An Interview with Deyania Sanders, the High School Artist Behind This Year's Summer of Wonder

By Emily S. RSS Fri, September 4, 2020
2020 Summer of Wonder poster featuring illustrated scenes of Philadelphia during summer

2020 Summer of Wonder poster

In December, the Free Library and the design team at Mighty Engine put out a contest call for artwork from high school students. Deyania Sanders’ art teacher encouraged her to submit. Now, she’s the artist behind 2020’s Summer of Wonder.

I’m so glad to meet you. This Summer of Wonder wouldn’t have been the same without your creative contribution. Tell us a little about yourself!
Ok! I’m Deyania and I’m 17 years old. Fun fact: the "I" in my name is silent. I'm going into my senior year now at the LINC (Learning in New Contexts) high school in North Philadelphia.


Your artwork for the Free Library is fantastic and so much fun. Looking at it, you find scenes that are both universal and infinitely particular to Philadelphia, this city we call home. What inspired you?
Is it cliché to say that the city itself was a big inspiration for me? I’ve always had a very rich love for the city, and I wanted that to reflect in the poster. 


What was it like to work with Mighty Engine?
Going into this project, I was very anxious. I had never had a job or even been in a corporate setting before. I expected to feel out of place there, you know, being the youngest person on the floor (more than likely). But my experience there was entirely opposite. They made me feel very comfortable while I was there. Many times, I almost forgot I was at work.


Do you want art to be a part of your life going forward?
Of course I want art to be a part of my life! Art has been a prominent part of my life for as long as I can remember. I plan to be an animator one day, as well. I have a newfound work ethic. Doing this kind of work braced me for what my career may be like.


Are you working on anything now?
Right now? Well, recently I’ve been animating. I’m trying to push myself to do an even bigger project than I ever have before.


Who is your favorite animator?
Well, at the risk of sounding typical, one of my favorites is James Baxter. He’s one of my biggest inspirations as an animator. He’s been recognized as a talent in this industry, even since he was young! I can only hope to accomplish so much in my youth, you know?


This year, our library’s summer program turned 100! Your art is representing the Free Library’s first ever all-virtual Summer of Wonder! Our centennial has turned out very differently than we’d imagined. We had to adapt, learn new ways of doing things, and develop new skills. So, I’m wondering, what has turned out differently than you expected this year?
Well, for starters, this program [with the Free Library]. My art teacher Kylee Reever said I should submit. I never expected my art to mean so much or reach this kind of scope. 

I had no clue it was the hundredth anniversary, I had no clue that I was the first student to work on this project in over four decades, and I had no clue that it was going to be cause for such celebration!

So, that was surprising. Also, the pandemic too.


What have you learned? Or how have you adapted?
I’ve learned that growth is inevitable. Throughout this project, my art style was constantly changing and altering the way that I worked. I would draw something, and then a couple days later, I would see errors in it that I hadn’t seen before. 

While it was annoying, it also felt rewarding to know that I’d improved in such a short amount of time.


It’s been a tough time for so many. We’ve missed out on milestones and celebrations. We are grieving those we’ve lost. We are fighting for racial justice in our city and our country. This is a moment of upheaval and evolution, but you can still feel a lot of hope in Philly. What are your hopes for the future? What are you dreaming of?
My hopes for the future are plentiful. Even though everything seems pretty bleak, I am still steadily optimistic. I hope that, in the future, fighting won’t be a necessary part of life. 

I hope that people will learn to listen to the less fortunate, and I hope that the people in charge start to value life and society over capital and stock. 

I dream of a future full of solidarity. A future where people are allowed to pursue their own interests without fear of bankruptcy. Most of all, I dream of an economy that doesn’t thrive on exploitation.


Wow. That’s really beautiful, and I’m feeling hopeful, too! Is there anything you want to say to other young folks right now? Or to the adults?
My message to young folks (of which I am) is: don’t be discouraged from following your dream because it’s "dumb" or you’re "not good enough at it."

You don’t have to be an expert on something to enjoy it, and just because it won't make you money doesn’t mean it's a waste of time. 

My message to adults? It’s never too late to do anything. None of that, "I’m too old to have this hobby," or "I’m too old to wear [this]."

Don’t let other people dictate how you live, you’ll only ever regret it. Life is short, so if you get anything out of it, you might as well have some fun.

What do you love about the Free Library? And how do you imagine the library of the future?
I love the Free Library precisely the way it is today. A place where underprivileged children, like me, can go and find a purpose. A place where people who don’t have computers, printers, or scanners can get important work done. 

My friends and I have done a couple school projects at our local free library. What an important public service. In my opinion, this is the library of the future. : )


What are you reading, making, or watching now for fun? What books did you love as a kid?
Oh, I absolutely love to read! I read all the time. 

My favorite franchise was The Maze Runner by James Dashner, though. When I was 12, I saw the movie, but then I found out it was based on a book, and I was over the moon! I begged my Mom to buy me every installment for Christmas that year, and I’ve loved them ever since. 

But, other than that I read all kinds of fiction.

Besides working on animation, I’ve been watching a lot of True Crime tv shows. My favorite is Buzzfeed Unsolved, they make me laugh.


What song has got you dancing this summer?
My favorite song right now is "The Cult of Dionysus" by The Orion Experience! They’re currently my favorite band. Fun fact: They give out free pins to all of their fans, which they refer to as "Star Children." I think that’s cute. 


What’s your favorite water ice flavor?
My favorite flavor of water ice is Swedish fish! I always get it if it's available. 


Describe your perfect summer day.
My perfect summer day? I’ve already had a couple now that I think about it. They always involve my friends and family. I think my perfect summer day is any day so long as I’m with the people I care about. : )

This project was made possible by the generous funding of the William Penn Foundation.

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I'm very proud of my Granddaughter,s accomplishment I call her an old soul because she's always been wise Beyond her years thank all of you for giving her this opportunity God bless you all
Angela Leggett - Phila. Pa.
Friday, September 4, 2020

Wow! I was wondering who made the amazing artwork for the Summer of Wonder. Awesome work, Deyania and FLP Youth Services! (Deyania, I think you would make a fabulous children's book illustrator if you wanted to!)
Sarah S - Philadelphia
Sunday, September 6, 2020

I'm very impressed not only with the artwork but the artist's thoughtful take on so many subjects, her levelheadedness, and her courage to pursue her dreams. I wish her well!
Claudia McGill - Wyncote
Wednesday, September 9, 2020

WOW! Deyania Sanders you are an amazing young woman - not just artistically talented, super bright and insightful, but your heart shines through all you speak and create. I too love this city and am so thrilled that you are a big part of it - you and your generation are the forces to be reckoned with and YOU WILL SUCCEED!
Gail Mershon - Philadelphia
Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Awesome job Deyania! Keep up the good work baby. Keep moving forward while inspiring others along the way. I'm proud to be your mom.โค๏ธ
Genell McNeil - Philadelphia, Pa
Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Deyania you are truly talented, definitely and inspiration for all generations. I find your beautiful mural, to be a harmonious depiction of how diverse life and family can be. I can relate to how someone would be able to, see and feel all of that heart and soul while reading. Fantastic job!
Danielle Wilson - New York
Friday, September 11, 2020

This was such an inspiring article. DEYANIA IS SO TALENTED & her answers were filled with color & spark. I can't wait to see the many projects she creates.
SHELLY SHELL - Philadelphia
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Yania, from the time you were a little girl making little people and their little homes. To your My Little Poney drawing and all of your beautiful art work, I've always been proud of you. You have grown to become a beautifully blessed young woman, and I love ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’™ you. Remember, Yania. The sky is not the limit. Once you hit the sky, reach for the stars ๐ŸŒŸ ๐Ÿ’› ๐Ÿงก
Tameeka Harrison - Bucks County
Tuesday, September 15, 2020