Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 4, 2021

illustrator Saturday – Shamar Knight-Justice

Shamar is an illustrator based in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up with a crayon in his hand and a love for patterns. He currently serves as the principal of an elementary school in Southwest Atlanta, where his scholars’ stories and personalities inspire him to create illustrations that honor their identities. When not drawing, Shamar loves to spend time hoarding collage materials, going on long walks with his family, and devouring the nearest pancake.

Shamar Knight-Justice currently serves as the School Principal at Ethos Classical. Shamar graduated from North Carolina A&T in 2010 with a degree in Business Marketing. After graduation, he became a member of Teach For America in Charlotte, North Carolina where he taught secondary English for four years, before then moving to Washington, D.C. and teaching elementary scholars for two years. Shamar previously served as the Board Chair for The Collective Atlanta, which is Teach For America’s alumni of color association, and helps create events and opportunities that strengthen the rapport between current corps members and alum of color. Shamar has also worked for Teach For America at two different training institutes for first year teachers, serving as an instructional coach for two years, and a summer school principal for three years. He served as an Assistant Principal for five years before becoming a School Principal. He is also a member of the Atlanta cohort of Profound Gentlemen, which seeks to develop and retain male educators of color. In his spare time, Shamar enjoys scribbling book ideas in his notebook, and window-shopping with his wife at J. Crew.


I typically start with an idea that I want to execute and then go on a search for reference materials. For this piece, I was drawn to the idea of a girl flying a plane, and then I came across Bessie Coleman, who was the first Black woman to get her pilot’s license.

Next, I sketch out the scene primarily focusing on the character. I like to use one of the Dry Ink brushes in Procreate because it has a sketchy texture which helps me stay loose, and keeps me from overthinking. I like my sketches to be messy.

After I do the sketch of the character, I start to think about the background. I knew I wanted this one to be a night scene with clouds so I determined the colors of the sky and the moon/stars. I like to color using a Chalk-textured brush, and use a combination of water color brushes for the sky.

Next, I lay on the flat colors for the character, and see what goes well with the background. Before then adding more texture and shading.

Then, I take time to add texture and details to the piece, and play around with the coloring and lighting.

Finally, I do some additional highlights, and then slowly step away from it so that I don’t have the urge to change anything else.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Northern Virginia, specifically Leesburg and Ashburn which are suburbs of the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.


It is obvious that your students have inspired your illustrations, but do you think your art has inspired your students to become future artists?

I do! But even more so, I hope they realize that they’re already artists. At my school, Ethos Classical, we truly value scholars’ creativity and imagination, and as adults it’s our job to provide them with the opportunities to practice those gifts, and sometimes it means we need to step to the side and allow them to think and explore. I hope my art helps scholars realize that becoming an author or illustrator is less abstract than it feels most times, and is as concrete as the teacher standing in front of them each day.

What were your goals when you went for a BS degree in Marketing from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University?

My goal was to run my own business. I didn’t know what that business would be, but I knew I wanted to know how to run whatever it was. My dad has been an entrepreneur his entire life, and I was and still am inspired by his daily hustle to provide for our family. I wanted to become an expert in the grind.

How did you go from marketing to education?

During my time at A&T, I spent time volunteering with The Boys and Girls Club of America located in Greensboro. Sometimes I would visit my mentee at his elementary school, and spend time with his class, and I realized I felt a ton of joy being in that space. Before my senior year, I applied to join Teach For America, and was accepted into the 2010 Charlotte corps.

Did you minor in education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University?


I know nothing about these Teach For America. In New Jersey you need a degree in education and a higher one to be a principal. There are a few special programs where someone who doesn’t have an educational degree can earn it by working in a school while attending classes. Is that similar to what you did? Whatever you did you look like you it was the right thing helping so many children.

Yes, that’s exactly what Teach For America is. You get a teacher certification, and work towards a Master’s degree during the two-year commitment.  I initially thought I’d only stay in education for two years, and then go to law school. I ended up falling in love with teaching and now this is my 12th year in education.

Have you taken any illustrating classes?

Not in any traditional setting. Currently, I take advantage of any online platforms I see that have lessons. I’ve watched hours and hours of videos on Skill Share and 21 Draw over the last few years, and have participated in a ton of virtual conferences and workshops. I complete those projects to practice and explore techniques.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing my entire life, but got serious with it in 2019. My wife purchased me an iPad for Christmas, and I’ve spent hours on it every morning, every day since then.

What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

When I first started drawing on my iPad and posting work online, people would reach out for commissions. My first commissioned piece was a picture of a friend’s niece next to the first letter of her name.

Do you exhibit your illustrations?

Not consistently. Before the pandemic started, at my school we used to do exhibits of scholar artwork where families would be invited in, and listen to their scholar present their work. I had the honor of presenting at one of the exhibits, and I felt tremendous gratitude to be around such artistic young scholars.

Did you add Justice to your last name, since that word seems to go with your goals for children?

Nope, been my name since birth. I love it though. I was the first Knight-Justice ever, now it’s me, my wife, Nicole, and our son, Caiden.

New Born Caiden

Caiden at 3 months

Was the picture book, Ari J.’s Kinky, Curly Crown by Ain Heath Drew that was published by Orange Hat came out in February your first illustrated book?

Yes, it was! I learned a lot about myself and the publishing journey through that experience. I’m truly grateful for Ain and the team at Orange Hat. Ari J. was a character I loved bringing to life on the page.

How did that contract come your way?

Ain and I used to work with each other at a previous school. Once I started posting illustrations on Instagram, she reached out and asked if I would want to come on as the illustrator for a book she had signed on to do with Orange Hat.

How did you meet Christy Tugeau Ewers and get representation with The Cat Agency?

On Instagram I started following a lot of artists that posted beautiful and powerful children’s book work, and realized a pattern of a few of them being represented by The Cat Agency. When looking at the artists Christy represented, and the values of her agency, I knew that she was who I wanted to represent me. But I was terrified! So I kept drawing every day I didn’t reach out to her until months later, after she followed me on Instagram. That gave me the confidence to officially reach out, and amazingly she responded to me the next day. We had a few more conversations and then I signed on officially in February.

Has all those children around you everyday inspired any desire to write and illustrate a book?

Certainly. Every single day I am inspired by our scholars’ humor, youthfulness, tenacity, and spirit. I want to be able to tell them stories AND tell their stories. Something that brings me immense joy is seeing beautiful books in children’s hands.

Do you always use collage to create your illustrations?

Not in all of them, but most recently a lot of my work has included collage. I’m in love with cool patterns and unique textures, so I’m always looking for a medium that is able to generate that aesthetic. Collaging also allows me to include papers/typography/images that are relevant to the topic, which I feel add something special to the vibe of the piece.

Have you done any art for greeting card companies?

No, I have not.

What about educational publishers? Have you done any work for them?

No, I have not.

Would you like to write and illustrate a picture book?

I would love to! I’ve written for as long as I could draw, and can definitely envision a book that I’ve both written and illustrated.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

At the moment, only if it’s Ain Heath Drew.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I haven’t, but it seems like a fun and painful challenge. I love words even more than I love pictures, so I would be hesitant to do it.

Have you illustrated anything for children’s magazines?

I have not.

Do you have studio in your house?

I do! Once my wife saw that I was drawing consistently, she was onboard for us to convert one of our guest bedrooms into a creative space for me to do work. I’m in the process of making it a more functional space where I have better organization systems, so that I can store all of my art materials without them being all over the place.

As a busy principal at a school, how do you find time for your art?

I’ve found that I hit my peak level of creativity at the earliest parts of the day before I go to work. I’m consistent with a 4:00 AM wake time, and will create from 4:00-6:00 AM before then getting ready for work. From 7:00 AM to 5ish PM my complete focus in on the school. I sometimes sneak in an extra hour of creating from 8:30-9:30 PM after putting my newborn to sleep, but it is usually just a continuation of whatever I didn’t finish earlier in the day.

Does the art teacher at your school have to work with her students in class? 

Yes, she does! She’s excellent. We’re 100% in-person, but she also did a wonderful job with teaching art while we virtual last school year. When I go to her art class, I am there as an observer/instructional coach and participant, but I am NOT the art teacher. She leads her space, and it’s my job to support her in providing a great experience for our scholars.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

100%. Instagram has been then primary way I am able to consistently share my work and gain exposure.

Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

I use Procreate on my iPad. I want to eventually use more Adobe products, but I’ve found a lot of comfort and ease in Procreate, and will stick with it for as long as possible. It’s a great software that is quick to learn, and helps keep work flow efficient.

Do you own or have you ever tried a graphic Drawing Tablet?

I use an iPad.

Do you think your style has changed over the years? Have your material changed?

I think that I’m still working to discover my style. I’m trying out different things each day, and practicing new techniques. A goal of mine is to do work more with physical paint, and be less digital.

What do you consider is your biggest success?

My largest success is waking up and drawing every single day. A ton of the creative process is the battle you have with yourself to draw even when you don’t feel inspired or creative. I’m proud of the discipline I’ve been able to develop.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

In a few years, I’ll eventually transition to being creative full time. My current career dreams are grounded in my school, but I do hope to have a large body of work and one day lead some workshops for children.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on this beautiful picture book titled Big Tune written by Alliah Agostini. It’s about a shy boy that’s working up his courage to bust out his dance moves at the neighborhood dancehall party.

Do you have any material tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tired – A how to tip, etc.

Some colored pencils I’ve really enjoyed using lately are these Koh-I-Noor Woodless Colour Pencils. I love the vibrant colors they have available, and the overall quality of the pencil. On a more basic note, I love how they still write the name of the color on the pencil. I’m partially colorblind, which makes differentiating between colors very challenging, so the name keeps me from asking my wife a hundred questions about what color something is.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful illustrator?

Draw every single day. Really. Every single day, and be intentional about what you draw and why you’re drawing it. Then share it. Repeat this over and over again.

Shamar, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone. Really enjoyed getting to meet you virtually.

To see more of Shamar’s work, you can visit him at:


Talk tomorrow,



  1. I’m a huge fan of collage and these samples just pop off the screen with their textures. Love them. My favorite answer was in reply to your biggest success: waking up and drawing every day (at 4 am, no less!) Thanks for sharing.


  2. I love your work!! Beautiful color & expression. Nice job!!


  3. What cute work. I especially like the little aviatrix and the whales. And Caiden is ADORABLE!!! Thanks for the post.


  4. Beautiful work! Love the colors and intensity, and also the collage work. Well, and Caiden! How adorable! Best wishes!


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