Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 28, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Jenin Mohammed

Jenin was born and raised in Miramar, Florida. She comes from African American and Caribbean ancestry. Thanks to her Christian/ Muslim upbringing, she is on a never-ending quest to find halal versions of her favorite southern dishes. Jenin’s interests include creating henna art, freestyle rapping (very badly), and pen-tapping offbeat.


For process-explaining purposes, I will be using the banner I created for the 2021 SCBWI Winter Conference.

When I start a new painting, the first step I take is to thumbnail the composition. This helps me get ideas out quickly. Once I have a composition I like, I’ll expand it to the size of the final painting and start adding details like the character design and background.

Next stage is what I call a color sketch. I take my drawing and make it small again. I decide whether I want the overall scene to be warm or cool, and start glazing in colors, much like how a watercolorist would paint. My brush is almost never at 100% opacity.
Once I’ve created a color sketch that I like, I’ll usually take a snapshot of it so I can use it as reference. With my reference open, and my black and white detailed sketch on at full size, I color in my “flats”, typically starting with the characters’ bodies.Most skin tones have a reddish hue, so most of my character flats will be red, magenta, or orange (basically my base color). However, most humans aren’t flat out red or orange. So, I create a clipping mask to start layering on color. To create a color closer to brown, I’ll glaze the base color’s complement on low opacity. I create an addition clipping mask for shadows and highlights

The process for coloring clothes and environment is basically the same. I’ll create flats for the clothes, then start layering on highlights and shadows.

One technique I use when painting in shadows is making shadow color the temperature complement of the base color. For example, the little boy in the center of the NYC SCBWI banner has a cool green coat. The color of the shadow his kindle light cast on his coat is Indian Red—a warm red (which looks like a rusty brown in the painting, but only because I painted on the red at a very low opacity). The same goes for the father reading to his child. The base color of his coat is a very cool blue (cobalt, as watercolorists would call it). I added shadows and definition to the father’s coat using a French Ultramarine Blue—a warm blue. Cobalt blue and French Ultramarine blue are not “complements” in terms of placements on the color wheel, but they are complements in terms of being cool or warm.

Sometimes, when I’m drawing cheeks, hair, or other appendages like leaves on a tree, I straight up just take my brush and glaze color in one spot. Then I make a mask and carve out the shape I want to make. I like the messy, tissue-paper-like look this creates. Sometimes, I’ll do the reverse: create the shape I want to make with the select tool, then glaze in my color.

If I want to make patterns with repeating shapes, I’ll make the pattern in illustrator. Then I’ll import the pattern into Procreate and paint on top of it, giving the patterns a textured look.

After all the shapes have been painted in, I start adding smaller details like eyes, finger lines, etc—basically anything that needs some definition. But I do this sparingly, as heavy lines would disrupt the visual style.

Interview Questions with Jenin Mohammed

How long have you been illustrating?

I started illustrating professionally this year. Though, I did work as a challenge coin designer for two years. Most of the time I was tracing reference photos with Illustrator’s pen tool using just a mouse. But the job did lead me to become much faster in using photoshop and illustrator.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

Haha, I’d say it was probably kindergarten or first grade when I actually received money for artwork. I entered a poster contest. I can’t remember which place I had won but I had gotten a gift card.

Did you go to college to study art? If so, where and what did you study?

Yes, I studied Computer Animation at UCF (University of Central Florida).

Have you taken any illustration classes?

No, I didn’t. I had to take the standard figure drawing and 3D design classes to fulfill my prerequisites. But amazingly, my track didn’t require anyone to take any illustration or character design classes.

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

A lot of things helped me develop my style. Once I realized I didn’t want to pursue storyboarding in animation and wanted to illustrate kid’s books, I felt less pressured to make my work look like something Disney would make a cartoon out of, and make art that was personal to me. In order to make art that was personal, I had to study the art of someone whose work touched me personally (and yet was far away from anything I’d find in animation art book.) One artist who I got back in touch with was Aaron Douglas, a Harlem Renaissance Artist. The concentric shapes and subtle color gradations look nothing like art I saw in animation school. I knew I wanted to recreate that vibrating shape look in my art.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I had been waffling on being an illustrator for a while. I knew I had some drawing chops, but I didn’t think I had a “style.” I also didn’t know if it was a career that would pay the bills. Most of these fears were assuaged after I went to the SCBWI New York conference in 2020. The illustrators I met there helped demystify the publishing process of illustration (and assured me that they lived comfortably off of their salaries). I was still on the fence about truly committing a kidlit portfolio, until COVID-19 hit. I got furloughed from my challenge coin design job (which I was pretty miserable at, to be honest). After being furloughed indefinitely, I realized I had nothing to lose, and dove immediately in Procreate tutorials and read the painting and color theory books that had been collecting dust on my shelf.

Have you taken any online workshops or classes to help you navigate the children’s book industry?

Yes! I’ve looked at the monthly SCBWI digital workshops. The one where Laurent Linn and Cecilia Yung break down what art directors are looking for in kidlit artists actually helped me prep for the Summer Spectacular Showcase.

What type of things do you do to promote yourself and your art?

The most I can really do in these COVID times is post on my Facebook page (Knot Write Now) and IG knotwritenow. My agent, Christy, has also been great in getting my work in front of editors and art directors who have a project they think I’d be a good fit for.

How did Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency discover you?

Through Instagram! The Instagram art community started sharing art of black artists during the George Floyd protests, and it just so happened that a couple CAT Artists that I had met at the New York Conference shared my artwork on their IG stories. Christy messaged me shortly after seeing my work.

Have you worked on developing book dummy?

I am currently developing one now for HarperCollins. I haven’t made one previously, though..

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I am. And I’m part-time writer.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would still consider?

Yes. It’s hard to get through the manuscript slush pile. Once I get a bit of breather in my work, I’d love to help a black writer bring their work to children.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

As much as I’d like to say that my biggest success is working on Song In the City with HarperCollins… I really have to say my biggest success is managing to become a professional artist without having to go to a super-expensive art school. I am student loan-free!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I paint digitally because I can’t stand the clutter of traditional mediums (plus, procreate has an undo button!). But I really only use one brush in procreate, which is a speckly sponge-looking brush.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes… But I also call whatever surface I place my Ipad Pro on studio. So yes, my dining room table is the perfect studio.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes! Ipad Pro. It’s better than my Cintiq (which is still pretty good). I love the Ipad Pro because 1) Procreate 2) It’s basically a mini-computer with amazing pressure sensitivity. 3) It’s extremely portable. If I have to drive somewhere or visit family, I can just pack my Ipad instead of uprooting a desktop and Cintiq.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

My work is mainly digital. I use Procreate first and foremost. But if I need to design text or make a geometric pattern, I’ll open up illustrator. Photoshop is also great for making tweaks to artwork and creating trim marks for prints.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Every time I try and set a specific time to work on my craft, I end up going well over. I’ve come to terms that my particular style—which involves many layers of glazing and color mixing—is just time-consuming. But color layering adds a richness that keeps the viewer interested.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

A thousand times yes. Always draw from reference. I act out a lot of the poses I end up drawing. If I’m drawing a city, I will research what cities look like, and focus on a particular one. Details will make your work stand out. And being intentional with those details will make your work authentic.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Of course! Without the internet, I wouldn’t have won the Summer Spectacular grand prize. I wouldn’t have met Christy (who I still haven’t met in person, haha.) Instagram has connected me with a lot a wonderful artists and writers I would not have had the chance to meet in person.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Yes! While most of the attention I’ve been receiving has been on my illustrations, I’ve actually been working on becoming a writer for some time now. I’d love to write and illustrate an afro-futuristic middle grade book. Something like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, where the story is intertwined and dependent on the illustrations.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on Song In the City written by Daniel Bernstrom. The picture book is about a visually impaired girl named Emmalene who travels her city, describing the music she hears around her to her Grandma.

I am also in the middle of writing a Middle Grade Contemporary novel. It’s about an eldest child named Hakeem, who is tired of having to share everything with his three younger sisters. He schemes to by himself a bike, until one nosy sister learns about his secret. It’s a funny story that is about growing up with siblings.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Whether you’re sketching out an idea or trying to figure out how to color a scene, always thumbnail. Creating small illustrations allows you to work through ideas quickly. I do what I call a color sketch before attempting to color a big painting. It’s basically a small painting where I map out the colors and values of a painting. If I don’t like one color sketch, I can just duplicate my pencil thumbnail and paint over it again. I like color sketching because it takes away the anxiety of diving into a big painting. While color sketches serve as a good roadmap on how to approach a full-sized painting, color sketches are loose enough that I can make last minute color changes to my final painting if I choose to.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

While social media is great for sharing work, don’t get caught up in how many followers you have. I think I had only a hundred, maybe a little bit more, followers when my agent found me. Authentic work will always find a way to reach the right person, whether that person is an art director, editor, agent, or parent. All you really have to do is make great art and post it.

Jenin, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Jenin’s work, you can visit her at:

The Cat Agency:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. That’s interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the colors and strong images! Powerful illustrations. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. WONDERFUL STORY and work! so glad Christy found you! good things ahead….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love all your faces and your style!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, beautiful illustrations! Good work, Jenin!

    Liked by 1 person

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