Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Jashar Awan

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm pleased as apple cider punch to be catching up with the rockstar author-illustrator Jashar Awan! When I joined Stimola Literary Studio, who also represents Jashar, earlier this year, I discovered Jashar's bold, graphic artwork and totally fell for his fun characters. 
Jashar is a graduate of the Pratt Institute and has illustrated for many magazines and newspapers. Last year, he made his debut as a children's book author-illustrator with the picture book What a Lucky Day! from Norton Young Readers. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Emily and his son, Max. You can view more of his awesome artwork here.

Isn't this this most awesome author-illustrator photo?!

Q: Your NEW picture book, Only Ants for Andy, releases with Norton Young Readers, on October 26th! (Congratulations! SO exciting!) Give us the full scoop on your bright & heartfelt story about trying new things: your approach for writing & illustrating it, its path to publication & what you love best about it all!

A: Only Ants for Andy began when my family was playing an alphabet game and my wife said, “Anteater eating an apple.” Just the thought of an anteater eating something other than ants really got my imagination going! I had spent that weekend developing manuscripts for my editor so my writing muscles were all warmed up and Only Ants for Andy just sprung out of me.

I love how much of myself I was able to put into this book! I was a really picky eater growing up—I just liked what I liked and didn’t want to try anything else. You can imagine how stressful it was to eat over at a friend’s house! I remember having French toast for the first time at a sleepover. I’d always thought French toast was just toast with cinnamon so I was not prepared for what it actually was! Only Ants for Andy was inspired (in part) by childhood memories like this.

Kids can have a narrow focus when it comes to the things they love—just ask any parent who has had to listen to a favorite song on a loop—so I didn’t want to limit the book’s theme to food. I thought it’d be fun to include some of my son’s favorite things—trucks! His love of trucks is so contagious that I now get really excited when I see them, too.

The first draft of Only Ants for Andy came together quickly and I was able to get it (along with a character sketch) to my agent Erica right before her meeting with my editor Simon—she didn’t even have time to read it before sharing it! The project caught his eye and I began work on the book.

(Psst! You can pre-order your very own copy of Only Ants for Andy today:)

Perfect for story time fun!!!

Q: Your bold, graphic illustrations are delightful! Dish with us a bit about your creative process and tools of the trade: initial brainstorms, sketching and final color art.

A: Thanks! When I jotted down my first ideas for Only Ants for Andy, I did a little sketch of an anteater and quickly realized that I needed some reference. After doing a little research into anteaters, I worked out the character design and page layouts in my sketchbook. From there, those sketches were turned into flat color shapes in Adobe Illustrator. Once I’m happy with the look of a page, brush marks and other textures are added in Photoshop. It sounds like a fairly fast process but Only Ants for Andy took about 6 to 8 months to put together.

Sketchbook sneak peek!

Q: In addition to creating children’s books, you have had a long career as an editorial illustrator. How has your experiences creating editorial artwork for major publications like The New Yorker, NYT and the Columbia Journalism Review shaped your approach to creating children’s books?

A: The nature of editorial work is fast paced so the art directors have to be very direct when asking for changes to an illustration. This taught me how to look at my work critically and learn to appreciate feedback. Moving from editorial work to children’s books gave me a chance to reinvent myself stylistically. My editorial approach for ten plus years was very linear and reference based, while my current work is all about color, shape, and texture. It’s also been nice to have the opportunity to create my own projects, rather than working solely on assignment.

What's your playground favorite? Geodome? Swings? Slide? 

Q: Tell us a bit about your typical workday as a creative professional—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: When I’m writing, I need silence and a stack of books—picture books, comic books, art books—anything that will inspire me. Whenever I think of a fun title or character or situation, I’ll add it to an ongoing list of ideas. This way when I finish working on a book, I’m not starting from scratch when I’m sitting down to write the next project. When I’m illustrating, I’ll listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I love podcasts that discuss the creative process, whether it’s about books, movies, comics, or comedy.

Only Ants of Andy was illustrated during the COVID-19 lockdown, so everyone was at home—either working or going to the virtual classroom. I let my wife have my studio space and I briefly ended up working in the playroom—surrounded by toy trucks, which ended up being quite inspiring. I’m back in my studio now. It’s a large space with wooden floors and a bay window that has a nice view of a tree that turns a bright yellow in the fall.

Playtime with friends is THE best!

Q: What advice would you give fellow author-illustrators about: 1) writing as an illustrator, 2) promoting children’s books, and 3) working with an agent?

A: 1) My advice for writing as an illustrator is to write something you want to draw because you will be drawing it for the next 6 to 8 months! Also—make the books that you want to see on bookshelves!

2) As far as promoting children’s books goes, I’m still figuring it out! My debut book was released in the midst of the pandemic when all the traditional methods of book promotion had to be reinvented. I do what I can from my home! I'll post about an upcoming project on social media (starting 3 months before the release date). I'll make a book trailer. I'll make signed book plates available. I'll do virtual readings and draw alongs. I'll email indie bookstores. I do what I can and hopefully some of it helps get the book into kids’ hands!

3) Trust your agent to give you a perspective on things you wouldn’t have otherwise. I feel very lucky to have Erica Rand Silverman (and the rest of the Stimola Studio team) in my corner.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Watch some cartoons all cuddled up with the family. Spend some time in nature. Visit a used bookstore. Read the new purchases. Have some takeout. Fall asleep to a movie. That sounds like a perfect Sunday to me—very chill, very relaxed.

Thank you so much, Jashar, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on Only Ants for Andy! Yay!