FAMU DRS to celebrate 17-year-old published illustrator

Florida A&M University Developmental Research School is known for having a talented array of students. Today, between 1:45 and 3:30, the school will be celebrating one of those students’ talents.

At age 17, Erika Willis, a junior from Tallahassee at FAMU DRS, has her illustrations published in a children’s book written by Willie Brown III, “I Hate Home, I Hate School! A Letter to My Dad.”

Willis said that authors found her illustrations more fitting than those from illustrators working for publishing companies.

“They’ve been really surprised,” Willis said. “They had illustrators provide examples, and they said my work was much more clean and professional.”

Willis’s mentor and teacher, Sylvester Peck, is an art instructor at DRS. He introduced Willis to the author of the book.

Peck said his Brown asked him to read his manuscript and told him he needed an illustrator for his upcoming children’s book. Peck said Willis could be the illustrator the story needs.

“I asked Erika what she thought of it,” Peck said. “Then I asked her to create some sample illustrations for the author.”

When Brown saw the illustrations, he was immediately astonished, Peck said. When they saw the final product, he said, they could see the story coming to life.

“When you see her illustrations, you see the author,” Peck said.

Willis said she was excited and surprised that her illustrations were being published.   

Someone who wasn’t surprised about her success was Sandra Grant, principal for grades K-5 at DRS and also Willis’s teacher from the fourth grade.

“I noticed her sketching one day, and I looked and it was really amazing,” Grant said. “Her drawings were more detailed than the other kids in the class.”

A classmate of Willis, Jakena Sykes, a sophomore at DRS, was astonished to see Willis’s illustrations published.

“I was shocked,” Sykes said. “It’s amazing someone my age is doing such big things.”

Evan Hawitt, also a sophomore at DRS, said that Willis’s work is inspirational and when he sees her work, he gets jealous.

“When you see her art, you see what she’s thinking,” Hawitt said. “Her art has inspired me to become a better artist.”

Peck said having Willis as a student is a dream come true because of her passion and goals for her future.

“Her skills are phenomenal,” Peck said. “She’s highly motivated with the goals and dreams she wants to achieve.”

Willis said she obtained the passion for drawing and art when she was around 8. Her influence was her eldest brother, who is also an artist. Seeing his work, she said, inspired her from a young age.

As far as her future goes, Willis hopes to attend Auburn University and become an architect. She also said she plans on writing her own children’s book someday.