“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”
This exhibition takes a broad look at girls drawn from the past. We are considering all relevant cultures (meaning those that produced this type of work) and types of book or print from the Gothic (~800-1300) to the Contemporary. Our goals are to investigate the visual language of representing girls/girlhood, their contexts and possible meanings in print over the last 1200 years.
Source material for these images range from early religious texts to contemporary comic books. These are sites of simultaneous character creation and manipulation, where words perhaps have described a person that is corrupted through the image making and distorts the intention of the author, which of course can be bad or good. Some books with lackluster stories or characters have been saved by their illustrations. And ultimately it is the reader’s decision to adopt the visual provided as their image of the character or not.
The exhibition examines 26 images chronologically, from around the world. These images are representative of different types of print media (excluding advertising). While this exhibition is not in any way comprehensive of all drawn representations of girls/girlhood throughout time, it will provide interesting insights and a good basis for further research.
Interview with Illustrator Grace Lee
How did you get involved with the wonderful book, Amazing Babes?
Eliza Sarlos, the writer of Amazing Babes, is a long time friend of mine from back in University days. She approached me to do the illustrations for a book she wanted to write for her first son, Arthur. That book was the start of Amazing Babes. Initially, she had only intended for the book to be for her son, and it took A LOT of effort on her part to convince me to do it. Not because of the content–I LOVED the idea–but mainly because I hadn’t drawn people before and I didn’t feel confident that I’d be able to do the project justice.
Did you have a particular inspiration for these illustrations?
One of my main concerns about drawing people was that my drawings generally don’t look realistic. I usually draw inanimate objects for work, so while a bottle or a box can look sort of cute if not drawn to scale or as in real life, I felt that people needed to be at least be recognisable. Again, Eliza came to the rescue. She reminded me of Maira Kalman’s incredible work and how it is possible to draw something with a likeness, and that that likeness can convey a lot of the qualities of a person, even if it doesn’t look exactly like them.
Who were your girlhood heroines?
To be honest, I didn’t really have an idea of heroines or heroes until I got a little older. I grew up trying to rebel against my parents’ old school thinking that there were ‘girl’ jobs and ‘boy’ jobs. It’s the way they were brought up, and whilst their attitudes have changed over time, I’m glad that I didn’t accept that line of thinking as a young girl. I think I really resented cleaning the bathroom! I guess my role-models were my teachers and my older sisters. They did a good job of making me feel like I could do anything but also reinforcing that there aren’t ‘girl’ jobs and ‘boy’ jobs. In my late teens, the Spice Girls became hugely popular, and yes it’s a bit cringe-worthy to admit, but I loved them and I loved the idea of girl power and being yourself. Thinking back now, my mum is one of my heroines. She moved to Australia with next to no English, and (along with my dad) raised six kids. I remember when I was thinking about deferring university for the second time, she put her foot down and told me to finish my degree. it broke my heart when she said, “you don’t want to be like me, don’t rely on a man, stand on your own two feet.” She was referring to not having a degree–she wanted me to have as many options and opportunities that I could have. I realised then, that I did want to be like her. Even if she hasn’t done anything that’s changed the world on a grand scale, but she’s been a huge influence in my world.
As an illustrator, what is your approach to drawing girls?
I don’t have a different approach for girls or boys. We’re all just humans, so my approach when drawing people is to try to capture the essence of that person, a general likeness and as many details as I can. I try my best to illustrate the person as I see them, as opposed to drawing a caricature.
What do you think about girls drawn grossly out of proportion, emphasizing sexual characteristics? Is there an appropriate place for these images?
I really think it depends on the context, the intention behind the work, and if it is used to spark debate or conversation. Art is so subjective and with all forms of art, not everyone will like it. There are a wealth of images out there, so I think it’s important to keep putting out more materials, resources and places for inspiration for girls to help them create their own image of a strong female.
Is becoming/being a girl illustrator difficult?
For example, are there still challenges to training, being accepted/taken seriously/winning jobs over boy illustrators… I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be living in a time where being female isn’t an issue in my line of work, I know this is not the same for all industries or in other parts of the world, so I feel incredibly privileged and grateful to have had many opportunities. I think illustration is an area where the artist is known more so for their work than for their name. I’ve personally not had any issues with competing with males, nor have I heard about any from with my colleagues. The illustration agency I’m with in Tokyo has (I’m pretty sure) more girls on the roster than boys! It’s definitely important to encourage girls (and boys) to follow their dreams and to help them know that the opportunities are there, obstacles and all!
Why are girl illustrators important?
I think it’s really important for everyone to have the opportunity to do the things they want in life, regardless of what gender they are. I feel really lucky that I live in a time where it’s not a big deal for me to be an illustrator, I know there was a time when it would have been, so in that respect I think it’s important that there are girl illustrators in the same way I think it’s important that there are girl doctors, lawyers, firefighters and teachers–everyone has different strengths and different talents and its great we live at a time when we can follow those talents and achieve incredible things in whatever field we choose.
Who is your favourite illustrated girl?
From Amazing Babes? My favourite women to draw were Leymah Gbowee and Irena Sendler. I loved drawing Leymah because I was listening to her TED talk at the time and just really fell in love with how articulate, confident and intelligent she is. She’s an incredible woman and more inspiring that I could describe. I also loved drawing Irena Sendler because I started to draw her as a young lady, but then changed my mind and drew her older. I loved drawing the lines on her face, I thought they showed all the stories and the struggles and triumphs in her life.
Any comments you would like to make generally about this subject?
I loved being part of the Amazing Babes project. It was a chance for me to learn about lots of inspiring women, quite a few of whom, I hadn’t heard of before. It’s also something that my niece can read, as well as many other boys, girls and adults. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and for inviting me to be part of Illustrated Girls.
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For ideas of how to use this exhibition for classroom and outside discussions, please refer to our Educational Guide.
The Girl Museum Team for this show was Katie Weidmann, Rachel Witte, Emily Holm, Julie Anne Young, Hillary Hanel and Casey Grymek. We do not assert any ownership of any of the images in the exhibition, they are Fair Use for Educational purposes.
If you have a question or issue with the use of any of these image on this site, please let us know.