Illustrator of the Week

Kadir Nelson began drawing at the age of three, and painting at age ten. “I have always been an artist,” Nelson explains. “It’s part of my DNA.” At age ten, his uncle Michael Morris, an artist and art instructor, apprenticed Nelson. “My uncle gave me my foundation in art,” says the artist. Under the encouragement and tutelage of both his uncle and high school art teacher, Nelson experimented with several different media and began painting in oils at sixteen. He would later submit his paintings to art competitions and win an art scholarship to study at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Upon graduating with honors, Nelson began his professional career as an artist, publishing his work and receiving commissions from publishers and production studios such as Dreamworks, where he served as a the lead conceptual artist for Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, The United States Postal Service and Major League Baseball, among others.

In 1999, Nelson began to collaborate with several notable authors on a series of picture books. Presently, almost twenty illustrated books are in print, including Debbie Allen's Dancing in the Wings, Ntozake Shange’s Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Ellington Was Not a Street, Deloris and Roslyn Jordan's best-seller Salt in his Shoes, Spike and Tonya Lee’s Please, Baby, Please, and Carol Boston Weatherford’s Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom, for which Nelson won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, a Caldecott Honor and an NAACP Image Award. Most recently, Nelson released his authorial debut, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, a New York Times best-selling tribute to the Negro Baseball Leagues which Nelson crafted over a period of almost eight years. In 2008 his book Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine won a Caldecott Medal.

Although Nelson works in a variety of styles, he always retains a sense of identity and focus in his work. Nelson’s works are instantly recognizable by the emotion and strength of his varied subject matter. “My focus is to create images of people who demonstrate a sense of hope and nobility. I want to show the strength and integrity of the human being and the human spirit.” That is exactly the feeling one walks away with after viewing one of Nelson’s paintings—a feeling that runs all the way down to your DNA.