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The Roots of the Bear and Ivory Picturebook

Updated: Mar 15

In this post, explore the building blocks that set the stage for Nikolai Deleff's Picturebook.

Nikolai Deleff - Stanton Territorial Hospital, Yellowknife, NT. Jan 2022

One of the most intense and stressful times of my life (being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC)) had forced me to turn to one of my greatest strengths: Art. And out of it came my greatest masterpiece.

Beginning in February, I spent countless days, weeks, and several months, working on the creation of my very first picture book. These days were filled with drive and purpose, yet it would not have been possible had I not been hospitalized three months prior. Let me explain.

I spent in total, a month in the hospital, and while the cool liquid of the IV slithered through my veins, I felt that I had developed a deeper sense of gratitude, and warmth for all the kindness and love which surrounded me. Friends, and family most especially. You realize how incredible it is to have those relationships in your life that help you and nurture you in times of hardship.

I kept a small notebook with me at the hospital and jotted down any ideas I had. I had a lot of time to stare at ceilings. Then something unexpected happened. I received a gift bag, and out of it I pulled a small sketchbook. I was ecstatic, because although I loved to draw, I had not done so for ever. Looking back now, I see it as one of the lights in a dark place, that made me realize my strengths as an artist. Thankfully someone had sent me that sketchbook because, each day I drew and drew, each time taking my mind into a better place.

I realized that when any hardship had struck in my life, it was art that I turned to. Whenever I had arguments as a kid with my family or siblings, my mother would send me to my room. And I would draw.

In the hospital, many nurses complimented my drawing, but it wasn't until one who said I should make a picture book that I started to really think about it.

Cover of the Bear and Ivory Picturebook © Nikolai Deleff 2022

The creation of the Bear and Ivory picturebook owes its beginning those very days. Coming out of one of the most intense parts of my life to date, had made one thing clear: The importance of those people that nurture you in times of hardship. And let me tell you, the gratitude you feel is like being dipped into a warm bath. It was to become the central underlying theme of the picturebook. Funny how you can take something “bad” and make something good out of it. The creation of this picture book was a path of growth in two senses. Each day I illustrated a scene for the book, and each day my health improved. It was a journey of healing.

Someone had asked me “If you could go back in time and change what happened to you (being diagnosed with UC) would you?” And the more that I think about it, and the experiences it led to, I would not. As my mother believes, things happen for a reason. I had gained a new perspective and unyielding gratitude for many more things than I had before. I was called back to my roots, my artistic skills and abilities that I found strength in to persevere. I would not change anything for that in a heartbeat.

As Bernice J. Reagon once said, “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

The Bear and Ivory Picturebook will be released in September 2022! More to come soon on the Bear and Ivory blog. Stay tuned!

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