BUNHEADS Children’s Book Interview—Conversation with Illustrator Setor Fiadzigbey

Editor's Note: Read the related story here— BUNHEADS Review - Ballerina Dreams

and read other children's book reviews in our roundup article -- Picture This Post reviews of Children’s Books

Credit: Penguin Random House

When Picture This Post reviewer Nell Voss and her six year-old aspiring ballerina daughter Sylvia tried out the dance positions they saw in Bunheads, they didn’t realize how much the tender feelings of a new father were inspiring their moves. This father is Setor Fiadzigbey—who started work on illustrating famed ballerina Misty Copeland’s Bunheads when his daughter was just a baby, and later came to feel like this story of friendships and hard work was also a gift for his daughter.

Of all the illustrators in the world, Copeland had spied Fiadzigbey’s work as having just the right look that she wanted for her story of how she made her first break into the ballet world. Part of the backstory is that before working on this project, Ghana-born Fiadzigbey didn’t know much about that ballet world, nor of how his collaborator Misty Copeland had won global recognition as the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre.  Copeland’s Bunheads  story is one that crosses borders and cultures, having just the right messages of the importance of hard work and friendship that Fiadzigbey wants for his daughter.

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks with Setor Fiadzigbey (SF) about his work on Bunheads and what it came to mean to him personally.

Setor Fiadzigbey Credit: Kwamena Som

(PTP) Please share with our readers your personal background. Where are you from and how has your career unfolded?

(SF) I was born and raised in Accra, Ghana—in West Africa—and for as long as I can remember I’ve always been interested in drawing. However, I didn’t take art seriously when I was growing up. I didn’t study art, I actually studied engineering at university, and I worked for a few months as an aircraft trainee engineer for one of the local airlines. After some introspection, I was convinced that becoming an artist would bring me more fulfillment career-wise, so I decided to begin my journey as an artist when I was about 23.

For the next 7 to 8 years I worked on different projects in visual storytelling—from animation to illustration projects, comic books, even storyboarding for a while, predominantly for advertisement agencies. Looking back, I consider that period to have been my art school since I was teaching myself about the craft and using these projects as opportunities to grow and get better. I finally got an illustration agent in 2018 and in the next year, they brought the project that would become my first picture book, Bunheads by Misty Copeland.

Professional Ballerina and BUNHEADS author Misty Copeland Credit: Under Armour

Is creating work for a primarily U.S. audience in any way different than for people in your home country of Ghana or other parts of Africa? Or the world?

It really depends on the project. As an illustrator, sometimes you do have to take the primary audience into consideration so you can tap into their collective visual library and experience. Other times, the story or project has such universal appeal and commonality that it really doesn’t matter who is consuming it.

Before working on this book, what had been your personal exposure to the ballet world?

None! Or very little! I was thrown into the deep end, as they say. I knew next to nothing about ballet, but I had heard about Misty Copeland and her being an inspiring model for young Black girls venturing into ballet. That was what drew me to the story and the project as a whole.

How did your collaboration with Misty Copeland unfold?

My agent brought the book project my way, and I quickly got acquainted with Stacey Barney, Misty’s editor. All communication was by email as we were miles apart. So, I would send over artwork and I would receive feedback, and it went on like that till we wrapped things up. Misty and the team at Penguin Random House really gave me a lot of room to bring the vision I had for the story to life—they were very accommodating of the creative decisions I took. But it was certainly a collaborative effort, from when I sent in the very first sample to when we finished things up with the endpapers.

As a father of a young girl, what do you find most appealing about this book?  Did fatherhood shape how you approached the illustrations?

I think Bunheads is a story of hard work and inspiring friendships, and these are things I would definitely want my daughter to know about. It’s the kind of book I would want her to have even if I didn’t illustrate it—that’s one of the things that made it so lovely to work on, it actually felt like I was creating this for my daughter and others like her. She was just a baby when I began working on the book, and I definitely think a lot of the emotions of new fatherhood spilled onto those pages.

Credit: Penguin Random House

Misty Copeland is admired widely both for her artistry and her mentorship work. Can you speak to how you got to know both aspects through this collaboration?

I discovered a lot of things about Misty though this project, primarily through my research into her life. I realized how hard she worked to get to where she is now and the many challenges she’s had to overcome, and it certainly filled me with a greater sense of respect and admiration for her. I know many young girls, both in and out of the ballet world, will find inspiration in her story.

Credit: Penguin Random House

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$17.99 hard cover.

For purchase information, visit the Penguin Random House page on Bunheads.

Read the related story here— BUNHEADS Review - Ballerina Dreams



Images courtesy of PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE



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