“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

Jessica Rabbit, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
While this exhibition is not about animated girls, Ms. Rabbit’s disclaimer about her appearance versus her behavior/character is entirely appropriate. We are looking at illustrations—drawings or sketches executed in ink, pencil, charcoal, chalk or woodcut, as well as contemporary digital media—of girls, real and fictional to see what they reveal.

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.

In order to dig deeper, we have a special podcast all about the world of drawn girls and our expectations of them. Have a listen.
Interview with Illustrator Grace Lee

Email interview with Grace Lee, Illustrator of Amazing Babes

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.

Alters

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Ada Twist, Scientist

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Ms. Marvel

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The Name Jar

Yangsook Choi wrote and illustrated The Name Jar in 2001. It relays the story of Unhei, a young girl from Korea whose family moved to America. On her first day of school, Unhei's fellow classmates fail to pronounce her name. They continue to make fun of it, referring...

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Persepolis

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The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler

Tyke Tiler is a fictional girl from Gene Kemp's 1977 novel, The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler. A daring and energetic twelve-year-old, Tyke is always at the centre of trouble. Fighting in class, stealing watches, and finding sheep skeletons are not unusual occurrences....

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Cassie Logan is the narrator and protagonist of Mildred Taylor's 1976 novel, Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry. Taylor creates a story that highlights racism, segregation and childhood in rural Mississippi in 1933, through the eyes of a nine-year-old African American girl,...

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Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a 1960s children's book by Scott O'Dell, and it tells the story of a young girl who gets stranded for years on an island off the Californian coast. Juana Maria was a Native American who was left for 18 years on San Nicolas Island during...

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Carly and Nan

Carly Keene: Literary Detective is a new character in the young adult literature world. She is a terrific role model for young girls as a twelve year old who loves adventure, reading, and trusts her own mind and intuition in a refreshing way. She is from Alaska, which...

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Malala

Malala Yousafzai is a real life contemporary girl heroine. Almost everything about her story makes her an inspiration to young and old, men and women alike. She shared her story about living under Taliban rule in Pakistan with the world through her blog when she was...

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Hit Girl

Hit-Girl is the superhero name of Mindy McCready, who appears in Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s Kick-Ass series of comic books and movies, as well as her own spin-off comic, Hit-Girl. As a comic book, the target audience is generally considered to be boys in their...

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Tank Girl

Tank Girl, created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, is an extreme character who challenges previously established notions of femininity. Representative of the punk scene, Tank Girl is definitely extreme in her portrayal. Though her hairstyle regularly changes,...

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Peppermint Patty

Like the rest of the Peanuts’ gang girls, Peppermint Patty is pretty forthright and speaks her mind. She doesn’t let anyone get away with unkindness, but she isn’t the brightest nor that intuitive. She often misunderstands social situations and has a tendency to appreciate her own version of reality over others.

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Supergirl

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Pippi Longstocking

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Fern Feeding Wilbur

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Madeline

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Little Lulu

The little Lulu comic strip first appeared in 1935 in the Saturday Evening Post. Lulu Moffat was created by illustrator Marjorie Hendersen Buell. From the start Lulu was clearly a headstrong little girl. Her debut comic showed her as a flower girl tossing banana peels...

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Ingalls’ girls

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Anne of Green Gables

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Little Red Riding Hood

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Cosette

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Alice

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Thumbelina

Thumbelina is a tiny girl, about the size of a thumb (surprise), created by Hans Christian Anderson in his fairy tale of the same name from 1835. Born inside of a flower, Thumbelina lives in the woods and interacts with humans and animals. Her size makes her very...

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Ophelia

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Activity Guide

For ideas of how to use this exhibition for classroom and outside discussions, please refer to our Educational Guide.

Credits
Thank you to everyone who helped make this exhibition possible, especially Saira Rao of In This Together Media and Grace Lee.

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.

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