Mehrdokht Amini is the illustrator of the children's picture book Chicken in the Kitchen, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Awards. The other books she has illustrated include Panic in the Jungle, which she also wrote, and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns. She is based in the U.K.
Q: How did you end up working on Chicken in the Kitchen, and how did you come up with the ideas for the illustrations?
A: I was contacted by Alice Curry, one of the founders of Lantana Publishing, last year. She had seen my works on my website and thought that my style might be appropriate for this book. I did a sketch of the main character for them, which they liked, and after that we signed the contract.
I tried to find as much material as I could on the Internet, and in libraries. I even watched a few Nollywood films to become familiar with the lifestyle of Nigerian people! I enjoyed working on this book immensely mainly because it gave me a chance to study a rich culture that I knew very little about.
Q: Why did you decide to go into the field of children's book illustrations?
A: I went to Secondary School of Creative Arts in Tehran when I was 14 years old and I remember once one of the art teachers asked us to choose a story and make illustrations based on that. I chose The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson and it was the first time I tried to illustrate a book.
I enjoyed the process so much that I decided then that I wanted to continue my career in that direction. What I enjoyed most and continue to take pleasure in was that for a short time it gives me the opportunity to live in an imaginary world much more exciting than the real one and create my own characters and scenes and share them with others.
Q: Can you say more about what kind of research you do before illustrating one of your books?
A: The research phase is the first and one of the most important parts of the work for me. It helps me to have a more accurate picture of the story in my mind.
For example, I had a commission few years ago to do a few pieces based on a short story that was related to Hispanic culture. I had to do a long research through photos, their art, history etc… to familiarize myself with the setting in that story.
Fortunately nowadays doing research has become much easier with the help of the Internet compared to the old days when people had to go to the libraries to see whether they could find the right source or not. These days my first step to any research is almost always Google images…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a picture book called The Owl’s Paint Shop for Yeowon Media, one of the celebrated publishers in Korea.
After that I am going to start a very exciting project with Chronicle Books. It is a poetry picture book called Pointed Minarets and Crescent Moon by Hena Khan.
I am particularly happy with this commission because they have given me sufficient time to do my job and they usually do whatever is necessary to make the books they publish successful in the market.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I think being original and creative is crucial in this profession. The competition is fierce and the essential ingredient for an illustrator to survive – apart from talent – is hard work and an absolute love of children’s books.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb