I wanted to show everyone (especially kids) that a diverse range of people have made Australia and the world awesome. This includes different race, gender, and cultural backgrounds. In this current political climate, it’s important for kids to see how important diversity really is.
Name: Beck Feiner
What was your main inspiration behind the alphabet campaign?
I was looking for an Alphabet poster for my kid’s room and I found all the art sweet but a little on the mundane side. I wanted something more impactful than B is for banana. And that’s how the Legends Alphabet was born. I wanted to brighten up kids’ rooms, and help them learn the alphabet while learning about some of Australia and the world’s legendary figures at the same time.
I feel like each of these icons starts an interesting conversation. I wanted to show everyone (especially kids) that a diverse range of people have made Australia and the world awesome. This includes different race, gender, and cultural backgrounds. In this current political climate, it’s important for kids to see how important diversity really is.
Why is raising the issue of gender equality so important to you?
We have to normalise that women can and are successful. Success is not just for men.
Ladies can and do make history, contribute to science and technology, break records, and save lives. Females can and do fight battles, shatter glass ceilings, start revolutions, and make a powerful difference.
And I wanted to make this Lady Legends Alphabet poster to show these positive role models to our younger female generation. In saying that, I think it’s just as important that our boys learn about these lady legends too.
Why do you think it is important to teach children about gender equality?
Children from a young age are not being fed a positive equality message through what they watch on TV. There is only one female member in the Wiggles. Thunderbirds has only one minor female character. Only recently has the Wonder Woman film come out. And the main characters in our much-loved storybooks are men.
Here are some facts from The Ugly Truth of Children’s Books:
In 500 children’s books, only one-fourth contained female characters.
In the 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time, only 53 books contained female characters who spoke.
The world sends us messages and I am trying to change those messages. Girls deserve literature and art dominated by strong females. They deserve to read about big dreams realised by larger-than-life females just like them. And you know what? Our sons deserve these stories, too. They deserve to discover what’s been hidden from children’s literature and media for far too long: that females can and do.
Your alphabet characters are made up of females who have made a difference to society; what made you choose the icons that you chose? What was your thinking behind it?
Helen Keller is an incredible woman who contributed so much to helping break down communication walls for disabled people. Rosa Parks was instrumental in helping end segregation for African Americans. It’s important to show that not just women but black women are incredible. I have Michelle Obamas and Venus/Serena Williams in my Alphabet. Amelia Earhart was a pioneer in aviation.
Then we have the Aussie ones – Julia Gillard – first Australian Prime minister. Australia was one of the pioneers in women’s suffrage and was amongst the first to give women the vote. So we have a fine history of being pro women’s right. However, we need to keep going.
Are there any characters in particular that have resonated with children more than others and why?
The kids have loved brave Amelia Earhart and Xena Warrior Princess. Children love adventurous people in life and I think both of these legends really resonate with them. And I have had lots of kids recognising Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks. I am so impressed as I really wouldn’t have known who these women were at that age. They also love J.K Rowling. How can you not love the legend who created Harry Potter!
What is the one most popular icon?
Iris Apfel, the interior designer and all-round style connoisseur has been super popular with the public. This has made me very happy as she is a 96 years old! It shows young girls that age doesn’t defy what we can do. In fact she has recently been turned into a Barbie doll. We need more Barbie dolls like Iris out there.
At what capacity are the illustrations used in classrooms?
Do you sell them to schools for teachers to use? What ages are they used by/taught to?
My most rewarding part of doing this project by far has been teachers asking to use my Alphabet Legends Posters and books in their classrooms. And there has been such a wide range of age groups from preschool to high school. Teachers want to discuss these legends and the positive roles they have in society. I think there is a genuine need for more topical, up-to-date material in classrooms that really captures students’ attention.
Have you ever gone into schools yourself and taught children about gender equality through your illustrations? Is this something you’d like to do?
I have gone to schools to talk a lot about my Aussie Legends Alphabet but not yet about my Lady Legends one. This is my call out to all teachers – can I please come to your classroom and talk about gender equality with my lady legends poster? I would absolutely love that!
Can you tell me a bit about your business and what a day in the life of Becky Feiner looks like?
It’s pretty crazy! I have two small kids (Levi 5 and Esme 2) who demand a lot of attention. After I have managed to bribe them out of the door to daycare and school I usually spend the day trying to divide up my time between emails, phone calls, commercial commissions and dreaming up new alphabet legends! I have a new book coming out through Harper Collins so I often spend time going over proofs/revising concepts with my editor. After I get the kids to bed, I find that is when I can really get my hands dirty and illustrate which often involves me staying up way too late and really needing my strong coffee in the morning. I owe a lot to my local Barista.
What inspired you to become an illustrator?
After having children, I struggled with the advertising work/kid balance—I couldn’t do all those late night pitches anymore. I loved advertising but my family needed me and I wanted to see my kids at the end of the day. I guess I did feel rejected from that type of work model and I lost my career self-identity that I’d loved before I had kids.
I had always illustrated but wanted to become a professional illustrator/author. I just never really had the guts to do it. I guess I was scared of rejection. But after giving birth (which is pretty traumatic!) I got a new perspective, and thought—F*CK IT—what have I got to lose? Life is too short for me to be scared of pursuing my real ambitions. So I opened a new Instagram account and started to show my work; then new illustration ideas also started to flow. Starting is the hardest part. I became less and less precious as time went on, and kept the momentum up.
How do you organise your creative life and how critical is this towards your success?
I rely on Dropbox every day. I work by myself so I need to be able to communicate and share my files easily with others.
I recently did a shoot where I dressed up all these little girls as their Lady Legend Heroes. It was wonderful as I had mini Rosa Park’s, Frida Kahlo’s and Coco Channel’s running around a photography studio. However, afterwards I needed to quickly receive these large photos to share with others and my photographer was able to efficiently do this with Dropbox. I also use it to share and file a lot of my [digital] paperwork. It’s great because I have set up a really easy system with people who help me with that side of my business.
It’s often frustrating as a creative that you often spend too much of your time doing the admin, answering emails and making the technical side of your business work. It’s super easy, allows me to communicate and share efficiently so I can maximise my time doing what I love – dreaming up new ideas.
Photography: (feature image): Sarah-Jane Edis