A conversation with...Selom Sunu
With the Conversations Series, we create a positive image for Black girls to refer to, by having conversations with different business owners, entrepreneurs and creators. Here, we are catching up with Selom Sunu, an Illustrator. Selom's illustrations are featured in Hey You! by Dapo Adeola. A beautiful picture book brought to life by 18 talented Black illustrators.
Our featured artist for Issue 4 The Music Edition is Dapo Adeola. You can read all about his creative journey. Buy our latest issue here
What was your journey to becoming an illustrator?
Now that is the million dollar question! I’m in two minds whether to give the long or short answer so maybe I’ll go right down the middle. Essentially, I did art up to A-levels and then went in a completely different direction at University. Then, in December 2012 while on holiday in Ghana I had an idea for a children’s book which I thought would be cool if I could illustrate myself. I was working in Finance at the time and studying for a professional accounting qualification (CIMA).
It had been 8 whole years since I had drawn anything, so in hindsight I wasn't surprised that my sketches were as terrible as they were. This led me to look for short courses back in London to improve my drawing skills. I saw one specifically for children’s book illustration, but I was more drawn to another course which was ‘Character Design for Animation’ as a former Disney animator taught this course (I’ve always been a big Disney fan). I did the short course in early 2013, fell in love with Character Design and decided that was what I wanted to do for a living.
Eighteen months later, I started a Masters’ course in Animation at the same University where I did the short course (Central Saint Martins). I graduated in 2016 and since then have been getting some work in both animation and illustration, but mostly around full-time non-art related jobs.
Through the writer of an animated TV show I was working on in 2018, I ended up being introduced to a literary agent who has been looking for book projects for me and putting my work out there. However, it wasn’t until recently (May 2021) that I felt confident enough to leave my most recent non-art related day job and pursue this art career full time and still support my family.
What inspires you and your creative work?
I’ve always loved watching cartoons on TV and I still do. I also watch a lot of animated films and buy some of the ‘art of’ books which are very inspirational and give insight into how the creators think. I am usually reminded how much thought goes into these films and that nothing happens by accident, but is very intentional. I also look at the work of other artists on Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc but not too much or it can quickly turn into demotivation. However, my absolute favourite inspiration source is actual humans that I see out and about – I do many people watching and sketching.
I am a proud creationist and love seeing the different ways that God designed people. How one person has a long nose, another wide, some people have almost no eyebrows and others have very bushy ones, the different body types; I find it all very fascinating and those are the subtleties I try to recreate in my work!
How important are the illustrations in a children’s book?
I would say extremely important! As children’s books are usually short stories, I don't know how well they would sell without pictures – some would be about 6 pages long! Also, illustrators can add information that has not been mentioned explicitly in the text; it extends the storytelling. Whether the child is old enough to understand the words in a book or not, the pictures can help them visualise what is happening or fuel their imagination. My two-year-old daughter always picks out the books with the pictures she likes most, whether the story is good.What mediums do you create your work in?
For Professional work I use Photoshop and my Wacom tablet as it is easier to change after feedback, but I still feel most myself when using pencil and paper so sometimes I will start that way. I really want to relearn traditional painting as well, so I want to make time for that.Are you working on any new creative projects?
Tons! I’ve recently had the amazing opportunity to be the first artist on a really exciting project with Disney TV in LA (from my home in the UK). I’m also working on three book projects, which are still within the creative process. However, I always have my own ideas which I work on when I have time.
Hey You! by Dapo Adeola | Penguin | available from bookshop.org
Quick fire round
Probably cheesy tortilla chips/ nachos, but not Doritos… More like Sainsbury’s own brand
What’s your hidden talent?
I’m not sure any of my talents hidden (not intentionally anyway), but maybe many people don’t know I write poetry or can juggle 4 items
Summer or Winter?
Summer! Everyone is more pleasant around London in summer.
About the Illustrator
Selom Sunu is a British illustrator who lives in London. He studied MA Character Animation at Central Saint Martins in 2016. He balances his day job with freelance Illustration and Character Design.