Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 11, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Amal Karzai

You may have met Amal Karzai (Pronounced amalgamation, minus the ‘gamation’) at last weekend’s conference in Princeton, NJ.  She showed one piece of art in the Illustrator’s Art Exhibit and I thought you might like to see and hear her thoughts for this and other projects.

Here is Amal:

There wasn’t a playground at my nursery school—but there was a cemetery, and that’s where we were sent to run and jump. Outside, where water collected between the sunken grave markers, I’d gather up mud and paint on the walls that were my school. I don’t know if I could have become anything else but an illustrator, but I suspect that a bunch of us must have started out like this.

After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art I headed right into Asian conservation and for years focused on repairing and preserving Chinese and Japanese works of art on paper. Leaning over and mending someone else’s work started to bug me, why wasn’t I leaning over my own work? I began doing what that niggling voice in my head kept telling me: draw and paint, paint and draw.

In the middle of all this newish scribbling, a closet full of questions gathered in my head about complicated techniques and materials that art books couldn’t always answer, so I began an online MFA program through AAU (Academy of Art University, SF). Now, in the middle of the program, I’m a walking smile because, in addition to getting answers, there’s a brainstorming process, a pushing and pulling of ideas with other students from varied backgrounds, that can’t be replaced. Before my MFA studies, I’d illustrated a couple of books and continued to write for ESL publishers, but I was looking for much more than I was able to give at the time. I want the narrative thrust to come from each picture.  As a child, wasn’t that what captivated me when looking at the books of Rackham and Dulac? No good pictures, no story… that’s the mantra I repeat to myself now.

Here is the double page spread Amal worked on for the Illustrator’s Intensive.  She shows you the steps taken and her thoughts on executing the piece.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
I love historical fiction. I used to live near enough to Lawrence, MA where the story takes place, that it resonated a note within me that needed to be played. The characters were loving and in need of love, but life in a textile factory wasn’t ideal for adults, much less so for children. Although the illustrations are place specific, they speak universally about the condition of children all around the world, so I did these illustrations relatively fast, just before the conference, because I felt that something just like them needed to be in my portfolio. Both are completed in pastel.

I’m currently involved in a Steampunk Anthology project part II for the Anthology 8 Group (I think that makes me the 9th artist), and reworking the middle-grade illustrated manuscript that came with me to this year’s SCBWI NJ conference.

Steampunk Anthology
I’d been playing around with these two sketches when I was asked to produce work for the anthology. I’d a notion that it would be set in the Holmsian London underworld (one of my favorite places). But after attending Natalie Zaman’s session on Steampunk I was excited to see that it wasn’t always necessary to remain in a strict time period. There are elements to the sub-genre that make it what it is and 19th century Victorian England powered up by steam is usually, but certainly not the only place, where it all happens. Looking again at these sketches (told you I was at the beginning), I decided that they could work as a launching pad for this strange new world I’m stepping into.

A great deal of Amal’s work is in charcoal and pastel, another chunk is in watercolor that gets mixed into the charcoal. You can see more by visiting her website: or going to her blog:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I saw Amal’s work at the conference (the painting with the birds) and was SO impressed with how beautiful it was. I’m glad to see more of her art!


  2. Thank you for the kind words Donna. It’s great to be on Kathy’s blog!


  3. Great work!


  4. Amal, I just love your graceful work. Enjoyed reading about your process of creating the piece with the birds in the rafters of the barn. The lighting is exquisite. Thanks, Kathy, for sharing this profile of Amal. ~Toby


  5. Your imagery is graceful. Its beauty vivid.


  6. So glad that Kathy featured your “Bread and Roses, Too” illustration in her end of year wrap up post. It drew me in completely and brought me to your website. I live near Lawrence too – I see those mill buildings often. I think what you captured best is the quality of the light and the haziness of the air. Just gorgeous!


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