are the things I could see in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. We just had Domonique Brown. She has a company, a lifestyle company called Domo, Inc. And she has a collection… Yeah, part of her collection’s at Target now for Black History Month. She also did a few cards for American Greetings, I think it’s a card company. She did some cards for them, too. So, I could totally see your work in that vein. That would be great.

Alleanna Harris:
Thank you. Thank you. I would love it. That would be so great.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work and your books and everything? Where can they find that online?

Alleanna Harris:
Sure. Well, you could go to my website. It’s alleannaharris.com, A-L-L-E-A-N-N-A-H-A-R-R-I-S, .com. And I’m also Alleanna Harris everywhere on social media, so you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, even Tumblr, TikTok. You can find me all those places. Alleanna Harris.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Alleanna Harris, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think that just the work that you’re doing is so inspired and really, I think, driven by your own particular creative passion. I mean, as a kid that grew up reading a lot, reading competitions and all that stuff, there is just such an importance on children’s books that I think sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. And so the fact now that we have so many Black artists, especially like yourself, that are creating the books with authors that children are going to read, that are going to help shape them into becoming the people of tomorrow, I think is just such an amazing and inspiring thing. And your work is just so beautiful, and-

Alleanna Harris:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
… I’m so excited to see what you do next. And like I said, we’ll put links to your books in the show notes. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Alleanna Harris:
Thank you so much, and thank you so much for having me. This was great. I really enjoyed this.

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