Omair Ali Makes His Marks

Omair, You landed a job as an illustrator. Congrats!

Q: What exactly is is your job description?

Little Red Riding Hood drawn from a Muslim perspective ©2020 Omair Ali

I’m an illustrator/designer with the in-house publishing department at American Reading Company. We create literacy curriculums for K-12 readers. I design and illustrate books about various subjects ranging from non-fiction (science and history) to fiction (fairytales and fantasy). I really enjoy working here because it combines my passion for art and education.  Also, so much of my work revolves around social justice through educational equity. I get to create books that highlight diversity, and I also get to learn really weird science facts which is a fun bonus.

Personal work, Omair Ali

I started working here around the time the Corona Virus pandemic hit the states hard, so I’ve been working remotely for almost a year at this point. In fact, I worked for about a week in office before our company decided that it was time to go remote. 

Q: Are there images you can share? 

Science book illustrations by Omair Ali for The American Reading Company

Q: How did you feel about Kutztown University’s Communication Design Program?

I think KUCD was overall a beneficial experience, and I look back at it fondly. At first, the program felt very demanding, especially as a student coming from community college. But after a semester or so of adjusting, I began to develop relationships with my classmates and instructors. My coursework wasn’t any less labor-intensive, but the community of students and instructors in the program provided a lot of resources to encourage me.

Omair Ali and fellow students pitching design at KU Designathon ,2019. photo; K. McCloskey

At KU I finally felt like I was among my tribe, working alongside other talented artists, gaining insight and feedback from professionals. It all felt right to me. I felt confident in my choice to be a graphic artist, and KU helped me feel like I belonged.

I returned to school in my late twenties after spending my early adult years working hourly jobs and living paycheck to paycheck, and battling my share of personal demons. I had to address why I wasn’t living up to my full potential. Part of the negative feelings I had toward myself came from my history with education. I was a terrible student when I was younger, and very self-destructive. So, one of the steps toward beginning the journey to self-love was pursuing something I have always been passionate about. So, when I finally made the decision to return to school I was determined to make the best of it. 

Meat-Flavored Cereal, Packaging Design Project by Omair Ali.

I tried to take something of value from every class I took, from foundation courses all the way to the senior seminars. I believe in having an open mind, especially in an academic environment. I mean, if you’re gonna pay for school, you may as well take it all in. 

I think school is not for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land the job of your dreams. But for me, it was important, because I needed the structure and the discipline to build confidence in myself. I walked out of Kutztown with a great portfolio, thanks in large part to KUCD. But, I also credit the curveballs life threw me; they allowed me to adjust my perspective about self-improvement. 

Q: I wonder if you felt discrimination at KU?

I wasn’t ever really overtly racially discriminated against while attending Kutztown. There’s a level of soft racism you sort of come to expect in areas that are predominantly white. By the time I had entered KU I had a pretty strong sense of situations to avoid, and I was used to often being one of the few people of color in spaces that lacked diversity. So, things like being asked to model for added diversity were typical, for instance, which I was usually fine with (depending on the person asking of course). 

By the time I was at KU, I had a lot of experience navigating social awareness and how to deal with bigotry. I had also developed a much stronger sense of duty to speak out against discrimination of any kind simply by merit of dealing with it so much as a kid. I was in middle school around the time of the 9/11 terror attacks and it pretty drastically impacted me.

© Omair Ali

I’ve struggled for years being afraid of coming across as a monster, or some kind of extremist because of all of the negative connotations with being Muslim. As I mentioned, I was used to being one of the few minorities among large groups of white people, often feeling like I didn’t fit in. But, I also largely did not feel like I belonged within the Pakistani or Muslim communities, either. My passion for art didn’t fit into the mold of the model minority and I was a deeply emotional, chubby, introverted nerd, and that sense of isolation molded my perspective. A lot of my artwork while in school revolved around addressing the relationship I had with my identity because it seems so intimately linked to my journey through school.

Q: What are you working on currently?

One of the illustrations I provided is from a book I’m working on called “Sleepy Yet?” about a kid who visits his grandpa’s farm and tries to trick him into letting him stay up past bedtime.

Q: What is your dream illustration project?

My dream project would be to do a graphic novel in the style that weaves between my stories of growing up, and the videogames, movies, comics, and other media coinciding with those different periods of my adolescence.

Last Question: Where can people find more of your work? 

Instagram. I share artwork regularly on my primary instagram @owair and my ongoing personal project @breathe.owair.

One thought on “Omair Ali Makes His Marks

  1. So glad to see Omair’s beautiful drawing skills are being recognized!!! He deserves a great life!!

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