I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, but I’m very happy to be back at it, especially because today I’m posting to share the news of a good friend’s well earned success. Below is the cover of her newest picture book which won the Gold Medal in the Key Colors Competition hosted by Clavis Publishing, Inc.
When two ordinary objects land on a city sidewalk a little girl’s dull day becomes an odyssey of new places and unusual faces. Led to the library on a dragon boat she spies erudite elephants who open her eyes to the beauty of books, faraway lands, and a group of bats with hidden musical ambitions—who need her assistance.
My Key is available through these two sites as well in most bookstores:
Link to Indie books stores:https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781605376899?aff=PublishersWeekly
Amal’s work covers a spectrum of books, magazines, posters and cover art. Her work is influenced by a lifelong interest in multi-culturalism and any excuse to research a good story.
Her fascination with various materials stems from her studies in the conservation of art on paper and is often incorporated into her work. Amal’s art has been featured in museums that include pieces now held in private collections. She received her MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco and is the 2020 Gold Medal Winner of Clavis Publishing’s Key Colors Competition. Her work in children’s books has been recently shortlisted for a regional IBBY Award. To learn more about Amal check out her website and Instagram.
As I thought many readers would be interested in Amal’s creative process along with the book journey of MY KEY, Amal very generously agreed to an interview as well.
Do you remember what drew you to illustration initially? And later on, what made you choose a career as an author/illustrator?
I’d an older sister with a unique method of babysitting: She’d leave me either in the local Baltimore library or Walters Art Museum where, in both places, I was most attracted to large books. Those in the museum were under glass because of their delicate pictures while those in library seemed to cry out for any picture at all. I felt I had at least one task in life…
Do you write/illustrate every day?
I draw just about every day but it doesn’t necessarily translate into an illustration. And I write every morning.
Do you have a special place that you prefer to write, or to illustrate? How do you break up the two creative tasks or do you combine them? Would you be comfortable with providing a photo of that place?
I’ve taken over what we never called a living room and created a studio for writing and illustration in the same spot, more or less. I write on one side of the room then swivel around to my drafting table to swap jobs.
For the most part the day is split between writing in the morning and drawing/painting in the afternoon.
Do you flesh out the setting of your stories completely before sitting down to write or to illustrate? Do you have any techniques that you use to help you see your character’s world view?
The setting is often the place that helps prompt the story so it’s often there already, but a physical loose outline, where I can insert pages as needed and some sort of map—literally a map that moves the character from point to point—is incredibly useful.
Before getting into an illustration though I go over the text several times, then close my eyes to all distractions. Something always appears, eventually, but no real special technique for world view other than experience and observation. There are probably better ways to go about it but these are tools already at out fingertips.
Do you handwrite your first drafts or go straight to the computer? Similarly, what is your illustration process?
I do hand write the ideas because I use the computer as little as possible—my eyes hurt. Illustration is usually totally done with traditional materials: paper, pencil, charcoal, canvas, paints… When visual adjustments need to be made I try and do this by hand as well unless there are spots within the composition where I’d like to add layers and for these I do some stitching in either Photoshop or Procreate to do it.
How many drafts on average does it take for you to feel comfortable that you have a finished piece?
How has your writing/ your illustration changed over the years?
In both cases I started off doing a lot of work for educational publishes with tight parameters that at first you think, well, there’s no way I can get anything interesting out of what feels like a myriad of rules, but then you do and quickly realize the benefits of limitations. The danger happens when the shackles are off—I now apply my own limits or rules which frees me up from a lot of potential confusion and, weirdly, gives space I didn’t before feel I had to both the writing and the art.
Where did you get the idea for My Key from?
It was the memory of a day when I was so bored I thought I’d split in two and I wondered how I’d go about making an illustration that depicted boredom. Redrawing from original sketches I got to a place that felt right and the story took off from there.
Are you presently working on another project?
I’m working on a rather hefty illustrated middle-grade novel.
Is there any genre that you’d like to try that you haven’t, as yet?
Loads. I really haven’t worked in a wide variety of genres and if were up to me it would be mysteries all the way!
Is there anything you would suggest to those who are beginning their careers in writing or illustrating?
Don’t bother to procrastinate, don’t even clean the dishes, you’ll just get them dirty again. Start a routine where you begin your work soon after waking up rather than worrying about making time to work and not actually getting to it. Stop at the same time too.
Is there anything you would like to share with those who might be wondering if they should persevere?
If you feel queasy when you’re not doing it then your only option is to move forward.