Illustrator Shirin Adl was born in Harlow, England but moved with her family to Iran shortly afterwards. She fell in love with her grandparents' garden and says of her childhood that she divided her time between ant-watching and drawing, as well as "trying to separate the goings on in her head into two simple sections; reality and fiction". She doesn't worry about that anymore, since becoming an illustrator!
Shirin returned to the UK in 1994, where she studied Illustration at Loughborough University, following which she won the Hallmark M&S division Talented Designer Award at the New Designers exhibition in London. In 2010, she was Booktrust's official illustrator for Children's Book Week in the UK. Shirin has illustrated several acclaimed picture books. She also wrote the latest addition to Frances Lincoln's World Alphabet series, I is for Iran, with photographs by her husband Kamyar Adl.
Shirin lives in Oxford, UK with her husband and their four-year-old son.
What were the particular challenges and satisfactions for you in illustrating your recent book, the poetry anthology Let’s Celebrate!, with its diverse cultural voices?
Let’s Celebrate was such a fun project to work on. As you have probably noticed, I’m a big fan of bright colours so a book about festivals was my dream project. I loved doing the research and I learned so much. I’m trying to think of a challenge now and to be honest, I really can’t! I guess the only thing I can say is that sometimes I only had a single page for a poem and it would have been nice to have had a double spread for each one.
Where does the effective mix of collage, photography and painting come from in your work?
Before I started my Illustration degree at Loughborough, I usually used pen and ink and watercolors. I liked the strong black lines, but at college I realized that watercolor wasn’t really my thing. I started experimenting with other materials to find something that suited me more and I enjoyed my experimenting so much that I never stopped! Deciding what materials to use for each piece is something that I really enjoy. When working on the Ice Festival spread in Let’s Celebrate, I was so excited when, after going through lots of different materials, I finally realized that scrunched up clingfilm with glitter looks just like ice! I also really enjoyed working on the Diwali spread, where I’ve used spices and herbs to make a rangoli style picture.
I love the glimpse on your website of your sketch-book story Mrs Bimoo’s Bad Hair Days, and your blog too is full of very funny stories from your school days. Have you always wanted to create books? What first drew you to working in children’s book illustration?
As a child, daydreaming and making up stories in my head was something that I did professionally! A lot of people do this but there was just no end to it with me; that’s all I ever wanted to do. I would get really annoyed with myself for wasting my time in this way. I also loved drawing, and my pictures always had an elaborate story behind them. When I first came back to England and I was studying fine art at North Oxfordshire College of art and design, one day one of my tutors looked at my sketchbook and said, ‘You’re an illustrator!’
Illustration is about telling a story through pictures so it was perfect for me. I still sometimes can’t believe that this is what I do for a living. It’s definitely the best job in the world...for me anyway!
Can you describe your studio/where you work? How does your ideal working day pan out?
My “studio” at the moment is a third of our dining table in the corner of our dining/living room in our apartment that I share with my husband and four-year-old son. I usually have to navigate my way through a maze of Lego, Matchbox cars and plastic dinosaurs to get to it!
My ideal working day would be to get up about 6.30 and start working straight away without changing out of my pyjamas or attempting to flatten my hair, and keep going until the evening. In reality, however, I’m only doing bits of work in between running back and forth to nursery, cooking, washing and having sword fights with my superhero/secret agent son! I still manage to get quite a bit done in this way, though, which is always a surprise to me.
What are you working on at the moment? And plans for the future?
At the moment I’m working on a very exciting project: my first book both written and illustrated by me! It’s called Dreams and it’s about all the unusual things that can happen when we are dreaming. Publication date for that book is September 2013. After that I’m going to work on another book that is kind of a sequel to Let’s Celebrate! but this one is all about sports and games from around the world.
Posted December 2011
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