What draws artists like Judy Baca, Tiffany Chung, Sonya Clark, Sarah Goodridge, Ester Hernandez, Loïs Mailou Jones, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Nellie Mae Rowe, Augusta Savage, or Kay WalkingStick to create? Find out in a new set of Drawn to Art comics that are sure to inspire middle-school-age readers and art lovers of any age.
For two years, Drawn to Art has illuminated the stories of women artists, some of whom may not have received the attention they deserved in their lifetimes. Each has artwork represented in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were drawn by student-illustrators from the Ringling College of Art and Design. In creating this project, we wanted to give young people the opportunity to identify with the struggles and triumphs of visionaries and rule breakers, to see themselves reflected, and to draw strength from that visibility.
Can art make a difference in your life? We think so! And after reading the comics, we hope you’re inspired to learn more about each artist, while also holding them up as a mirror to see yourself, perhaps in a whole new light.
Judy Baca stands in the foreground with her arms crossed confidently and a wide smile. She has a warm glow on her medium brown skin, as well as dark brown hair that flows just behind her shoulders. She is wearing a dusty blue, short-sleeved shirt with paint-stained white overalls. Behind her is a long wall with children and adults painting a colorful mural outdoors; while three of the people stand while they work, one young person in a white tank top and shorts sits on the scaffolding that has been constructed as part of the mural creation process. Behind the wall are lush green trees and a blue sky. Above Judy, the title of the comic reads: “Judy Baca” with a subtitle, “The Big Picture.”
The Big Picture: A Comic About Judy Baca
Born to Mexican American parents and raised in a house of women, Judy Baca grew up proud of her heritage. She tells stories of underrepresented communities, giving voice to women, the working poor, LGBTQ+, people of color, and immigrants.
Tiffany is illustrated against a bright red background with golden circles designed behind her. The circles overlap each other and include golden specs and a green center. Tiffany is shown from the chest up; she is wearing a white coat with a small turtleneck. She is gazing to the right, but we see her whole face. Her hair is dark brown and cut very short, with a short strand grazed over her forehead. Above Tiffany is white text that reads: “Drawing on History”. Underneath, there is a subtitle that reads “Tiffany Chung.”
Drawing on History: A Comic About Tiffany Chung
Having witnessed the Vietnam War, Tiffany Chung hopes to illustrate the effect of war on people and tell a complete story. Chung traced her father’s wartime journey in search of those memories erased from historical records. She describes her works as “the protest against this politically driven historical amnesia.”
Sonya is pictured in a three-quarter front view, gazing toward the text to her right that reads: “If You Stitch With Me, I’ll Tell You a Story, The Work of Sonya Clark.” Her skin tone is a warm brown, complemented by her red headwrap and dangling earrings. Sonya’s eyes are behind her iconic large round glasses. Draped around her body is a fabric reminiscent of the Confederate Truce Flag: it is a warm cream color with red stitched lines across the horizontal. The background is etched with a light cerulean blue, leaving a colored-pencil-like texture. A red thread flows up and behind Sonya’s head, weaving in and out of the background. Towards the bottom of the image, the illustrator’s name is written in dark red: “Abigail Rajunov.”
If You Stitch With Me, I'll Tell You a Story: A Comic About Sonya Clark
Sonya Clark grew fond of handmade crafts stitching with her grandmother as a child and loved to bring stories into her art. One of her monumental works, inspired by the dishtowel used by the Confederate army to surrender, elicits thoughts about reparations, abolition, and freedoms for Black people.
A lavender- blue border surrounds the cover. Each corner contains a miniature portrait of Sarah Goodridge, one as a child and one as an adult. Inside the decorative frame is an illustration of Sarah’s elderly hands holding a palm-sized portrait of her younger self. The painting depicts her with a brown, curly updo, brown eyes, a gentle smile, and a pillowy, green coat. There are two text boxes; the text at the top reads “Sarah Goodridge,” while the text at the bottom says “A life in Miniatures.”
A Life in Miniatures: A Comic About Sarah Goodridge
Sarah Goodridge grew up on her family’s farm, where she created her earliest pictures using a pin and birch bark, before moving to Boston. With her passion and hard work, she became one of the first American women to earn a living as a working artist.
Ester Hernandez stands proudly in the center, holding a large basket of green grapes that spill to the bottom of the page. Ester has light brown skin and is wearing a black shirt with a red floral print, shiny silver earrings, and a turquoise necklace. She smiles slightly and seems content, with her eyes looking sideways under her black square glasses. Her hair is a stark black color with a few strands of gray that frame her forehead. The background is a parody of the Sun-Maid raisin box, a reference to her screen prints Sun Raid and Sun Mad. Behind Ester are protest signs, which read: Chicana Power, Don’t Buy California Grapes, LGBT Rights, We Will Not Be Intimidated, and a symbol of a fist.
Text at the top of the page reads: “Ester Hernandez A Better World.”
A Better World: A Comic About Ester Hernandez
Born in a farmworker family, Ester Hernandez saw her family and community as the main inspirations for her art. She became one of the leading female artists of El Movimiento, telling stories of women and empowering Chicana feminists through her transformative work.
A Black woman, Loïs Mailou Jones, holds an African mask in front of her face, her mouth and eyes smile softly. She has medium brown skin, dark brown hair, and deep brown eyes. Her hair is pushed back from her face and she is wearing gold hoop earrings, a delicate gold necklace with a circle charm, a navy blue blazer, light brown shirt, and brown pants. The artist stands in front of a geometric patterned background in orange, blue, yellow, and gold. Text above her reads: “Lois Mailou Jones Behind the Mask”
Behind the Mask: A Comic About Lois Mailou Jones
Despite facing discrimination, Loïs Mailou Jones had a successful career as an artist and as a professor at Howard University. She traveled around the world, to Paris, Haiti, and Africa for inspiration. Jones has become an important role model for African American artists.
Becoming an Artist: A Comic About Jaune Quick-To-See Smith
Jaune Quick-To-See Smith was born on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana in 1940. As a child, she escaped her harsh world through books and the drawings her father made for her. Now, she uses her art to powerfully express her beliefs.
Artist Nellie Mae Rowe stands at the doorway of her house. She’s a Black woman with curly dark brown hair, medium dark skin, and a genuine smile. She is wearing a long, green dress with short sleeves, a silver necklace, and flat black shoes. Above Nellie is white text against a red background with the title of the comic, “Playhouse.”
Nellie stands at her doorstep and gestures with her right hand to invite the viewer into her artistic house. Just below her feet is more text, reading: “The Story of Nellie Mae Rowe.” Several items decorate her home and its lawn; dangling glass bottles and ornaments are strung together to frame the building. The front of her white house has small, lush green bushes adorned with ornaments. Dolls and mannequin heads also decorate the yard. On the left, one rests on the ground. It is brown with a tuft of yellow hair at the top and a smile on its face. Another mannequin stands tall, held up by a metal pole. It is brown with curly black hair and several colorful ornaments on its cone-shaped body. Sitting against the base of the rod is a doll that the artist made. The doll has brown skin, brown curly hair, and a beautiful pink and yellow dress. Scattered around the lawn are colorful glass bottles and potted plants.
Playhouse: A Comic About Nellie Mae Rowe
Nellie Mae Rowe was one of the first self-taught Black women to be widely celebrated for her art. After a childhood lost to hard labor and twice widowed, she dedicated herself to creating art. Her imaginative works are filled with joy, playfulness, and pride.
A woman stands facing us in the center of the page, wearing a brown suit on top of a blue shirt with a maroon scarf. She has light skin, brown shoulder-length hair, and is looking at us with a full-blown smile. In her left hand, she holds three paintbrushes and right hand is tucked in the pocket of her brown trousers. She stands with one leg in front of the other, as if she is walking toward us. The background displays two separate landscapes behind her. On her left side are rising mountains and canyons, and on her right side are colors in abstract forms including purple, green, orange and some blue on top, both of which remind us of Kay Walkingstick’s artworks. The image is framed in black background decorated by two strings of diamond-shaped cosmic design with colors changing gradually from black to orange on the left and right sides of the cover. The top of the page reads: “Kay Walkingstick,” while the bottom reads: “Closer To The Cosmos.”
Closer to the Cosmos: A Comic About Kay WalkingStick
Kay WalkingStick is the daughter of a Scotch-Irish mother and a Cherokee father, who encouraged her to learn about her Indigenous roots. She finds inspiration in Native cultures, which encourages her to join patterns and landscapes in depicting her worldview.
A shoulder-up black-and-white sculpture of a woman who faces us sideways. She has an assertive look on her face: dark skin, long eyelashes, full lips, high arched eyebrows and wears a high bun on her head. The black background has an uneven texture, as if smeared with clay. The top of the page reads “Augusta Savage” and “My monument will be in their work.” This comic is illustrated in black and white.
My Monument Will Be In Their Work: A Comic About Augusta Savage
Augusta Savage fulfilled her dream of becoming an artist, winning fellowships and numerous awards throughout her life as a sculptor. Besides her own success, Savage dedicated her career in creating opportunities for Black artists.
At the top of the page, a woman with brown hair in a bun and scoop necked blue dress is standing with her back to us, looking at a painting with pink and red dashes of paint in bands of bright color. Other colorful paintings sit propped on the floor beside her. On the lower part of the page, in front of the woman and facing us, is a young girl, about eight, in a white, long sleeve dress with a ruffle collar. The girl is running out of the frame, her face is towards us, looking back over her shoulder. She has curly chin length hair, brown eyes and brown skin. She has a bright, happy face, and is smiling, holding a paintbrush aloft with a swirl of bright red paint coming off the brush, framing both figures and the words "The Story of Alma Thomas: beneath the Holly Tree."
Beneath the Holly Tree: A Comic About Alma Thomas
Alma Thomas became the first woman to graduate from the art department at Howard University, as well as one of the first Black women to receive a degree in art. Her exuberant, colorful paintings explore the natural world around us, from garden to galaxy.
A woman with short, chin-length hair stands in profile. She is drawn with short, sketchy strokes as if drawn with a graphite pencil. Only her head and shoulders are within the frame. Behind her is a maze of thick red lines. Text reads, “Anni Albers: Threads of History.”
Threads of History: A Comic About Anni Albers
Anni Albers studied art at the innovative Bauhaus, where she discovered weaving. She fled Nazi Germany and became an influential teacher at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
A gray-and-white illustration depicts a bustling cityscape. We stand on a street filled with people all going in different directions. Businessmen in light fedora hats and dark trench coats and other people with their heads and eyes down, hurrying forward. Above them are tall buildings with dark windows in stark rows. The facades of the buildings recede away from us down the street. Facing us is a young woman with short dark hair with a heavy sweep of bangs above one eyebrow. She has big eyes and a bright smile and wears a long scarf, loose flowing jacket, and skirt. She stands behind a large camera on a tripod. Her hands cradle the bottom and side of the lens of the camera, which is pointed straight at us as if she is about to take our photo. Above her at the top of the page, text reads, “Berenice Abbott: Picturing a City."
Picturing a City: A Comic About Berenice Abbott
Born in 1898, Berenice Abbott discovered her gift for photography in Paris. When she returned home, she created iconic portraits of buildings and people in New York City, images that still move us to this day.
Comic book cover depicts an illustration of a woman, Carmen Herrera, who is drawn only in thick black outlines against white background. She is wearing glasses, a blue dress with black flowers, and a green sweater against a yellow background. She sits with a square canvas in her lap. The canvas is half covered in white and half in green, the same color as her sweater. She is peeling back orange painter’s tape on her artwork that is running diagonally from corner to corner to show a straight line down the center and to reveal that the white half of the canvas is red underneath. At the top of the page is the artist’s name, Carmen Herrera. On the artwork in her lap is the comic title. Text reads, “In Awe of the Straight Line.”
In Awe of the Straight Line: A Comic About Carmen Herrera
Carmen Herrera was born in Havana, Cuba, then lived in Paris before moving to New York City in 1952. She faced discrimination in the art world for being an immigrant and a woman and only found success late in life for her minimal, beautiful works.
Comic book cover is a colorful illustration of a young girl, woman, and old woman standing together under the words, “Corita Kent: A Life in Color.” The young girl is entirely depicted in yellow. Her hair is in a bob, and a barrette holds it away from her face, and her dress is edged in lace at the collar and cuffs of the long sleeves. She is holding paintbrushes in her left hand. Next to her, a woman wearing a nun’s habit is depicted in blue in purple. The older woman stands next to her, and is all in red. Her hair is pulled away from her face. They are all smiling and looking into the distance. Around the three figures, yellow, orange, and pink flowers are illustrated. They represent the three stages of Corita Kent’s life.
A Life in Color: A Comic About Corita Kent
Corita Kent joined a religious order after high school and became fascinated with screen printing. She would go on to be described as “the pop art nun who combined the sensibility of Andy Warhol with social justice,” and helped to bring a little more color to the world.
An illustration of a girl with curly brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin, and rosy cheeks standing in 3/4 profile facing out of the page. She is wearing a blue jacket with fringe along the shoulders, a cream-colored shirt with a pointed collar, a pink tie around her neck, a small red sculptor’s cap--a close-fitting brimless hat--on her head, and a cream-colored skirt that flows out of the frame of the image. In her hand she holds a mallet, her other hand cradles the head of the hammer. She stares straight out of the page with an expression of fierce determination on her face. Behind her, is a purple background in a washed, watercolor effect. Text reads, “Edmonia Lewis: Breaking the Marble Ceiling.”
Breaking the Marble Ceiling: A Comic About Edmonia Lewis
The daughter of a Haitian father and an Ojibwe mother Lewis overcame many obstacles before finding success as a sculptor in Rome, where her fame brought countless visitors to her studio.
Comic book cover shows a colorful illustration of an old woman from the torso up. The elderly woman’s hair is short and white in a pixie cut and she is wearing glasses and a red scarf around her neck. She is wearing an orange sweater and a smile on her face. Her cheeks are rosy. On each side of her head are three woven rectangles in progress, alternating in orange and a sunshine yellow with threads of fabric crisscrossing each other. Across her chest, there is a singular strand of fabric that loops into a heart over the place where her human heart is. It glows in bright white on the otherwise orange sweater. On the left side of this strand, there are two red paper origami cranes, one below the strand and one above the strand. At the bottom of the page is the title. Text reads, “Weaver’s Weaver: Kay Sekimachi.”
The Weaver’s Weaver: A Comic About Kay Sekimachi
Kay Sekimachi and her family were forced into a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII. There, she spent her time making art. After the war, she discovered weaving and her innovative practices and mastery of techniques earned her the sobriquet “the Weaver’s Weaver.”
A young woman, Maria Oakey Dewing, stands in a colorful garden. The sky behind her is bright blue, and she wears a long blue dress with full length sleeves, buttons down the front, and a bustle in the back. Her straw hat has a blue ribbon. She smiles slightly and looks out, making eye contact with the reader. Around her, a riot of blooms, including yellow Black-eyed Susans, pink and yellow lupines, blue hydrangeas, peach tulips, and pink roses. In her right hand, she holds a paintbrush up to a canvas on an easel.
A Garden-Thirsty Soul: A Comic about Maria Oakey Dewing
Born in 1845, the American painter known for her depiction of flowers described herself as a “Garden-Thirsty Soul.” Her promising career was overshadowed by her marriage to a more famous artist. Her artworks remain unsurpassed in celebrating the beauty of the natural world.
Long Text: A vividly colored cover with a patchwork of purple, yellow, pink, tan, and blue geometric and floral designs. Artist Mickalene Thomas, a black woman wearing glasses with her hair in micro locs--thin individual pieces--pulled away from her face, is seated in a wheeled desk chair. The artist has her left arm resting on her forehead as she leans backward in a relaxed position. The background is full of many different patchwork patterns in a variety of colors with various floral patterns and textures represented. Text reads, “Mickalene Thomas: Portrait”
Portrait: A Comic About Mickalene Thomas
When contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas was in art school, she couldn’t afford traditional materials and gravitated towards craft stores and the glitter and rhinestones within. Her paintings speak to female empowerment and of women of color owning and defining their own spaces.
The cover image for this comic is illustrated with rough, choppy pencil markings and strokes in a style of pencil sketches. The cover is predominantly in greyscale. At the center of the page is a framed portrait of an individual wearing a long black coat, a black top hat, and a downcast expression. In the bottom right corner, a young girl with striking short, straight, bright orange hair looks up at the portrait with curiosity. Text reads, “Do you think I’m Hiding?” across the top of the cover, and “Story of Romaine Brooks” is at the bottom of the cover.
Do You Think I’m Hiding? A Comic About Romaine Brooks
Romaine Brooks suffered an abusive childhood but triumphed as an adult, embracing gender fluidity and her queer identity. Her fierce independence is inspiring to people today.
Generous support for the 2021 Drawn to Art series was provided by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.