Hijabi student illustrates to inspire

ATEC sophomore Aaliyah Jaleel began using Tumblr and Instagram to share her artwork, which caught the attention of an editorial director at a publishing company. Photo by Nikita Bantey | Mercury Staff.

At 12 years old, ATEC sophomore Aaliya Jaleel began posting her art on social media such as Tumblr and Instagram. Her illustrations soon caught the attention of editors at Lee and Low Books, a children’s book publisher.

“Tumblr was where the editorial director of Lee and Low found me because she was looking for hijabi artists,” Jaleel said. “She literally just searched up ‘hijabi’ in the Tumblr search bar and found my work and my portfolio and went from there.”

In October 2017, Jaleel began illustrating for the book “Under My Hijab” by Hena Khan.

“It was really exciting and nerve-wracking because I was like, ‘Am I really the right person for this job?’” Jaleel said. “It was like that imposter syndrome thing where it’s like, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough for this, I can’t believe they chose me to do it.’”

Jaleel said she wanted to pursue a career in film and animation before she began to illustrate children’s books. She had always been interested in film and cartoons and wanted to see more hijab-wearing women represented in the media.

“That was definitely something I wanted to see done, and so that’s why I started drawing hijabi characters and whatnot,” Jaleel said. “It’s really exciting because now I’m looking at all the different media and there are more instances of representation, and I see even hijabi background characters.”

A self-taught artist, Jaleel attended a private high school where no art classes were offered. She started posting her art on different social media sites in middle school. She did portrait commissions in high school and published her illustrations in a self-published book called “Ali and the Moon” by Mehnaz Kafray.

Jaleel said when she illustrated “Under My Hijab,” she often had to manage time for school and illustration, working under a flexible schedule with monthly deadlines. Jaleel said she would structure her days so that she could do homework one day and illustrate the book the next day. 

“Everyone at the publishing company was really flexible because they knew I was a student, so if I had like finals or midterms coming up, I could be like, ‘Can we push this deadline to next week?’” she said. “They would be willing to do that.”

Jaleel has two book deals with publishing companies Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins. She said she was recommended by the editors from Lee and Low to Simon and Schuster. HarperCollins found her work in Publishers Weekly announcements and from checking her website.

“Don’t be afraid to put your work out there,” Jaleel said. “Even if you don’t like it, there are people out there that will love it.”

ATEC junior Huda Moopen said she first saw Jaleel’s work on social media. Later, they were in the same animation class together during their freshman year, where she said Jaleel would send her and her friends sketches and ask for their help on color and design choices.

“I got to see all the black and white sketches, and seeing where she started and seeing the book in person complete and done is an incredible experience because I just got to see her work at every stage,” Moopen said.

Moopen said Jaleel would try to finish homework weeks in advance so she could have time to work on her illustrations. She said she would make sure Jaleel would give herself breaks in between working and helped motivate her throughout.

“In addition to being a student, she’d have other projects she’d be working on, and sometimes she’d just get really caught up with it all, even during breaks,” Moopen said. “When we’d be hanging out, she’d always be working on her iPad on the book, so sometimes I’d just have to catch her in between and we’d go on boba runs or explore new art museums.”

Jaleel said she looks forward to the progress being made on hijab representation in film and animation in the near future.

“I really hope that I can be an inspiration for other hijabi or young artists that are like, ‘Oh, if she can do it, so can I,’” she said.

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