Shawn Skeir made the cover artwork that you see on the beautiful twentieth anniversary edition of The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke, which has won the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Trillium Book Award! Read more about how this special project came to life with this conversation between Shawn and our Art Director, Laura Boyle!
Laura: When it was announced that Dundurn would be creating a 20th anniversary edition of Austin Clarke’s The Polished Hoe, I was at once extremely excited and, admittedly, a tiny bit daunted. Austin Clarke is a Canadian literary hero, and I knew it would be my job to figure out a cover direction that at once honours the Giller Award-winning book, Clarke’s legacy as one of Canada’s preeminent Black authors, and to re-introduce the work to a new generation of potential readers. All done in a relatively short timeframe.
I knew the new packaging called for an illustration, since that would be a great way to create a visually distinct cover, while allowing us to maintain a nod to the iconic original.
I spent days researching and sifting through portfolios, both from people who had contacted me, and via various alternate routes. I had several candidates in mind, but when I came across Shawn Skeir’s Instagram almost randomly, something in it immediately called out to me. His vibrant, modern style felt like a great fit, and without too much more thought, I emailed him to gauge his interest.
Shawn: I remember the day Laura wrote to me about this project several months ago. I was quite thrilled about the opportunity, as I had been recalling just a few months before how Austin Clarke himself had once reached out to me, some twenty years previous, to ask if I would be interested to do the cover for the release of his new book; having been referred by a mutual friend, David Woods - director of Black Artists’ Network of Nova Scotia (BANNS).
While complications had arisen and it was not to be at the time, it was a full circle moment for the opportunity to re-present itself so fortuitously. I responded with enthusiasm to Laura’s expression of interest straight away and began working on first sketches without delay.
Laura: Shawn’s response blew my mind: it almost felt like Austin Clarke was sending me his posthumous blessing – the coincidence reassured me that we were on the right track. Speaking with Shawn about the design was a delight because he was so enthusiastic and had such a strong sense of how he wanted to approach it. And his mockups blew me away!
Shawn: It was pleasure working with Laura and Dundurn Press on this project. The timeline was tight but I had many ideas surrounding the novel’s concepts and images - some literal and others abstracted. Twenty years after its first publication, I was finally able to honour this important piece of literature in the context of my creative inspirations.
Laura: Thank you for lending your amazing talent to this project Shawn! What do you have coming up next?
Shawn: I’m participating in a couple of group exhibits. One is this interesting project designing umbrellas with some other painters and quiltmakers based out of Nova Scotia. I’m also getting ready for a group exhibit with the Black Artists’ Network of Nova Scotia (BANNS) that will happen in 2023. Other than that, I’m busy painting for my gallery reps.
You can find more of Shawn Skeir’s work by clicking here.