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In the Studio with Jen Khatun

last updated 09 September 2021

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Jen Khatun is a Published Children’s Book Illustrator of Bangladeshi/Indian heritage, who grew up in the beautiful quaint city of Winchester. Inspired by the natural surroundings, her childhood favourite stories and the hidden magical moments found in everyday life, Jen loves nothing better than to weave colourful illustrations that dance and inspire with playfulness, hum with nostalgia and bring a sense of uplifting and reminiscent elements of appreciation to life and family.



Hi, I’m Jen. Nice to meet you.


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I love wearing berets. Primary colours are my favourite. I love Christmas too much. I have a dog called Juno. I live near the sea and the green hills of the South Downs with my partner. I make the best roast potatoes. Family is everything to me. And also… I am a children’s book illustrator, and I simply love it!



It started with chalk


title Illustration from Sona Sharma, Looking After Planet Earth


My creative journey began in my garden as a child. I absolutely loved exploring every part of the wondrous lush greens and flowers, and meeting all the little tiny creatures that roamed liked kings and queens among the plants. I would make up stories and sneakily draw on the paving stones in my garden with chalk, creating big shapes to make faces, animals, flowers, and houses!


title Illustration from Sona Sharma, Looking After Planet Earth


Not long after I got caught in the act of my rebellious infant graffiti, my Mum and Dad decided to gift me a set of colouring pencils and drawing books to help take my obsessive hobby off the pavements and onto paper. As a 6-year-old, it seemed wrong to leave the world of empty sheets of paper, it was a chance to fill them with whatever my mind desired. A new realm had cracked open.



Being inspired


title Illustration from my October Series, 2019


Little me loved reading books. My ultimate inspiration came from reading Roald Dahl books and gazing bright-eyed at the gorgeous illustrations by Quentin Blake. These stories were filled with magic, spontaneity, sheer delight AND sometimes the disgusting bits of the world and people that surround us. These comedic narratives with their twists and turns and the triumph of courage at the end amazed me. It all encompassed a child’s world, my world, and as an illustrator it is something that I aim to achieve in my own work every day.



My illustration style


title Original pen-and-ink illustration // After digital colouring


For years I have always been helplessly in love drawing with pen and ink. Concocting my illustrations with the messy and expressive lines of an ink nib never fails to excite me, plus the great pleasure of having fingertips covered in ink is always a delight!


title A digital illustration using pen nib style brushes // After digital colouring


However, since being a part of many glorious book projects, I have adapted my methods to include more digital approaches, which luckily still reflects my rustic style that I achieve with pen and ink. Working digitally can also be a life-saver and has saved my creative skin with re-edits, quick turnovers, and simply saving a whole lot of time versus scanning a multitude of pages.


title Illustration from How Many Hairs on a Grizzly Bear? (Kingfisher, Macmillan Children’s Books)


When creating my characters, they aren’t always realistic. I make dots for eyes, small shoes, small legs or bigger heads. And why not? My tip to you is to draw from your imagination; it’s what makes you unique. Celebrate your creativity and your style. Don’t keep your creativity locked in! Let it out! Make some noise!



The Sona Sharma series


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In 2020, I became the illustrator of the wonderful Sona Sharma stories, written by Chitra Soundar. Not only was it a dream to work with a great author who writes from her own childhood stories and heritage, but it was a delight to work with everyone at Walker Books. It has certainly been a learning experience and bringing life to Chitra’s words has been a real honour.


title Illustration from Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister


Being of Bangladeshi heritage, the Sona Sharma stories resonate with me. I experienced similar core family values, life experiences, obstacles and community decorum as a child. Sona is fearless, curious, determined, caring, and loves her family, and that’s why it is always a pleasure to draw her.


title Illustration from Sona Sharma, Looking After Planet Earth


The second book in series, Sona Sharma, Looking After Planet Earth, was published earlier this month. It was wonderful to draw Sona and her family and friends in this next chapter of her story, highlighting things that we can all do to help our environment. For these books, I have drawn the illustrations digitally using brushes that deliver similar lines to traditional pen and ink application. With the illustrations kept black and white, I find that this option helps deliver an intimate, nostalgic and delicate nature to the story.


title Sona reading with Paathi


My whole process begins with drawing these illustrations digitally, and referencing images online, to give me inspiration for a rough outline. I consider the positioning of the characters and what they would be wearing. There’s always lots of room for editing, so the first rough is never the right one, but it’s certainly a good starting point.


title Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister cover. The border includes, jasmine, mangos, hibiscus and the Indian squirrel


The book covers for both books were a different story! Both covers are adorned with bright colours and embellished with foliage native to the story, to Sona’s culture. They represent a celebration of her journey, her heritage, and what it means to her. The covers really gave me chance to explore the bold and vibrant colours of India thoroughly, and to make sure the elements of foliage, fruits, and animals would bedazzle curious little readers out there!


title Sona Sharma, Looking after Planet Earth cover. The border features marigolds, oranges and fig plants


These decorated frames encase an illustration focussing on the main character Sona and what her story is about in this book. It’s almost like peeking through a wild and glorious garden and finding Sona. In the first book, the cradling of her new baby sister signifies her new responsibility and the new milestone of becoming a big sister. In the second book, my aim was to illustrate the significance of the Kolam making tradition and how to be Earth-friendly. The centre illustration of each book gives you the overall message of Sona’s aim and journey in the story.


title The first ideas for the cover of Sona Sharma, Looking after Planet Earth



Dream list


As a children’s illustrator I always have a dream list of things I want to do as a creative. Having a ‘to-do-list’ or a ‘dream list’ is really important. It motivates you to act and focus. It encourages you to not to give up and most importantly it makes you a better person for trying to fulfil your aspirations. It is good to dream, and it is even better to work hard and make it happen. Alongside the projects that you’re working on with clients, take time to build your portfolio with things you love, and would like to be part of one day.


Here are few of my dreams that I aim to accomplish one day!


title To illustrate a Christmas Story // A Classical Story // A Food Recipe Book // My Own Book! (Something that I’m working on)



‘Just one more thing…’



title Lt. Colombo


In the words of my favourite TV detective, Columbo, here’s “just one more thing” before I end this blog. To all the creatives out there reading this; young and old, far and near, budding and blooming. Keep exploring your imaginative dream worlds and the real world. Let your creativity speak out loud because after all ‘we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams’.



More of my Books


Here’s a few more of the books that I’ve worked on so far!

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Jen Khatun is represented by Susan Penny — to work with Jen please contact Susan here. You can find out more about Jen here.

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