Hi there Jenin! Congratulations on your award! How does it feel winning SCBWI Summer Spectacular Showcase among so many other talented artists?
It’s incredibly exciting to have won one of the grand prizes of the showcase. I still need to pinch myself every now and then and ask myself “did that really happen?” I was so amazed by the amount of people that had entered and the amount of incredible work they had submitted, I was sure my small portfolio was going to be overlooked.
Your work is too good to be overlooked! What kind of projects are you working on now?
I am illustrating a picture book for Harper Collins. I am also writing a middle grade novel about the struggles of growing up with siblings. It’s a funny, relatable book about what it’s like being the eldest. I even set the story in my hometown, Miramar, Florida, so the setting is just as personal as the main story.
Wow! That's so cool! Is there any type of illustration work that you’re hoping for in the near future?
Yes! I’d like to write and illustrate a book for older children (the middle grade to YA age group). I’d like to create a book that has illustrations woven into the reading experience, kind of like in “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” I’d also look forward to writing and/ or illustrating speculative fiction that centers African-American children. Afro-futurism all the way!
That sounds amazing! Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?
The best piece of advice I got was through the webinar that Cecilia Yung and Laurent Linn recorded for SCBWI. I think I really had an artistic breakthrough when Laurent mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing) that children’s book art directors aren’t looking for portfolios that look like something out of a fancy artbook. They want the artist to think about how a kid sees the world. That piece of advice made me really think about how I set up the camera/ perspective in an illustration. I asked myself, “how did kid Jenin see the world?” then remembered the type of mediums I was using at that age. I ended up recreating the imperfect look of tissue-paper-cutouts that I’d make in my mother’s art room.
A bad piece of advice I got on creating a portfolio was “don’t do portraits.” I understand that portraits can be sort of static or boring. But I think if a portrait is done well, it can be interesting and convey a lot of story.
I agree with you on that. What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference?
My favorite lesson came from LeUyen Pham. She highlighted the importance of thumbnails. I learned that if you have done a composition well, your compositions can be connected through one long line.
That was helpful! What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
Oof, where do I begin? When I was starting elementary school, I liked picture books that ranged from weird and quirky like “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” and “Miss Nelson is Missing!” to beautiful books like “Aida” by Leo and Diane Dillon. When I got a little older, I was really drawn to the creepy illustrations of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” And eventually I got hooked on graphic novels like “The Babysitters Club” by Raina Telgemeier as well as a number of shojo manga books.
I’m active on Instagram. My name on there is @knotwritenow. You can also find me on twitter under @JeninMoham.