“Art is for EVERYONE!” – An Interview with Illustrator and Educator Bri James

Learning in the Making: Live! invites guest hosts of color on as equal and valued partners and collaborators, so that they can tell their stories and showcase the amazing things they are making and doing! This is because youth of color deserve to see engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, creators, and makers of color! In this series, we interview our guest hosts to learn a little bit more about them.

Maker Ed chats with Bri James, Maker Ed’s Content and Communications Strategist and guest host on Learning in the Making: Stamps and Patterns. Check out the video to see Bri in action!

Tell us a bit more about yourself…

I’m a 4th generation East Bay baby and I LOVE making! I’m a writer and digital illustrator who LOVES to cook. My mother is Japanese-American and my father is Afro-Caribbean, from New Orleans via Martinique. I grew up in a house rich with SO many food traditions and most of my favorite life memories revolve around food. I understand what a luxury that is and am so grateful. 

What do you make? 

I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember and doing anything with my hands brings me SO much joy. When I was little, I cut off the fingertips of my gloves and made toe hats. I hated socks, but my toes would get cold. My mom wasn’t pleased that I cut up my new gloves, but toe hats seemed like the perfect solution for a sock-hater with cold toes! 

Nowadays, my work focuses on writing and illustrating. I’m a digital designer at Maker Ed, freelance illustrator, and a writer at Bravery Magazine—a kid lit publication featuring inspirational and brave women.

What excites you most about your work? 

Art is for EVERYONE. It’s for everyone to experience, enjoy, and create. When I was younger, I wanted to be an animator and didn’t see any Black female animators. I’m currently working on a passion project called Girl Jobs—an ABC book of amazing women excelling in roles where women aren’t often highlighted. B is for Butcher, for example. I want to create work where girls of color, especially Black girls, can see women who look like them doing all sorts of things, in all sorts of places, and crushing it! 

What’s one thing about yourself that you think is important for others to know? 

It’s never too late to pursue something you’ve always wanted to do! 

I wanted to be an artist since I was young, but my professional path started as a lawyer. I worked at startups, ran a startup, and taught at the university level. It wasn’t until 2 years ago I decided to realize a lifelong dream of pursuing art professionally. It confused a lot of people, but made perfect sense to me. People aren’t stagnant and life isn’t linear. Do what makes sense for you.  

What dreams do you have for young people?

My wish is for young people is to live in a world that respects their power and believes their dreams matter.

Young people are amazing! These are some of the brilliant learners I had the pleasure of teaching at UC Davis’ Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Here, we are at Autodesk’s San Francisco office working on 3-D printing. 

If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be? 

Children will carry what you say with them for the rest of their lives. When I was in third grade, a teacher made a remark inferring that “Africans” were heathens. That has stayed with me to this day. After that, I never enjoyed school in the same way.

Are there other makers and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to promote?

YES! #bookstagram is a little corner of social media that’s been really fun to become a part of. I have to shout out @thestackspod @interestedinblackbooks, aand @bowtiesandbooks.

Now that you’ve met Bri, check out this episode of Learning in the Making to make stamps and explore patterns with her.




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