Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press (HBKU Press) is committed to partnering with Qatari, Arab and international artists to illustrate and design covers for their rapidly growing collection of books. Their collaborations provide artists everywhere a platform to share their work and opportunities to showcase their creativity in a local and international context
“We are always on the lookout for new artists, illustrators, and designers with whom we can partner to bring to life the content of our books, many of which explore international values and themes, as well as those from local Gulf and MENA culture,” explains Zeyad Abu Irshaid, Production and Digital Specialist. “Whether the artwork they provide is a cover design or illustrations, by partnering with various artists using different mediums, we can ensure that the images in our catalog of works authentically reflect the content when presented to international audiences. The variety in design and style strengthens our publishing house’s standing as a world-class publisher.”
Breaking into the publishing industry can sometimes be as simple as having a strong online presence, submitting your portfolio to a publisher, or being recommended by an author you’ve established a relationship with.
Establish a strong online presence: HBKU Press constantly scope out illustrator directories and social media platforms in an effort to connect with new and raw talent that have the potential to illustrate children’s books being published. If you have a portfolio of your work, the easiest way to establish an online presence is through a free social media platform, like Instagram or Facebook. If you can manage to financially invest in this endeavor, there are several online illustrator directories that you can pay a monthly or annual fee to be listed on. Or you can create your own website that details who you are, includes highlights of your work, and has a contact page. If you go this route, make sure to include key metadata words that will pop up in search queries and make you more visible.
Inna Ogando’s online presence, for example, is exactly what led her to establishing a lasting relationship with HBKU Press over the past three years. The artist from the Ukraine had a profile on a popular illustrator’s directory and her portfolio was considered for an upcoming publication.
“I was actually contacted by HBKU Press just a few days after I created my online portfolio on a popular website for illustrators,” Ogando explains.
The book, A Recipe for Home, went on to win the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Award in several categories in part due to her creative illustrations.
“I loved the story since it approached diversity in a creative and approachable way for children and was happy to take on the job. I’m proud of my contribution to its success. Since then, I have built a very good relationship with HBKU Press and credit my online presence as a big part of being discovered.
“Illustrators and other artists should definitely make sure they have a strong online presence as it’s a great tool you can use to promote your work and make connections.”
Be proactive: That being said, if left to chance, there is no guarantee you will be discovered. Submitting your portfolio for consideration by publishers is a great proactive way to establishing your career as an illustrator. Just as an author would submit a submission package, an illustrator would do the same. A complete submission package should include a brief biography that details any formal training or reflects your passion for art along with various samples of your work.
Sometimes publishers may not be in touch immediately because they simply don’t have a suitable manuscript to match to your style. But the chances of your being hired for work increases with every portfolio you proactively send. So get connected with as many publishers as you can because persistence is key. You can be rejected tens of times before, but all it takes is one publisher to like your work and then you’ll get your foot in the door and be on your way.
Collaborate with an author: As an illustrator for books, it is also key to connect directly with authors as a way into the world of publishing.
Some of the most famous artists are recognizable based on their collaborations with specific authors, for example, illustrator Quentin Blake made his mark in the world of children’s literature through his famous sketch-style drawings that marked his collaborations with Roald Dahl.
Reem Al Askari, an art instructor based in Qatar, has established her career as a children’s book illustrator for the past 20 years. She has illustrated over 40 books, and most of them come as a direct result of being specifically recommended for projects by an author.
In her latest upcoming collaboration with HBKU Press, Al Askari was recommended to the publishing house by author Leena Al Ali to illustrate her forthcoming book, The Attar Plant (Al Yarawa).
“By establishing a relationship with authors, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to work on best-selling and award-winning books,” Al Askari explains. “Some of these relationships continue and some are for one book only.
“On Leena’s recommendation, I was asked to illustrate my first work with HBKU Press. Such relationships open doors for illustrators and provide opportunities that may have never been made available before,” she continues. “In particular with Leena and HBKU Press, I definitely plan to collaborate once again as the process was such a meaningful and fulfilling collaboration. I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting working relationship with both.”
“HBKU Press keeps all artist portfolios – those submitted to us and those we’ve scoped out – on file because we never know if and when an opportunity for a collaboration will be available,” says Zeyad Abu Irshaid. “It’s important to us that the artist’s style complements the author’s text.
So even if we don’t have a project at the moment, we never know when we’ll receive the next project that is a perfect fit.”