January 11, 2022

Let's Talk Illustrators #200: Nahid Kazemi

If you can believe it, 2022 is here and so is my 200th interview! I'm so excited to share author-illustrator Nahid Kazemi's illustration process with you all for her new picture book Shahrzad and the Angry King, publishing today! Happy New Year, and happy reading!

About the book:
Shahrzad loves stories and looks for them everywhere. When she meets a boy and asks him to tell her his story, he recounts fleeing a country that was peaceful and happy, until its grieving king grew angry and cruel. Shahrzad can't forget the boy and his story, and so, when she sees a toy airplane in a store, she imagines herself zooming off to the boy's home country, where she confronts the king, to make him reflect on the kind of leader he really wants to be. Like Scheherazade, she tells the king story after story, but this time not to save her own life, but those of the king's people and his own.

Because Shahrzad knows the power of the creative imagination and that the stories we tell and the words we use shape our very existence. We live and die by the sword? Not exactly, says Shahrzad. We live or die by the stories we tell and how we see, frame, and word the world.

Let's talk Nahid Kazemi!

LTPB: What inspired you to interpret One Thousand and One Nights in the way you did with Shahrzad and the Angry King? Did you envision it as a standard picture book and/or was it a conscious decision to make it longer-form to match the theme of the story?

NK: During my childhood, I grew up with many stories that were originated from the book One Thousand and One Nights, and I have always wanted to narrate a story appropriate for children based on one of the stories of this book. I wanted to convey the feeling I had experienced as a child from hearing the stories of the One Thousand and One Nights to the children of the new generation. When I moved to Canada, I began reading the book more carefully to choose a story that I can connect with it the most. It was the time I realized that behind all of the stories in the One Thousand and One Nights lies the story of a woman who saved a city from death and healed the king through the power of storytelling, tact, wisdom, and love that she added into stories. This is where I got the concept for my narrative. I revised this story several times. After a while, I considered what stories Shahrzad might have told the children if he had lived in this era. The character of the little girl in my novel then emerged in my mind, a girl with a simple appearance who is interested in hearing other people's experiences, and in the end, she cures the king through the power of storytelling, knowledge, and patience. It occurred to me that maybe there are still girls like Shahrzad who have important stories to tell. Little girls and boys who know the only way to solve the world's problem are through knowledge and moderation, not through violence. I wanted to portray this idea and encourage children to express themselves and to believe they can overcome any challenges.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the book? As you got to know the Shahrzad and developed your own spin on the story, how did your illustrations evolve?

NK: I made the character of the story many times, ruined it and renewed it from scratch with different techniques. I usually share some of my etudes with my friends' children to see their comments. I designed several characters and asked kids and even adults for their opinions. They all liked this character the most. So am I. Although I tried the book with other techniques, the kids liked the digital etudes better which I did with the Procreate app. So I decided to continue working with Procreate.

LTPB: How did you create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

NK: Usually, after reading a story I create an outlook of the book in my mind that helps me find the right technique. Every story has a hidden world in it which I discover and depict during continuous and gradual design. I did my best to keep the sense of working with traditional materials because prefer to work with traditional materials such as pencils and pastels, but for this story, I experienced digital work and the result was interesting to me.

LTPB: How does your process change from book to book?

NK: For me, every book is a new beginning. I have tried many techniques with different stories, but I have been working with pastels and pencils for several years now. Working with procreate was an exception which turned out satisfying.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

NK: These days I am working on the animatics of an animation project and illustrations for a music video. I have just signed the contract for my new book and I am waiting for the final text so that I can start the illustration. I also have ideas for new stories and books and I occasionally develop them. Sometimes there are smaller projects that are very appealing to me, such as designing the covers of children's magazines or illustrating for the cover of good novels. Here is a sneak peek of my new book. Just Bea, the beautiful story by Kari-Lynn Winter, will be published soon by Tradewind books in Vancouver Canada.

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

NK: If I write a book about my life one day, I would like to illustrate it as well. Because I would create pictures before the story. That's what I do sometimes.

A huge thank you to my 200th interviewee, Nahid, for talking to me about this book! Shahrzad and the Angry King publishes TODAY from Enchanted Lion Books!

Special thanks to Nahid and Enchanted Lion for use of these images!

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