In October 2018, we launched JambArt boxes. These boxes are covered in beautiful art that features children of color. Jambo Books’ mission is to center the stories and lives of children of color. We want to show them themselves in all environments so they know they belong everywhere and their lives are valid and worthy of being treasured. We want white children to see children of color in all kinds of environments too, so that they may have the soul-expanding experience of seeing children of color as normal. We were so proud to partner with Scotland-based artist, Beatrice Ajayi, to create our first two JambArt boxes. Her approach to the children in her work is whimsical and gentle. Her pieces are intimate, fun and inspirational. We had a conversation with Beatrice about her background (her parents are Nigerian), her art and her advice for budding artists.
JB: Where do you live?
Beatrice Ajayi (Ajayi): I am living in a town called Kirkintilloch in the City of Glasgow based in Scotland UK.
JB: You were born in Scotland and have West African heritage. Where are your parents from?
Ajayi: My parents are originally from Nigeria in West Africa. They are from the Ijaw tribe in the Southern part of Nigeria.
JB: Most of our readers are in North America. Can you describe what it’s like being a woman of West African heritage who is from Scotland?
Ajayi: I have always basically travelled with one foot in each world of my heritage. But I would say having grown up in Scotland I view myself and mannerisms as Scottish. I have an understanding of the customs of Nigeria.
JB: How long have you been illustrating?
Ajayi: I have been illustrating since I was a child, but my interests, approach and understanding of my subjects has changed over time.
JB: Has your unique heritage influenced your art?
Ajayi: I would say yes and no. I am aware of a lot of the struggles and negative experiences in the whole conversations of heritage and acceptance and of ‘place’ in society for those who move to different countries. But I wanted to focus on the one thing that makes us all the same, and that is that we all have dreams and aspirations.
JB: There are so many directions for an artist to pursue. How did you decide on your focus on children and their lives?
Ajayi: As I mentioned in my last question, our similarities as humans are in our dreams and aspirations. I wanted to go to a point where we are free to dream without preconceived ideas and fears, where past experiences can’t inhibit us; I found that in children. My children characters are bold, strong, beautiful and courageous. They fear nothing.
JB: How did you develop your distinct personal style?
Ajayi: I experiment a lot, that means it’s still on-going. At the beginning I was really not comfortable using color so I used line in an abstract way to create characters from scribbles. It was very stylized, I used a lot of pattern to show texture. I had an interest in abstraction and mixed media too. Then when I had my kids and got an iPad to work on, I started using color freely because I didn’t feel I was wasting paint working digitally. I brought my mixed media style into my digital.
JB: You offer online art classes. How does that work?
Ajayi: I work off a number of platforms to provide classes. I have a website so I can offer classes through that to do one-on-one tutorials through Skype. I can create classes for individuals learning on YouTube with links or Skillshare also. They can be tailored for individual interests.
JB: Tell us about the children’s books you’ve authored and illustrated. How did you make the decision to make the leap into authorship?
Ajayi: I have always been a storyteller from a young age. My characters always had a backstory. The publishing world has also expanded and the opportunities for indie publishers are there. I checked out a number of online publishers and have some children’s ebooks and one adult detective novel online. I have also used my local printer to print my more recent children’s books. My view is if you have a talent use it. You may never get a publishing company onside, but it doesn’t mean that your story isn’t good.
JB: Can you tell us about how you came up with the ideas for the two JambArt designs, Rocket and Twinkling Stars?
Ajayi: I began a journey of exploration into creating more culturally significant characters for my art collection. These two designs were part of my ‘siblings series’. I would say my son and daughter are my inspiration for the characters.
JB: Do you have any advice for fledgling artists who want to make a living from their passion?
Ajayi: If you have a passion for something, like I do – art is my passion I wake, eat, sleep, breathe art… If you have a passion where in your train journeys or lunch breaks at work, all you can think of is this one thing. Then that’s what you are meant to be doing.
Sometimes people will dismiss this dream of yours, it doesn’t matter what they say; it’s not their dream.
One last thing I will add is, start young to invest in your passion. A lot of adults find it harder to follow their dream like it has followed them. By the time they have kids, a mortgage, the commitments are bigger, and it’s harder. Do what you are born to do while you are young. Your gift and passion are not only for you. It’s for everyone. Don’t hide your gift.
P.s. There is also a lot of information on YouTube for artists.
JB: What is your favorite museum and why would you recommend it to others?
Ajayi: I have two favorite museums, ‘the Transport Museum’ here in Glasgow and the ‘natural history museum’ in London. The transport museum reminds me that we are all on a journey, physically always transitioning. The Natural Museum is a reminder of nature and civilizations past and present.
JB: Who are your favorite Instagram/FB/Twitter follows?
Ajayi: There is a lady who drives a campaign group for free school meals in the UK I heard of this year called ‘Carmel McConnell MBE on twitter’ on Instagram ‘livandhopetothemax’ and her life as a mother.
JB: Who are your favorite artists that you look to for inspiration?
Ajayi: ‘Artyshils Art’ On facebook, who is an artist based in India, her innovative approach to being an artist and creator is great, others are ‘Happy D Artist’ ‘Susan Nethercote’ and a Scottish artist and friend ‘Nikki Monaghan Art’
JB: How can folks contact you if they’d like to see more of your art or commission a special piece?