I’m excited to welcome and interview my illustrator Soumbal Qureshi and cover designer Molly Fehr who were responsible for my cover of my novel in verse UNSETTLED.
Soumbal and Molly, thanks for your beautiful work in making my book come to life. I’m always fascinated by the illustrator and designer process. By now you may have seen my interview with Mr. Schu here – we got such a warm welcome for this cover- and I’m curious to share how the design process works on the illustrator side.
When Mr. Schu asked me what ran through my heart when I saw the cover, I said Joy and Pride!
Seeing the final cover in vibrant color, was heartwarming. I love how Soumbal drew Nurah with lovely brown skin and how her aqua hijab has a water element. It feels Pakistani to me and American at the same time. I also have a pair of bright blue tennis shoes like Nurah wears on the cover!
I was also immediately drawn to the resolute expression Soumbal captured on Nurah’s face and how it looks like she’s walking toward her new home and future. I gravitated to the Pakistani details like the rickshaw, the flowery mehndi details, the yummy mangoes, and the feathery crow. I’m so grateful to Soumbal Qureshi and Molly Fehr for caring about my input and for making my book come to life!
- What do YOU hope people think or feel when they see the cover?
Soumbal: I want them to experience a burst of vibrant culture. To feel warmth and a sense of familiarity and curiosity as to what the the story entails.
Molly: I hope people are intrigued and really look at all the small details Soumbal, the illustrator, added in to really capture Nurah’s home in Pakistan as well as America.
- How did you hear about my project? Does an email land directly in your inbox or go through an agent? For me, my editor Alyson Day gave me a couple of choices. Soumbal, I was especially drawn to your characters’ expressions and their hijabs and let her know. Then I waited in anticipation for a few days and was delighted when you took this on!
Soumbal: I don’t currently have an agent, so I was contacted directly by Molly Fehr, one of the lovely designers at Harper Collins. She sent me a short summary of the story and a timeline of the project. Needless to say I was VERY excited and eager to work on it. I drafted an email the very same day and sent off my YES! the next day. I’m so happy you were drawn to my illustrations and chose me to work on this beautiful project!
Molly: I’m an in-house designer at HarperCollins. Each publishing season our art directors divvy up and assign the books to each person on our team. I was lucky enough to be able to work on Unsettled 🙂
3. Do you read the whole book before signing on to illustrate/design the cover? What drew you to this project?
Soumbal: Usually the plot summary and rough cover ideas sent to me initially, are enough for me to gain an insight into the project and happily agree to take it on. With Unsettled I knew straight away that it was the project for me! I knew I’d be able to illustrate a cover that would truly express the nature of the story, as a British Pakistani myself, I could deeply relate to Nurah’s struggles of fitting in and feeling a sense of belonging. I grew up seeing very little representation of girls like me in stories, films, series, artwork, magazines, you name it, it wasn’t there. So I’m always excited and passionate to work on projects that cater to diversifying these and tell stories that need to be told! Unsettled is the perfect example of this! Once I received the manuscript, I eagerly read the whole story which just confirmed my already positive feelings to the project.
Molly: Yes! I love reading the full manuscript before I begin working on a cover. I find it really helps me search for artists and think of cover directions when I can understand the full story.
4. Would you share your design process and vision?
Molly: After I’ve read the manuscript, I typically hop onto Instagram, Pinterest, and other art sharing platforms to search for artists. I found and gathered the work of a handful of different illustrators who I thought would be a good fit for this story. Soumbal had done another cover with my coworker, so I was already familiar with her work. I was immediately drawn to her portraits of girls wearing hijabs that blended into the surrounding environment. I thought something similar would be such a great concept for this cover! Next is when my art director, Amy Ryan, and I share these artists with the editor, Alyson Day, who then gives us her input. And then Aly sends the artists to you for the final decision. I was so happy when you chose Soumbal, she was my top choice!
Soumbal was such a pro during the art process. I initially let her know a rough concept the team was thinking of and pointed her toward her portfolio pieces the team was especially drawn to. But other than that, I let her run with it! And boy, did she deliver! She gave us a few varying sketches for the team to discuss, which we shared with you. We had very minimal notes for her and the process was smooth from there out with going to the final art; which turned out so spectacular!
After final cover art is in, I get to put together the full jacket design, which is a lot of fun. Soumbal included so many fantastic details in the cover that I could use as embellishments for the back cover, spine, and flaps.
Soumbal: Molly sent me some rough ideas which instantly got my brain buzzing with ideas and concepts for the cover. The cover needed to emphasise the duality of Nurah’s two lives, Pakistan and Georgia. I was sent examples of work (above) that I had already created that the designers loved. Particularly my hijab pieces where the hijab blends into background patterns. Molly explained that there needed to be an elements of watery texture since swimming is a huge part of Nurah’s story. First things first, I read the manuscript and noted down elements and ideas that stood out to me and that I could incorporate into the cover. Words like ‘floral print kurta’, ‘mango ice-cream’, ‘biryani’, ‘peach sky’, ‘rich, bold’, ‘black crows’, rickshaw’, ’nasturtium flowers’ etc. I then created a Pinterest board gathering imagery and colour palettes that gave a general mood and vibe of what I wanted the cover to express. Next, I moved onto sketching out ideas, I roughly sketched three strong concepts (below are the images that included a description of my thoughts and vision for each concept) that I felt encapsulated the story and left it up to Molly and the team (and of course you!), to advise from there! Once the concept was chosen (Concept 3!), I moved onto the colouring and refining stage, offered a couple of colour combinations, implemented any feedback/tweaks received and voila! Unsettled had it’s cover! I was even asked to create some interior art for the book too! 🙂
5. I loved seeing the 3 different concepts! When designing book covers, are there a lot of tweaks that you have to do? ( I know that initially Soumbal had colored the crow with an orange beak and I had requested that it had a black beak to be more like the crows that I see in Karachi, Pakistan — I’m obsessed with birds–and Soumbal did that as well as some tweaks for me, so thank you!)
Molly: It usually varies from artist to artist how many tweaks we need, based on comments from editorial, our sales teams, and the author etc. For this cover, only minor tweaks were needed; and they were more just finishing touches.
Soumbal: Every project is different. I was very fortunate that with Unsettled there were actually very minimal changes and tweaks, definitely one of my more ‘smoother ‘ projects. The changes that were requested, I completely agreed with as they just added to the impact of the cover. I remember you actually requested to try an orange background which I felt was a great call and really made the cover pop! Overall the feedback was super positive and I’m so grateful that everything I submitted came back with such an encouraging response.
6. Any tips for illustrators or designers? How did you get started?
Soumbal: My background is actually in graphic design which is what I studied at university. I worked in a digital design agency for 4+ years (which really helped me grasp a strong understanding of the creative industry) before going freelance and pursuing a more illustration based route. I’ve been a creative soul ever since I can remember. Drawing and illustrating has always been a part of me, I remember deviant art was the first platform where I actually started sharing my work. I know it’s cliché but ultimately, the best tip is just to keep practising! Always aim to grow and improve, it doesn’t happen overnight as if by magic! You have to always be learning, watch tutorials, study artists you admire, take on challenging projects that scare you. Share your work on social media and form yourself a little community, respectfully interact with your followers and fellow artists. Social media does wonders for illustrators and really helps get your work seen and shared. I actually receive most of my projects through my Instagram! And most importantly, take care of yourself, don’t overwork yourself and when you’re feeling that creative block, take a break!
Molly: Don’t stop creating! Instagram is an invaluable source. It’s the platform I used most often to search for and keep track of artists, so I’d definitely recommend posting your work there. If you’re interested in illustrating or designing book covers but don’t know how to start, I suggest creating “fake covers” yourself. Pick out a favorite childhood book of yours and reimagine the cover. This helps art directors and possible clients visualize your potential with book cover projects, as well as gives you great portfolio pieces!
7. Did you always know you were going to be an illustrator or designer?
Soumbal: I always knew that I’d end up in some sort of creative field, but didn’t always know exactly what or where that would be! I explored textiles, graphics design, illustration and animation. In the end graphic design was what I ended up studying at university because I felt it encapsulated elements of all the creative outlets I enjoy. Illustration was however, always the consistent and what I found most enjoyable, and that’s where I’ve now gravitated to. I love working with books and hope to continue on this path and see where it takes me!
Molly: Well I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Going into college, I knew I wanted to do something with art, so I went to art school in Brooklyn, NY. But the turning point for wanting to become a BOOK illustrator/designer was during one of my sophomore design classes. My professor was a book designer himself, and he introduced me to this career path. I was already such an avid reader, so it was a perfect match!
8. Just for fun, where’s your favorite local place to go?
Soumbal: I’m in London. That’s a tough one, there’s so many lovely little places to visit but one that stands out for me is Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, South Kensington. It’s a gorgeous Japanese style garden with its own mini tiered waterfall and a beautiful pond full of koi fish! It’s so serene and relaxing and a much needed escape from the hustle and bustle of London life.
Molly: I’m based in Brooklyn, NY. Ideally, I like to get out of the city. I’m a nature-lover at heart, so I love being near trees and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. But, if I can’t get away, finding a secluded spot in Prospect Park is also good 🙂
9. Those gardens looks beautiful! What’s your favorite snack?
Soumbal: My favourite snack is ever-changing but currently it’s Mr Kipling’s lemon cake slices. (Mr Kipling is a very well known brand in the UK for it’s cakes, pies and baked goods)
Molly: ice cream!
10. Yum! What’s your favorite beauty product or skin care item?
I’m going to go for skin care item since I’m makeup free more often then not these days! I loveee face sheets. My skin just feels so soft and dewy and re-energised after using them. Specifically the ’Tony Moly’ collection, the branding is is so colourful and cute!
11. All your favorite places and items sound delicious! Any next projects you have coming up? Please share the links of how we can support and follow you!
Molly: At Harper, I’m constantly working on so many amazing books and with so many talented artists! I’m also an illustrator myself, doing mostly picture books and young reader books. You can follow along with everything I’m up to on my Instagram @mollyfehr and my website www.mollyfehr.com.
Thanks so much for including me on your blog. I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of Unsettled 🙂
12. Soumbal, I know you have an Etsy shop and upcoming projects as well. Tell us more!
Soumbal: Yes! I’m currently working on my second picture book, I’m super excited to reveal some more information about that soon. Annnd yes, I have recently opened an Etsy shop where I sell art prints and stickers of my work! I’m so appreciative of all the support and love I’ve received so far since I’ve opened my shop and just generally the lovely comments and interactions that I’ve received on Instagram.
If you’re interested you can purchase some goodies from my Etsy shop here: www.etsy.com/shop/souqudesign
Also make sure to check out my website: www.souqudesign.com
And follow me on Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter and Pinterest: @souqudesign
Thanks so much Reem! It has been an absolute pleasure working with you, hopefully we can work together on another project in the near future!
I’ve so enjoyed this time too. Thank you to this talented duo, Soumbal and Molly, for stopping by virtually! I can’t wait for the world to read UNSETTLED and hope they fall in love with Nurah’s story.