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Culture Report: Susie Ghahremani Is Wild at Heart

Little Muir's Song
“Little Muir’s Song” interior spread / Photo courtesy of the Yosemite Conservancy

Not everyone gets to share billing with John Muir, but San Diego-based illustrator Susie Ghahremani is doing just that. The brains (and, well, everything) behind Boy Girl Party, Ghahremani has been gracing our walls [1], our newspapers [2] and magazines [3], our jacket collars [4] and our children’s bookshelves [5] with whimsical, nature-inspired illustrations for years. And her cute crab design was featured as this year’s San Diego Book Crawl [6] logo.

She’s worked on a handful of picture books with writer Jennifer Ward, has two books she wrote and illustrated on her own (including the kid favorite “Stack the Cats [7]”), and has two more books in the works. And adding her collab with Muir, just published by the Yosemite Conservancy this week, that’s a whopping soon-to-be eight books under her belt.

susie ghahremani
Susie Ghahremani’s new book, “Little Muir’s Song,” in the Sierras / Photo by Susie Ghahremani

John Muir’s Wild Spaces

Little Muir’s Song [8],” a picture book, is a love letter to Yosemite and one of the founders of the very idea of environmentalism, and it’s easy to imagine parents reading it to their babies, hoping to foster a love for woodland creatures and wild places in their young. But for Ghahremani, illustrating the book is also an homage to what Muir meant to her as a child.

“I learned about John Muir’s journal style, a combination of notes and reflections, when I was a kid, going on ‘Muir Treks’ where I’d jot down my discoveries and thoughts,” Ghahremani said, who cited the Illinois prairies and lakeside ravines as sources of peace in her youth. The Muir Trek journaling process has stuck around, and it’s still how she uses sketchbooks even today. “Wild spaces are how I reset from the stress and feelings of over-connectivity.”

Little Muir's Song
“Little Muir’s Song” / Photo courtesy of the Yosemite Conservancy

By illustrating Muir’s writings in a book that envisions Muir as a child, Ghahremani hopes nature is still just as accessible and approachable for future generations. “I would love for children to feel excited to observe natural spaces wherever they have access to them,” she said. Ghahremani wants to invite her audience to consider the natural world, and a child’s place therein. “I try to hide a lot of little special illustrated details in my nature-oriented books so children can do what they do naturally: being observant, being curious and asking questions,” Ghahremani said.

Plagiarism in the Art World

In addition to young reader-focused works, Ghahremani’s Boy Girl Party brand [9] has stolen the hearts of people of all ages. And nearly two years ago, when Ghahremani spoke out publicly — and in court — about the theft of her work, illustrations and ideas by Etsy sellers and major chains like Zara and Francesca’s, she made a significant impact on consumer awareness. But the problem is seemingly endless.

“Theft of my artwork has been something I’ve dealt with many, many, many, many times over the years,” Ghahremani said.

Last year, when she discovered plagiarism of her work on Amazon, her story was featured in Buzzfeed [10] and on NPR [11]. Ghahremani fought for not just her creations, but because she believes in the good intentions of consumers.

“I speak out about the issue because I want consumers and art lovers to be aware of their choices and the origins of the products they’re being sold,” Ghahremani said. “I don’t know if coverage has deterred the actual theft but it’s absolutely raised public awareness.”

Susie Ghahremani
San Diego-based illustrator Susie Ghahremani / Photo by Suzanne Strong

Discovering plagiarism in the art world is already unlikely enough, but whether an individual artist has the bandwidth, resources and abilities to act on the plagiarism means that much of the theft goes unchecked. And dealing with art theft can have significant and ongoing effects on artistic creativity and the drive to make and sell art, Ghahremani said.

“There is a very long conversation we could have about the mental, emotional and professional impact of being chronically stolen from,” she said. “On different days, I feel differently about it — from empowered and hopeful to complete existential dread and hopelessness.”

Illustrating Hope

But in the same way that Ghahremani offers Muir’s wilderness and his (and Ghahremani’s) own childhood love of nature to her very young audiences, she is also offering hope, empowerment and access to other artists.

“I think every time I share my experience, some other artist somewhere is feeling empowered to fight for their artwork, which is great,” Ghahremani said. “Theft is too rampant. Artists fighting back make it less convenient for thieves to get away with it.”

And despite illustrating often being a solitary endeavor, Ghahremani also finds strength in local community. “I know so many incredible authors, agents, editors, booksellers, educators and librarians in San Diego who are all so passionate about the world of literature we’re collectively making,” she said. She recommends the San Diego chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators [12] for all levels of interest.

Ghahremani celebrates the release of “Little Muir Song” on Saturday at Rove Shop [13], with a discussion about her process researching Yosemite, book signings and exclusive merch.

Yay for New Libraries, Arts (and Arts Journalism) Leadership on the Move and More News for the Culture Crowd

Tiffany Tang
A still from Tiffany Tang’s nominated film, “My Friend Death” / Photo courtesy of Meteor Shower Films
San Diego History Center LGBTQ+
San Diego History Center’s LGBTQ+ exhibition / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

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