Yasmeen Ismail is an award-winning illustrator, author and animator with a love of inks, paints and watercolours. Having previously lent her talents to advertising and running a successful animation production company. Yasmeen now dedicates her time to creating bright and energetic illustrations for her own captivating picture books. Clients include, Channel 4, Red Bull, Amnesty International, Marks and Spencer, Google and The Leith Agency, Edinburgh.
“After 10 years of animating (four of which I ran my own animation production company) it all came to an end. My business partner and I parted ways and after years of dedicating my time and tears to our small business I suddenly had nothing to work on. I had nothing to do. So I decided not to panic and to focus on the fact that it was an opportunity for me to really pursue something that I was interested in. I had a plan to project manage myself into illustration. I would enter lots of competitions; build my portfolio, approach agents and publishers. It worked. I got my first agent within about 7 months of starting out. Then my I changed agents just 3 months later.”
Her first book Fred won Best Illustrated Book, for the New York Times in 2014, The V&A Best Illustrated Book Award, 2014 and was Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2014 and Longlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2014. Fred seems to have certainly captured people’s attention.
“People liked how full of energy Fred was. They liked his bouncing around and his curiosity. He has boundless energy and can’t be contained. I think we all know someone (or some kid) like that.”
Other than Fred another key moment for Yasmeen early in her career was her illustrations for Adweek.
“I felt like it was a breakthrough when very early on … I was contacted by Adweek Magazine in New York. It was the Big Apple calling and they wanted an illustration the next day for their magazine. I couldn’t believe it! I had made it to the States!”
Drawing from influences from all around her, Yasmeen acknowledges all the outside factors that impact on how she produces work.
“… everything I see, hear and read influences me. Galleries, TV, music, news, papers, books, people, food, nature… There is nothing that doesn’t filter into my brain and come out in my work. I am always thinking of the next story, and there is always something outside my office waiting to give me ideas.
I use a lot of nature in my books. I paint flowers a lot. Even though my flowers don’t look realistic, it’s that abundance of nature that I am trying to achieve, the look of a full and bursting meadow.
I have also been very influenced by the bold and bright simplistic art of Matisse’s later work that I saw in last year’s exhibition at the Tate. It was powerfully joyful work. The sort of thing that has you itching to get back to your desk so that you can try something that he did and see how it works for you.”
Her new book ‘I’m a girl’ was released on the 13th of August. It challenges the idea about how girls and boys are supposed to behave and act. For Yasmeen she feels that it is important to teach kids to be ok with who they are and that they don’t have to act a certain way.
“It’s a book that challenges a preconceived notion about boys and girls. I think it is important to teach young girls AND boys this message. The message is not about being or not being something, … it is purely to say, you are a kid and whatever you like or don’t like or want to be, or don’t want to be is fine. It’s a celebration of being you and not to feel that it’s ever a bad thing to be yourself. There is pressure on kids to be a certain way, and yes, sometimes that pressure is based on gender, but I want the children to take away the idea that they shouldn’t feel that their options are limited and that if they think they can do something or be a certain way, then more power to them!”