Tumi K is an award-winning illustrator based in Johannesburg. She is strongly motivated by the social influence of the books she illustrates. Her current illustrations for Mikhulu Trust’s new book centre around celebrating the positive role that men can play in the lives of children. She hopes her artwork will inspire conversations in households across South Africa!
Purpose outside of the studio
Tumi illustrated her first picture book for an author at age 17. Without formal art training, she absorbed everything she could from books and online tutorials in order to pursue her passion for illustration.
Tumi began to undertake more illustration jobs and found a calling in the books that encourage learning through stories.
“Illustration can make education so much more fun,” Tumi explains, “and it is wonderful to know that my illustrations have a purpose outside of the studio. They have an educational purpose, too.”
Serious issues addressed through illustrations
Illustrated books can be a useful tool to explore difficult, but important topics with children. This aspect of illustrating is a strong motivational factor for Tumi in her work. She has worked on books such as “The Day The Dragon Came”, which educates children about sexual abuse, and “You Are a Wish”, which is about adoption and diversity. Her work also includes illustrations for “Inventors, Bright Minds and Other Science Heroes of South Africa”, a book about positive role models in STEM fields.
“I think educational material should be about creating conversations between adults and children,” Tumi says, illuminating the wider social impact that her work can go on to have.
Tumi enjoys working on books that encourage conversations between children and adults.
Above: You Are a Wish by Jaco Jacobs (PanMacmillan, 2022) The Day the Dragon Came by Fanie Viljoen (published by Human&Roussow, 2019) Inventors, Bright Minds and Other Science Heroes of South Africa by Engela Duvenage (LAPA publishers, 2021)
Mikhulu Trust and Tumi
Tumi was asked by Mikhulu Trust to illustrate its new book, “Do Your Best”, a book about a bright young girl and all the positive male role models supporting her. Aside from using illustrations to support children’s development, Tumi was attracted to the fact that Mikhulu’s books are specifically aimed at an “audience that is not usually considered; a marginalised group” – parents that cannot read, or that are under-confident in reading.
“What I particularly like about Mikhulu Trust is that their books create a positive story-time experience for parents and children, regardless of reading level,” Tumi says, “and the fact that they are creating materials for visual stimulation. It makes for a fun book-related experience.”
Tumi is illustrating ‘Do Your Best’ for Mikhulu Trust.
Challenging dominant narratives around fatherhood
The book that Tumi is working on is about a girl who grows up in a home with a single-father and grandfather, both who positively support her development and well-being, with many other positive male role models around her. “The story,” Tumi says, “contains many positive male role models and positive male characters. For example, the girl’s best friend at school is a boy who sticks up for her when she gets bullied.”
Perceptions around fatherhood – and the positive and active role that men can play in children’s lives – are changing slowly, and Tumi seems excited to contribute to this shift. “I heard that Mikhulu received requests to include single-father households in their stories, since this family model is rarely represented in mainstream books,” she says.
Aside from positive male role-models, the book has “an emphasis on studying hard and being kind.” The young girl’s ability to overcome difficulties at school is powered by her fierce determination and energy for life. “I loved the opportunity to create a confident and relatable main character,” explains Tumi. “Her tendency to be messy and disorganised allows for lots of fun details in the illustrations. I also chose a bright colour palette to create an engaging environment for the readers.”
“It is so important to make reading materials fun,” says Tumi, “and I am very excited to be part of a movement of inclusive books in South Africa!”
Follow Tumi on Instagram here