KLCN Interview: Melquea Smith

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Hey #KidLitCliffNotes readers! I’m excited to share this interview with Melquea Smith.

BIO: Melquea Smith is the illustrator for Two Homes in Omar’s Heart written by Ibtisam Barakat. (2020) and Awakening (2019). Melquea can be found on her blog, Twitter and Instagram. She also shares updates and kidlit tips on her email list.

Two Homes in Omar’s Heart is online and free.

6 Questions for Melquea Smith

KLCN #1: Omar’s story begins in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and then he meets Rani, this amazing rainbow creature. What inspired Rani’s amazing design?

MS: I have an obsessive adoration for dragons and mythological creatures. I love stories that whisk the reader away into a magical, imaginative world. Rani was originally going to be a serpent. The inspiration for them came from the spark I felt when I read words “rainbow serpent” from Aboriginal Mythology.

MS: I presented the idea to my author Ibtisam and informed me that serpents are a huge no-no in Palestinian culture! We brainstormed different versions of Rani and we fell in love with a lion-like character.

KLCN: That’s awesome how your collaboration birthed a very unique character.

KLCN #2: The various locations are wonderful! I enjoyed how you wove Omar’s art with his memories of Jericho and landmarks of his new home. What type of research did you do?

MS: Most of the research I did was visual. Such as what Afro-Palestinians looked like and how I could weave that into Omar’s character design. I had to be particularly meticulous with that because it’s important to design characters (especially marginalized ones) with care. I also researched Jericho’s and Oshkosh’s landmarks. Since Ibtisam’s words did a lot of the heavy lifting, I created simpler illustrations.

KLCN #3: The rainbow imagery and water throughout the book is incredible. It definitely adds a magical feeling to your illustrations. What mediums and/software did you use?

MS: Thank you! I used Clip Studio Paint. I used brushes that mimicked a realistic paint brush to incorporate more texture into each illustration. I could fall in love with painting each piece stroke by stroke, but the deadline kept me on track!

KLCN: Omar’s big eyes and thick eyebrows are simple, but they show a lot of emotion. Fantastic design choice.

KLCN #4: What is one tip you would give to a new illustrator?

MS: One tip? Well, I’ve got three!

  1. Study the children’s books that make you tingle down to your toes, then extrapolate what made that book successful. Both illustratively and technically. Ask yourself “What are the basic things that new illustrators forget when working on a book?” (I’ll give you three hints: gutter, bleed, and room for text.)
  2. Get a mentorship. It’s not a shortcut per se, but it’s so much easier to have a mentor by your side to share their experiences, point out your blind spots, and help you grow. As long as you put the work into your craft, you’re going to grow faster than you could on your own. My mentors so far have been Chris Oatley, Arree Chung, and Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Thanks to all three of them for being absolutely amazing.
  3. Always be on the lookout for paying opportunities. Working with Room to Read, Two Homes in Omar’s Heart was a unicorn project for me. I was able to work with art director Kristine Brogno and children’s book buyer Stephanie Seales while strengthening my skills in narrative storytelling. After finishing this book, I now have over 40 people in my network that I can reach out to because of that opportunity.

KLCN: Studying your craft, learning from others, building networks, and treating your work like a business. Great advice for illustrators anywhere in their journey.

As for the costs of mentorships, I am speaking from a financial privilege. I want to let folks know that there are opportunities where you can apply for a scholarship to classes and courses. Shout out to Larissa Marantz for working hard to ensure Black students’ success in animation and illustration.

Melquea Smith, On Mentorships

KLCN #5: What is one thing you learned after making Two Homes in Omar’s Heart?

MS: I learned that you’re not really “ready” for something until you jump in and do it. I would have never thought that I could illustrate a 24-page book in a month, but I proved myself wrong and I celebrated with some much needed cookies afterwards!

KLCN: That’s artistic growth! With all your hard work, you will have an agent in no time.

KLCN #6: Is there anything else you would like to share about what’s next for you?

MS: I’m wrapping up my mentorship with Vanessa as part of Storyteller Academy. After that, I’ll be working on custom paintings for a few clients, then studying at Oatley Academy again!

KLCN: Thank you for this jam-packed interview, Melquea! And As part of a thank you to our readers, I’ll be doing a giveaway for one of Melquea’s limited edition magnet sets.

Limited edition magnet sets are part of the giveaway and available for purchase

Giveaway Details

Enter by April 4, 2021. One winner will be announced on Tuesday, April 6th!

  • Leave a comment on this blog post.
  • Share this interview on Twitter, tagging me and Melquea.
  • Share the link to Two Homes in Omar’s Heart on Twitter, tagging me and Melquea.
Must be 18 years or older and a US resident to enter. The recipient will be selected at random. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.


  1. Wow, I am over the top impressed with your dedication and I agree, if you put in the hard work you will reap the fruit of such. Great mentors- Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Arree Chung. As a member of Storyteller Academy as well, and an emerging Illustrator, I wish you great success.

  2. You are so inspiring! Your work and personality shines like a light in this industry. Blessings to you and all your future endeavors!

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