Painters & Pop-Art & Poets… Oh My! Picture Book Biographies of Women Artists

We all learned about art and artists in school: prehistoric cave paintings, the immortal works of Shakespeare, those famous Impressionist painters. Maybe some of us were lucky enough to also study contemporary art, to get a sense of the people who made a splash artistically in recent decades. Yet, how many of the artist names that readily come to mind are women? There are popular and prolific artists like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, or Dorothea Lange. Still, many lesser-known women artists have created artworks just as stunning. The books below highlight women artists: sculptors, painters, an architect, a poet, a performer, and even an illustrator of children’s books! This list consists entirely of picture book biographies—some short, some long, all beautifully illustrated. Get ready to be inspired to create something new during Women’s History Month.

Burgess, Matthew
Illustrated by: Kara Kramer
Make Meatballs Sing: The Life & Art of Corita Kent. 2021.
Deeply influenced by her religious beliefs and fired up by the social justice causes of her day, Corita Kent lived a remarkable life as a nun, educator, designer, artist, and activist. This story from well-known author Matthew Burgess, vibrantly illustrated by artist Kara Kramer, draws readers into the life of a singular woman whose work and commitment invite us all to seek joy in the everyday, to observe the world with open eyes, and to question and see beyond the existing framework of society. This beautiful biography, made in close collaboration with the Corita Art Center, includes reproductions of Corita’s works, a chronology, and author and illustrator notes.
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Churnin, Nancy
Illustrated by: Felicia Marshall
Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring. 2020.
Growing up in the late 19th century, Laura Wheeler Waring didn’t see any artists who looked like her. She didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her, either. So when she was offered a commission to paint portraits of accomplished African Americans, she jumped at the chance. Writers, singers, political activists, and thinkers all posed for her. Now her portraits hang in Washington, D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.
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D’Aquino, Andrea
A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa. 2019.
Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was an influential and award-winning sculptor, a beloved figure in the Bay Area art world, and a devoted activist who advocated tirelessly for arts education. This lushly illustrated book by collage artist Andrea D’Aquino brings Asawa’s creative journey to life, detailing the influence of her childhood in a farming family, and her education at Black Mountain College where she pursued an experimental course of education with leading avant-garde artists and thinkers such as Anni and Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg. Delightful and substantial, this engaging title for young art lovers includes a page of teaching tools for parents and educators.
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Harvey, Jeanne Walker
Illustrated by: Dow Phumiruk
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. 2017.
As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
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Maclear, Kyo
It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way. 2019.
Gyo Fujikawa’s iconic children’s books are beloved all over the world. Now it’s time for Gyo’s story to be told—a story of artistic talent that refused to be constrained by rules or expectations. Growing up quiet and lonely at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gyo learned from her relatives the ways in which both women and Japanese people lacked opportunity. Her teachers and family believed in her and sent her to art school and later Japan, where her talent flourished. But while Gyo’s career grew and led her to work for Walt Disney Studios, World War II began, and with it, her family’s internment. But Gyo never stopped fighting—for herself, her vision, her family, and her readers—and later wrote and illustrated an early children’s book to feature children of different races interacting together.
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Markel, Michelle
Illustrated by: Amanda Hall
Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington. 2019.
Ever since she was a little girl, Leonora Carrington loved to draw on walls, in books, on paper—and she loved the fantastic tales her grandmother told that took her to worlds that shimmered beyond this one, where legends became real. Leonora’s parents wanted her to become a proper English lady, but there was only one thing she wanted, even if it was unsuitable: to become an artist. In London, she discovered a group of artists called surrealists, who were stunning the world with their mysterious creations. This was the kind of art she had to make. From life in Paris creating art alongside Max Ernst to Mexico, where she met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Leonora’s life became intertwined with the powerful events and people that shaped the twentieth century. Out of This World is the fascinating and stunningly illustrated story of Leonora Carrington, a girl who made art out of her imagination and created some of the most enigmatic and startling works of the last eighty years.
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Powell, Patricia Hruby
Illustrated by: Christian Robinson
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. 2014.
In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.
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Scott, Joyce and Brie Spangler
Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet
Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott. 2021.
An introduction to the life and art of Judith Scott, a renowned sculpture artist. Judith Scott was born with Down syndrome. She was deaf, and never learned to speak. She was also a talented artist. Judith was institutionalized until her sister Joyce reunited with her and enrolled her in an art class. Judith went on to become an artist of renown with her work displayed in museums and galleries around the world. Poignantly told by Joyce Scott in collaboration with Brie Spangler and beautifully illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist, Melissa Sweet, Unbound is inspiring and warm, showing us that we can soar beyond our perceived limitations and accomplish something extraordinary.
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Sikander, Shahzia and Amy Novesky
Illustrated by: Hanna Barczyk
Roots and Wings: How Shahzia Sikander Became an Artist. 2021.
Growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, Shahzia flew kites, ate fruit from jamun trees, and devoured Russian fairy tales, American Westerns, and Bollywood films. She also read poetry in Urdu, her own language, and learned the slow and detailed painting technique of Indo-Persian miniatures. And when she moved far from home to study art, she brought her roots with her. Roots and Wings is a deeply personal story about how an artist grows. It is based on the childhood of Shahzia Sikander, one of the most exciting and celebrated mixed-media artists working today.
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Slade, Suzanne
Illustrated by: Cozbi A. Cabrera
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. 2020.
Before Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, she was a little girl who dared to dream. Gwendolyn grew up surrounded by fine poetry. From an early age, she memorized the poems her father read to her and soon began to pen her own. Gwendolyn found inspiration all around her: in the colorful clouds overhead; in the people in her neighborhood; in loss, loneliness, and love. This picture book biography shares Gwendolyn’s journey as she creates a beloved body of work and shows readers how her dream became her exquisite future.
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