I’m so excited to welcome and interview Illustrator Fahmida Azim who is responsible for the lovely pictures for Amira’s Picture Day. I was surprised to learn that this was Fahmida’s FIRST picture book! Looking at this book, you would never guess. She’s a pro!
ABOUT THE BOOK – you can pre-order here!
Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How can Amira be in two places at once?
Fahmida, I wanted to thank you for your beautiful work with making my book, AMIRA’S PICTURE DAY come to life! Here’s the cover! My daughter and I love the cookies on the left corner. My husband and I love the jalebis and gulab jamuns on the right corner. 🙂 I also loved your use of color; the lavender and teals and blues were so dreamy.
The number one thing that stood out for me was the way you infused humor in your illustrations! Sharing a tiny sneak peek below.
I also loved how you portrayed the masjid scenes with diverse, joyful characters. I can’t wait for readers to see!
1. Below is an image of Amira after the Eid celebration is over.
I love her expression and how her shoulders are slumped. And the flowers in her hijab! Was it hard to imagine all those details?
I’m happy you resonate with the design! That means I was successful in capturing her spirit 🙂 Character design is a process, they never appear fully formed and detailed in my head. For me, when I’m given a manuscript, it’s as if you’ve given me clues about what she’s like and I’m using them to go find her and figure out who she is, how she moves, and what her world is like. It involves a lot of research, references, and sketching iterations of the character until it hits all the right notes.
2. What is your design process like?
My illustration process:
– Read the manuscript, as I go I write notes about actions, mood, and specific details
– Thumbnail how to stage the scene (this is for my eyes only, so it usually looks like nonsense to anyone else)
– Design the characters
– Sketch out pages to send to editor
– Edit sketches
– Set up supplies/document – in this case I used a Wacom Cintiq Pro for my graphics tablet and Clip Studio Paint for my software. My working files were set at 500 dpi in RGB (it gets converted to CMYK later for print).
– Finally draw + paint the pages
– Export the pages to the format the editors/designers specify (these were .TIFF files)
– Editor sends some final edits and tweaks
– Send back final_final_final revisions
– Go outside and not draw
3. Something I did after I saw all your lovely illustrations was to comb through the text and see if there were any sentences I didn’t need and there were a few sentences that I emailed Mary Cash, the editor at Holiday House Publishing, about removing, and she agreed. Your pictures told my story so well! When you first read my manuscript, did you immediately start to visualize what you are going to add?
While it doesn’t appear fully formed, the story usually plays in my mind like a film. 🙂
4. How did you get your start in the #kidlit world? I see that you are agented by Lilly Ghahremani at Full Circle Literary. What was your querying process like as an illustrator?
I had an unconventional start. Before getting into the book making business, I was working as an editorial illustrator in Richmond, Virginia. I’d get gigs with NPR, Vice, Dallas Morning News, etc from time to time. I also did various odd jobs to make rent like tutoring, babysitting, web design, interning at a PR firm, etc. Then in January 2017 I became a part of an open directory for women identifying and gender non-conforming illustrators called Women Who Draw. That extra visibility is why I was found by an angel working as an editor at Chronicle, Ariel Richardson. She saw a lot of potential in my work and convinced me I could get into publishing. Later that year, I got a job at a communications agency in Seattle. When Ariel heard about the big move she mentioned what a coincidence it was ‘cause she’d just talked to an agent friend in Seattle who was looking for an illustrator to represent. So she connected us and that agent turned out to be Lilly. By some miracle, Lilly and I connected instantly and now she is the badass responsible for making my dreams come true. 🙂
5. Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
One of the best ways to relieve mental anguish is to reframe Art Block as a sign of growth, not stagnation. Hitting that wall in your craft is part of the process, it means you’ve improved enough to spot the shortcomings between your intention and execution. You’ve essentially leveled up your expectations of yourself. Even the best of us cycle through getting bored with our art, running out of ideas, all our marks look wrong, and we can’t tap into our flow state. This is the terrible way our brains tell us it needs new experiences, information, and skills to make new ideas. Personally, it helps me to switch gears and do some studies, immerse myself in other kinds of art, or go out and learn something new.
6. These are great tips for Writers’ Block! Where do you live and what’s your favorite place to visit for inspiration?
I’m currently based in Seattle. My favorite place to draw is my desk, it’s the only place I can get in the zone. Bits and pieces of ideas will come to me throughout the day, then get processed and refined once I’m at my desk.
7. Same! I can’t work in many places, usually my tiny desk in a corner of my kitchen! Just for fun, what’s your favorite beauty product or skin care item?
Lately I’ve been using Glossier’s “Future Dew” oil serum for my face. I prefer to be minimalist with skin care, so I like how it only takes 1 drop of this serum to feel moisturized for the day.
9. Favorite snack or beverage that keeps you going while you illustrate?
Go-to beverage is a cup of black tea (good ol’ PG tips, loose leaf if I’m feeling fancy) with a splash of milk. Go-to snacks are salted dark chocolate almonds from trader joes or wasabi peas.
10. Favorite thing you like to draw?
It’s a tie between the inner lives of misunderstood women and food.
11. Any upcoming projects or previous projects that you’d like to share? How can we best support you?
My debut, Muslim Women Are Everything (HarperCollins 2020), came out April of this year – ironically timed to when everyone stopped going to bookstores, haha. MWAE is written by my frequent collaborator, Dr Seema Yasmin, and in it we tell the stories of contemporary and historical Muslim women from all walks of life and all over the world, defining for themselves who they are and what they can and can’t do. It’s the kind of book I needed growing up, but never had.
For next year, in addition to Amira’s Picture Day, I illustrated the middle grade novel Samira Surfs by Rukshana Guidroz (Kokila, June 2021) and I’m a featured artist in the nonfiction poetry anthology, In Search Of A Dream (Scholastic, fall 2021).
Fahmida Azim is an illustrator and storyteller. Her work centers on themes of identity, culture, and autonomy. She and her art have been seen in The New York Times, NPR, Glamour, Scientific American, The Intercept, Vice, and more. Fahmida has illustrated a number of books including her own stereotype-shattering project Muslim Women Are Everything (HarperDesign, 2020). She enjoys drawing real people living extraordinary lives, fictional people living beautifully ordinary lives, and food. Originally from Bangladesh, Fahmida now lives and creates in Seattle, Washington.
Fahmida is repped by Lilly Ghahremani at Full Circle Literary, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations Fahmida on your beautiful work! Please pre-order our book, Amira’s Picture Day, here!