Don Tate has exceptional hands. They are certainly an artist’s hands, making sweeping motions through the air as he talks, almost as if he is painting a picture in the space before him. He is easygoing and open, joking with the University of Dallas Children’s Literature Class and clicking through slides on a projector he affectionately refers to as his “dinosaur technology.”
Tate, an award-winning author and illustrator, described his career and passion for art to an attentive crowd in the Media Center of downstairs Braniff on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Keeping with his fun, engaging manner, he began with a slide of a drawing he scribbled when he was three years old. Tate knew he wanted to be an artist since early childhood, and he followed through with his dream to be an illustrator despite his father’s disapproval.
“My dad wanted me to play sports, but I was not good at that,” Tate said. “What I was good at was drawing pictures, but I never got discouraged.”
He began his career in children’s literature 30 years ago and emphasizes the fact that he never gets tired of what he does. Tate does not limit himself to a particular style: He has illustrated books in several different ways, from abstract paintings and political cartoons, to realism and pictures made entirely through computer programs. He uses several media and encourages students to be open to all techniques.
He smiled as he described one of his favorite styles. “I wanted to imagine what it would be like if an African sculpture came to life,” he said as he held up one of his books.
Despite his obvious talent, Tate is no stranger to career difficulties, particularly racial obstacles. As an African-American artist who enjoys illustrating African-American stories, he has had to break into an area where racial issues in children’s books are still sensitive matters. Once, an editor threw some of Tate’s pictures out, claiming he was offended that Tate portrayed a black man with features such as a flatter nose and large lips.
Tate’s intentions were not to offend. “I am proud of being an African-American person, and they have those features,” Tate said. “I say, celebrate that. I am not afraid of that certain sensitivity.”
Along with taking on projects that celebrate culture, he co-founded a website called TheBrownBookshelf.com that raises awareness for African-American authors.
Such difficulties have inspired him to keep illustrating with “what works for him” and making an emotional connection with the reader. He finds different ways to “lead the reader through the story,” and he realizes that without an emotional attachment to the manuscripts that publishers send him, he cannot create good illustrations.
He finished his talk by showing a trailer for the first children’s book he authored, “It Jes’ Happened.” Tate showed enthusiasm for the book and remarked at how odd it is to not be illustrating it. He recently discovered his talent for connecting with readers through words and is working on a teen novel. Gesturing eagerly with his hands, the award-winning illustrator concluded his presentation with a humble nod, excited that there are no limits this time.