Sunday, April 03, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Rahele Jomepour

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rahele Jomepour was born in Mashhad, Iran. She moved to the United States in 2011 and graduated with MFA in Visual Arts from Iowa State University in 2015. 

She is a professional children's picture book illustrator and painter, living and working in a tiny city of Ames in the state of Iowa. 

Rahele has illustrated seven children’s books, including Donkey in the Woods, The Great hunting, The Lion and the Rabbit, The Grape Garden. Follow her Instagram/blog.

I really enjoyed the detailed coffee cup illustrations on your website. What inspired this set of illustrations?

I started to draw on paper coffee cups right after I came back from the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, summer 2013. I was overwhelmed with a lot of fabulous information I had received from the workshops and people who share the same love of picture books.

I actually went to the university’s coffee shop and ordered my regular coffee. While I was reviewing my notes from the conference, I started to just draw on my paper coffee cup as a mental break.

Suddenly I found the surface of the coffee cup very smooth and very friendly to work with in pencil. I looked around and imagined myself and other people as different type of animal characters - rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Later, I started to think how cool it would be if I kept all of my coffee cups every day and instead of drawing in my flat sketchbook, use my coffee cups as my daily round sketchbook.

This unique dimension altered my understanding of composition, forgoing page borders in exchange for unending movement. I found this idea to be vital in illustrating a story - propel the viewer toward a world without borders and limitations imposed by the edge of a page.

All drawings include every simple joy we have in our routine life and sometimes we forget about them. The illustrations help my audience to take a look back into their inner child and invite it to come up and play the life and enjoy the freedom of uninhibited self-expression. This open-ended approach to storytelling helped me find a new style in illustration.

You categorize your children’s art in your website into two categories “fine & detailed” as well as “loose & simple.” Is this a decision you make before starting on a piece? Or is it something you decide after completion?

Mostly this is an afterthought. Some works are highly detailed images of simple ideas, other times they are sketches containing a great deal of meaning. These categories describe how I’m feeling at the time.

Some works I really focus on, and curate every detail. Other works I’m just not so patient with, and need to just get the basic point across and move on.

But the major differentiation is not always in terms of graphic detail. Sometimes I spend extra time on subtleties that illustrate complexities of life, whereas other times I just want to make something that is easy for people to relate to.

There are times in our lives when we look at every little detail, and focus on it intently, and other times in our lives where we just want to ‘take it easy’. I only make the distinction on my web site to aid the viewer, not necessarily to define my work.

What was the inspiration behind "Donkey in the Forest," your piece that was a finalist for the SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

"Donkey in the Forest" was part of a series of images associated with a series of books I recently completed with a publisher in Iran. These books were part of a national curriculum that millions of young people took part in, as part of national testing.

I was honored to be included in this project, as it drew on stories and themes that have been part of Iranian culture for hundreds, even thousands of years. Stories are the conduit of human understanding through the ages. It is through metaphor that we grow and maintain a sense of who we are, our place in this world, and our duty to grow.

The donkey represents so many aspects of humanity. His reflection is our reflection, and through his life experience we evaluate our own. Have we grown? Have we been content with our own understanding of the world? Is it a fact that everything we believe is true?

Letting go, and connecting with the small animal that is ourselves is a step toward understanding these broader issues. The donkey is simply a trusted friend with whom we can travel, each on our own unique journey.

How has your art changed over the years?

Art for me over the years has changed with my life, as anyone else. As a teenager in Mashhad, Iran, I was interested in testing limits as any normal teenager would. I felt lost and alone, burying myself in books and culture well past the limits of my own neighborhood and city in an attempt to know that which is not widely known, or see that which is not readily available in a confusing and contradictory world. In my twenties, I was concerned with independence and growing past my preconceptions of those expectations upon me. There were a number of pieces of art that I produced that I was excited to publicize, but I knew better as it may have proven difficult for my family or detrimental to my career.

I grew past this impulsive and sometimes mischievous phase into my thirties as a master’s student at the University of Tehran. Unfortunately, I had not yet understood the boundaries and cultural limitations that my work tested, and I left before I was finished with my MFA.

Since coming the U.S., I have tempered my message, working to understand the deeper meanings of my roots, while also refining and broadening my messages to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, enabling people to think and question the world around them without fear of persecution.

The donkey relates to us that we are all put on this Earth to live, and breathe, and feel and love, right or wrong, and that it’s ok to relate to an image that may reflect our emotions at the time. The donkey also carries with him the test of human character over time, that all of our cultures have come from somewhere, and are worthy of patience and understanding.

What are you working on now?

I have several projects at the moment. Project Art at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is part of the “Percent for Art”--an effort promoting education and cultural understanding within public spaces.

Two projects focus on public spaces and our relation to them. The BenchMarks project in Iowa City takes a simple public object, a bench, and creates a metaphor for public engagement, encouraging passers-by to relax and enjoy a peaceful moment that their community has provided.

The second project is through City Sounds, The Des Moines Public Piano Project. This project takes used pianos, subjects them to visual artistic interpretation, and places them throughout the greater Des Moines area in attempt to draw out and engage the public in well-mannered frivolity under the sun, with music and sound at their fingertips.

I have also begun collaboration with a New York agency working on a new and evolving project focusing on education-oriented work for school-age children.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

The common adage in writing is “Write what you know.” Illustration is no different, in that one should illustrate what they see, both through their eyes and through their mind.

Likewise, this is not as easy as it sounds, so don’t be afraid to see things differently. Not every dimension is well-defined, and not every answer is questioned.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.


Virginia Rinkel said...

Thank you for your interview of Rahele Jomepour. She is very talented and her advice of trying something differently, not to be afraid of exploring the limitations you've set upon yourself, and let go, are helping me right now. Wonderful interview.

Dow said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely interview! Rahele, your work is so charming and unique. May you enjoy many more illustration successes! - Dow

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