Syracuse University Magazine

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Shane Evans '93

Drawing on Observation

Shane Evans  believes “every artist has to be a great observer.” It is a lesson he has learned both close to home and a continent away in Africa. “Africa was a different adjustment for me as an artist and a human,” says Evans, who made his first trip there in 1996, to Burkina Faso in West Africa, as part of an educational journey. “I saw poverty and hunger, but I also saw much joy and happiness. It informed me about what the world is—a beautiful place, even in the ugliness. It taught me about myself and how delicate life is.”

Evans has carried those lessons with him while continually honing his skills as an illustrator and artist. He has illustrated many books geared toward children, including Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom (Roaring Book Press, 2011), which earned him a 2012 Coretta Scott King Book Award for illustration from the American Library Association. Illustrating various children’s books, such as My Brother Charlie (Scholastic Press, 2010), has also provided Evans with the opportunity to hear from the most honest of critics. “When I started doing children’s books, I went out to a school,” Evans says. “Children will tell you the truth. There is nothing more humbling than a child or a wise older adult. That is encouraging. They will tell you if they don’t like something.”

Evans considers his SU education and the friends he made to be key parts of his journey. Six years ago, he received a Chancellor’s Award at Coming Back Together, a triennial gathering on campus for African American and Latino alumni. Evans and fellow alumnus, actor Taye Diggs ’93, collaborated on the children’s book Chocolate Me (Feiwel and Friends, 2011) and returned to campus last fall for a book signing during Orange Central. “Taye and I went to the Rochester School of the Arts and Syracuse together,” says Evans, a Buffalo native who moved to Rochester as a teenager. “We were encouraged by many people around us, teachers and family, and our hearts were led by faith. We always found a way to step forward and find a place to put our talents to good work.”

In May, Evans delivered the Convocation address to his home school, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, where he earned a B.F.A. degree in illustration nearly two decades ago. After graduation, Evans interned at Rolling Stone magazine before taking a job with Hallmark in Kansas City, Missouri. “I packed up a truck after the summer of ’93,” he says. “I did not know this place at all.” Since then, the city has grown on him. It’s home for Evans, his wife, and daughter, and where he opened a studio four years ago to pursue his creative endeavors, which also include photography and designing handcrafted furniture, clothing, and CD cover art.

Evans says he is not the owner of stories. He is the interpreter of stories. For him, it’s about listening and observing, whether he is at SU, in Missouri, or seeing the happiness and sadness of people in Africa. “Tragedy affects us all, even if we think it is far off,” he says. “There is one world and we live in it together. The reality is they are all our neighbors and seeing this for myself allowed me to see that truth. Not only did I see atrocities, but I also saw joy, and this affects who I am. The African experience for me is a deeply spiritual one that lives with me.” —Brian Hudgins