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From the Sketchbook:
K-Fai Steele

This CBC series features illustrators sharing their creative process and providing context for their amazing artwork.

Our featured artist is K-Fai Steele, a 2018 Ezra Jack Keats / Kerlan Memorial Fellow. K-Fai takes us behind the scenes of her debut picture book Noodlephant, written by Jacob Kramer (Enchanted Lion Books).

Noodlephant is basically a film; Jacob did the screenwriting, while I got to do casting, set design, cinematography, and more. This is why I love that our cover has both of our names on it, and it doesn’t indicate who did what role, because we both contributed to making the book better than if we had done it alone.

I’ve learned a lot of the same lessons that Noodlephant and her friends learn throughout the book; that projects tend to be better when you collaborate with others that you trust, respect, and can enjoy a good meal with.”

“When I was drawing her home and her pasta parties I thought about all of the extended family dinners I had as a kid where multiple kinds of tables were pulled together so we could all sit together and eat.

I continued this practice when I started to host dinners with friends in my own apartments that were, at times, actually crumbling apart, but at least we could cook and be together and find happiness despite being broke.”

“I wanted the Noodler [a DIY machine Noodlephant makes with her friends] to be as real as possible, engineering-wise. I used to work at the Free Library of Philadelphia where I helped to launch a teen maker program. I didn’t really know anything about digital fabrication or electronics, but I did love making things and drawing . . . The only problem was my own lack of self-confidence in my ability to learn things that seemed ‘hard’ (like circuitry, etc).”

“It was through the support of my coworkers and friends, who I was learning alongside, that I did the work of undoing my own expectations and stereotypes. And as I did programs with youth in libraries, I showed by example my own learning process. This has all come full circle to the way I make picture books; everything should be more or less believable, you respect the intelligence of your reader, and there are always opportunities for everyone to learn.”

More of K-Fai Steele’s final art can be found in Noodlephant,
a zany tale full of pasta puns, friendship, and one Phantastic Noodler.

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