Jenin Mohammed (her first name is pronounced "Jeh-neen, like Janine) is the creator behind the beautiful art you see in the SCBWI Winter Conference header. Jenin won last year's 2020 Summer Spectacular Illustration Grand Prize; you can see the Portfolio Showcase Winner announcement here.
Jenin was raised in South Florida, and is of Caribbean and African American descent. She studied Character Animation at UCF even though her heart really belonged to writing and illustrating books for children. Jenin says her dream career came true when she signed with the CAT Agency in 2020. She is currently working on SONG IN THE CITY by Dan Bernstrom - HarperCollins (2022) and is illustrating picture books for Simon & Schuster, Abrams, and Worthykids/ Hachette whose titles haven’t been announced yet.
Q. Congrats on winning the 2020 Summer Spectacular Illustration Grand Prize! What was that like?
Jenin: Thank you! Learning I had won the Grand Prize was extremely overwhelming. I had to take an hour or two to get back to Sarah Baker because I was too busy squealing. I signed with my agent, Christy Ewers of the CAT Agency, a month before the summer conference. I really wanted to tell Christy, but I had to keep it a secret until the ceremony. We were waiting on an offer from HarperCollins for SONG IN THE CITY by the time the Showcase aired. The same night the awards were announced, Christy got an email back from HarperCollins on my offer. I don’t have definitive proof that winning the grand prize caused HC to offer such a generous advance, but you can’t deny that the timing was a bit suspicious.
Q. Your art for the SCBWI Winter Conference header is wonderful! Could you please tell us your process for creating the header?
Jenin: Thank you! First, Sarah Baker briefed me on the project. Since the conference typically takes place in New York City, the header needed to be New York-themed. I sketched some thumbnails in Procreate that help me figure out the composition of the painting. Those thumbnails eventually evolved into three fleshed out sketches. I emailed Sarah the sketches to see which one she liked the most. One sketch had the Statue of Liberty reading to her kids, another had a little girl dressed up as the Statue of Liberty reading under her blanket.
But Sarah and I agreed that we liked the Subway concept the best, especially since it gave us plenty of opportunity to show diversity amongst readers. Once given the thumbs up, I further refined the sketch.
Many illustrators jump straight into painting after completing a sketch. I, however, am not that brave. Once I have a composition finalized, I’ll shrink a sketch back to thumbnail size, lower the opacity so it’s barely visible, then start lightly layering color on top as if I’m creating a watercolor wash.
This is what I call a “color sketch” stage. This helps me choose the color palette and figure out the arrangement of the values. When I have figured out the composition of my colors, I save the color sketch.
Using the color sketch as reference, I begin my painting. I create “flats” which is the base color of the shapes that make up the painting.
Then after I am done creating separate flats for my character’s face, clothes, etc, I create clipping masks to layer and glaze on the color.