Illustrator Interview: Fereshteh Najafi

Sunday, March 7, 2010
I was checking out the website of the Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations and I saw these illustrations:

They are illustrations by Fereshteh Najafi for The Princess, the second prize winner for the 16th Concours (2008). I was intrigued. The illustrations are truly different from other children's book illustrations I have seen. I just had to get to know the illustrator!

The gorgeous Fereshteh Najafi was born in Tehran, Iran in 1973. She has a BA in graphic design and an MA in illustration from Tehran Art University. Below is my interview with Fereshteh. She was really candid about her work and children's literature in Iran!

How would you define Iranian children’s literature?

Literature in Iran has a very old and rich heritage. Many Iranian poets, such as Ferdosi, Nezami, and Molavi, are famous in the world. The main part of contemporary stories were inspired by them. As you know, children have always been attracted to fairy tales and find them pleasant, but there are some editors who want to keep book costs low. They don’t pay attention to good narratives, illustrations, and compositions. Thus, they present commercial books just like other commercial books all over the world.

What are the children’s books you have illustrated?

Baba Jan, Nane Jan (Hampa, 2001)
Lonely Mouse (Hampa, 2001)
Mr. Mathematics (Madreseh, 2001)
Along with the Bee’s Voice (Madreseh, 2002)
Mouse, Scarecrow, Bird (Madreseh, 2002)

Song in Field (Madreseh, 2002)

Secret of Shahrzad’s Pearls (Madreseh, 2004)
Guest of Moon (Elmi, Farhangi, 2005)
Neighbors (Madreseh, 2005)
Play’s Moon and Star (Madreseh, 2005)
Ariobarzan (Madreseh, 2007)
King Nader (Madreseh, 2007)

Ha Jastam (Kanoon, 2008)
The Princess (Shabaviz, 2008)
Lam Shir (Monadi, 2009)
Shirin Tarin Shahd (Monadi, 2009)
Tree Capricorn (Monadi, 2009)
Pinocchio (Leonardo, 2010)

And illustrations for elementary books and magazines in Iran. I was also the art director and graphic designer of Roshd-e-Noamooz magazine (2003 to 2005) and Roshd-e-Madresefarda magazine (2003 until 2008).

Can you please guide us through the creative process you use for illustrating children’s books?

First, I study the story, thinking several times about its objects, characters, and the spaces in which all the objects exist and move. Then I begin to create the images and figures. Usually the first plan is the most difficult part, because of the selection of technique and colors. In fact, the first plan guides the rest of the work. After drawing the initial outlines, I start to color. Every time I illustrate a book, I try to use new techniques. And that’s why I am fascinated by creating new ideas. I often end up with something different from what I had planned initially (but it is kept within the limits of the first plan). I carefully examine each illustration for several weeks so that I can bring each to a good end. It is not only important to think over illustrations and composition of colors, but also to find new ideas and create at the same time.

What are the challenges and rewards of being a children's book illustrator in Iran?

Low salary and employment make many illustrators search for additional jobs such as teaching and graphic design. The growth of Iran’s illustrations in the world isn't enough to support the illustrators.

What are the current trends in children’s book illustration in Iran? Who are you favorite Iranian children’s book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

There are many young creative illustrators in Iran who have participated in international illustration fairs successfully. That’s what makes them well-known and encouraged to enter competitions. Children’s book illustrators, in trying to win a jury’s favor, neglect the interests of their real readers: children. On the other hand, some illustrators try to imitate other important ideas and styles. While one's creations are never imitable, I believe that the artists who are successful don’t copy others. They try to make new creations.

I admire many excellent Iranian illustrators, such as Farshid Shafiei, Hoda Hadadi, Atie Bozorgsohrabi, and so on. These illustrators, who use colors and lines to create poetic images, attract me. In her work, Hoda Hadadi applies decoupage, in which the good selection of colored paper and tissues as well as the characters of the story personalize the art. In her illustrations, the design of negative spaces has particular importance too.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Fereshteh!

Below are more of Fereshteh's children's book illustrations. Her illustrations invite you to take a closer look and pore over all the details!

I'll end with my favorite illustrations from Fereshteh. These are for Guest of Moon and they are BEAUTIFUL. (At first Fereshteh only sent me the cover for Guest of Moon - the first image below - but I begged for more.) I really love the happy colors, the details, and the use of space. =D

ETA: You can click on the illustrations in this post to get a much better view of them!