Thanks for inviting me!
Do tell! How did you find your way into illustrating for children?
I don’t know that I can pinpoint the exact path, or even when I “started.” My answer may be considered a clichéd illustrator’s, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. The form those drawings have taken has always been one that leaned with a whimsical bent.
That being said, my path to illustrating children’s books has been a long and winding one. Although in retrospect it should have been the obvious place for me to start (considering my love of stories and drawing), for some reason it was not. I think I was so convinced I couldn’t do it that I had to try everything else I possibly could before I finally let myself admit that this was where I wanted to be.
So I led a few creative lives before I stumbled into the wonderful world of children’s publishing. And now I never want to leave!
What do you love about illustrating for children?
I love that anything is possible. Children don’t care that elephants are supposed to be grey or that people don’t usually wear snails on their heads. Their minds are open and they are interested in EVERYTHING. The smallest thing in an illustration might be the thing they obsess over. I keep that in mind when I am drawing and try to stuff each page full of interesting bits and pieces for them to find.
I’m pretty loose when it comes to how I work. I don’t have a set process in place, but rather let the project dictate how I will approach it. It’s a little hokey, but I tend to do a lot things based on what feels right.
For the book I’m working on right now, I read the manuscript a number of times just to get the voice and flow of it stuck in my head. Then I gave myself lots of opportunities to let my mind wander—walking the dog, gardening, cooking. I do my best thinking when my body is otherwise occupied, and that’s where I find a lot of my ideas and meet my characters.
I do a lot of doodling, too, trying to coax the things I see in my head out onto paper. In theory, these doodles are all in a special notebook I start at the beginning of the project. In reality, they are often on scraps of paper and drawn with whatever happens to be handy.
I’m also a total creative magpie. I keep scrap files for inspiration and tend to collect interesting patterns and color combinations that I might want to remember for some future project, so I’ll often pull these out when I am looking for inspiration or trying to spark new ideas.
I think they are woven into everything that I do. From the subjects I choose to illustrate to the stories I choose to tell. Every one of them is somehow touched by my experiences, whether I realize it at that moment or not.
I don’t think we can extract ourselves from our work no matter how much we might try, but luckily those are the things that make us unique and give our work it’s unique character.
What type of children's books do you want to continue to illustrate?
I want to illustrate books that feature diverse characters—especially characters that are part of more than one culture. This is particularly important to me as a Latina, a Jew, the wife of an immigrant and as a mother of a child growing up at the intersection of multiple cultures.
These days, she lives outside of DC in a magical suburban forest with her Mad Man husband, her son, and curly coated corgi. She still spends her days dreaming and doodling, but now instead of listening to stories, she’s starting to tell some of her own.
Zara's first picture book, Thread of Love--published by Beach Lane Books an imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2018, and written by mother-son team Surishtha and Kabir Sehgal--was chosen by Seattle Public Library as one of the best picture books of 2018! Find her and her delightful portfolio at zaralikestodraw.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @zarprey. Zara is represented by Andrea Morrison at Writers House.