Explorer Academy Vela: Khadijah Khatib Illustrator Interview

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Disclosure: This is a partner post sponsored by National Geographic Kids.

Explorer Academy Vela: The Sailor Cipher is about Sailor York and her classmates who uncover an elusive animal-smuggling ring at the same time as Sailor’s sister goes missing. It’s an exciting, fast-paced adventure and mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The new Explorer Academy Series launched with Vela Book The Sailor Cipher on April 23, 2024.

I interviewed the artist for the Explorer Academy series Vela Book # 1 The Sailor Cipher, Khadijah Khatib, to learn more about her background, her process for illustrating the first book, and her illustration career. 

Explorer Academy Vela: Khadijah Khatib Illustrator Interview

Melissa: How did you become a children’s book illustrator?

Khadijah: I started my freelancing career right after graduating from art college. A few months into freelancing, a lot of my digital portraits became widely recognised and noticed by industry professionals, including literary and illustration agencies! That was how I landed my first book cover and got my kickstart in illustrating children’s books. 

copyright National Geographic Kids used with permission

Melissa: How do you pick which projects to illustrate?

Khadijah: I do have quite a difficult time choosing which projects to take on because I’m lucky enough to always be thrown with great opportunities. At the end of the day, I usually just follow my gut feeling! Being able to work on a project with National Geographic has definitely been such a huge privilege for me!

Melissa: How did you decide which scenes to illustrate?

Khadijah: The scenes are usually chosen for me by my art director and the team at National Geographic! From there, I come up with the best compositions for the scenes they’ve chosen for me! 

copyright National Geographic Kids used with permission

Melissa: What was your working process like? 

Khadijah: I always start off by putting together a mood board and compiling references. I then draft out a few messy compositions and choose the best one to be brought into finals. Most times I also make sure to pose my characters in a 3d model app first to make sure the anatomy is as accurate as possible! With that, I sketch over the 3d models I’ve made and draw in backgrounds. Finally, I go straight into painting details and bringing the whole artwork into it’s final stage! 

copyright National Geographic Kids used with permission

Melissa: Do you have a favorite illustration in the book? 

Khadijah: It would definitely have to be the rock climbing scene! I love how dynamic and dramatic it ended up looking.

copyright National Geographic Kids used with permission

Melissa: Which artists have inspired you throughout your career?

Khadijah: I have always looked up to Ignasi Monreal, Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker and Huaishen J! They are such big art inspirations to me and their artworks always manages to awe me.

About Khadijah Khatib

Khadijah Khatib

Born in the sunny, bustling city of Kuala Lumpur, Khadijah Khatib is a Malaysian illustrator and concept artist who is passionate in music, film and fashion. She spends most of her time drawing with her cats and playing her guitar.

In 2020, Khadijah graduated in the Diploma of illustration, and In just a short span of 3 years after graduating, Khadijah has illustrated more than 30 book covers for publishers such as Scholastic, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan Publishers, to name a few. Khadijah’s most known works are her reimagined, new covers for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson. She has also had the opportunity to illustrate books for National Geographic and Disney.

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