Tyrelle Smith is the master artist behind the gorgeous illustrations that grace the pages of some of our favorite AbyD titles including The Legend of MeeCheli: The First African American Princess and, our latest release, Dance of the Antelope.
For the recently released Ghanaian fairy tale by Patricia Norki Nater, Tyrelle took inspiration from the rich golds and purples popular on the African continent as well as gorgeous, complicated Kente cloths and other elements of Africana to create art worthy of an African Cinderella story.
Tyrelle is no stranger to looking at inspiring items. When he’s not painting or drawing himself, he is a security guard at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He took the job, in part, to be around inspiring works all day and keep art in the forefront of his mind.
Here’s what Tyrelle had to say about how his two occupations complement each other:
“I enjoy the environment and being around the artwork. It’s a great joy to go there and be around inspiring artwork all day.”
Tyrelle graduated with an art degree and considers himself lucky to be an artist whose daytime workplace is filled with amazing artwork and populated by other people who live for art; whether they are the tour leaders, visitors, curators, patrons or other art professionals who work at or visit the museum.
“Most of my co-workers know I’m also a working artist. Actually, most of the people that work at the museum are artists of one kind or another. The majority of the security staff are artists or designers,” he said.
As he passes through the museum performing his job daily, there are a few pieces in the permanent collection that always move him. He counts the romantic “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Frederic Edwin Church among his favorites as well as most of the museum’s impressionist pieces.
“I love artwork that has an expressionist element to it. I definitely work parts of that into my own art,” he said.
When he began working with authors as a book illustrator, he added another dimension to his creativity. He had to create something that he was inspired by but that also pleased the author.
“Illustration is a different beast. It challenges me, but I love it. You have to work within a whole new framework that keeps in mind your own style but also presents the interesting challenge of bringing their vision to life,” he explained. “I would say that the biggest surprise in illustrating was learning to step outside my comfort zone and away from the techniques and references I usually use,” he said.
For Dance of the Antelope, Tyrelle was particularly moved by the global feel of the story. “I’m incredibly happy to be working with characters of different ethnicities and diverse stories. It’s wonderful to play around with style and context in the illustrations,” he said.
One thing that stays consistent throughout Tyrelle’s portfolio is a certain mystical and fantastical quality. “I make sure to get that element in everything that I do. Even the cover of Meecheli has that feeling. It’s more grounded than some of the fairy and dragon pieces that I do, but it still has that otherworldly, epic, grand feeling to it,” he noted.
We couldn’t agree more. With Tyrelle’s talent, we at AbyD have no doubt that his work will someday be hanging on those museum walls besides Monet, Dali, Rousseau, El Greco, and Caravaggio.
Check out more of Tyrelle’s work in Dance of the Antelope, The Legend of MeeCheli: The First African American Princess and on his own site here