Our featured artist for March is published author/illustrator Jessica Linn Evans. Below is the rest of her interview.
You earned a BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Idaho and worked as an Art Director/Graphic Designer. How have those career paths influenced the evolution of your design style?
I believe working with text and image and composition for so many years in editorial, advertising, and media has given me a more intuitive notion of where to position things on the page. I still have to work at it, of course, and I’m not always right, but it has given me a good spatial awareness.
What is your favorite fairytale and why?
After reading The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove by G. Ronald Murphy, S. J., I have a new appreciation for all the hidden meaning in many of the Grimms’ magic fairytales. He highlights the “Big Five” of Grimm fairytales: Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. I think my favorite is the original Grimm Cinderella. She has to sort lentils out from the ashes in order to go to the ball (getting help from turtle-doves). She gets a new dress from a dove in a tree near her mother’s grave three nights in a row to dance at the ball. Crazy good stuff! Oh! I just remembered another great fairy tale: Otto of the Silver Hand written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. I highly recommend that one.
What do you like about the illustration profession? How is it different from what you expected?
I like the illustration profession because I love to draw, paint, and tell stories. There are so many different people in the world with millions of stories to tell. There can never be enough printing presses to print them all. Sad but true. But we all must keep telling the stories. I didn’t know that there would be so much not drawing and painting and telling stories, like researching agents and publishers, preparing numerous portfolios, and writing query letters.
How do you prime yourself to be creative? Do you do warm up sketches? Check your social media feed for inspiration? Listen to Eye of the Tiger?
Ha! I don’t listen to Eye of the Tiger. But that’s not a bad idea! If a story or an image comes to me (often the “images come first” as they did for C. S. Lewis), I will sit down and write it out or sketch it. If something new doesn’t come to me, I get down to the work of making what I already have better. I don’t wait for the perfect moment or mood. There’s no time for that. There’s work to be done. So if nothing new comes, I work on the old until inspiration hits.
What do you do when you have “creative block?” How do you overcome it?
My writing critique group is an amazing bunch of people. They are all quite different from one another and give many different suggestions and points of view that help dramatically with the creative process. I don’t use all the suggestions, of course, and sometimes not any, but always they spark new ideas and those wonderful folks just make me a better storyteller. My husband Ed is great too. He’d make an amazing art director.
Do you have a favorite artistic companion — a certain pencil, watercolor brush, sketchpad that you take everywhere you go? Why that one?
I have a gorgeous velvet pencil bag that a friend gave me that fits all my graphite holders from college (I’ve been drawing with them for nearly 30 years) along with the sharpener and my vinyl and kneaded erasers. I saved up and bought a beautiful leather satchel that is just the right size for a 9×12 Strathmore spiral bound sketch pad and my pencil bag. I pretty much have them with me all the time.
Who are your top five favorite illustrators or artists and why?
Okay, I really had to think about this one. Because I’m such a fan of the Golden Age of Illustration, most of my favorites are no longer with us. But the reoccurring theme was their mastery of line. My absolute favorite is Arthur Rackham. Does he even need color? His drawings invoke joy, fear, longing, the whole gambit. Another favorite is Jessie Wilcox Smith for her adorable children, her command of line, and lovely choice of color. And Cicely Mary Barker communicates so much with a few simple marks in her line drawings. Bringing it closer to the present, Robert McCloskey–master of line and gesture and Trina Schart Hyman with her line-heavy fantasy images. Perhaps my favorite contemporary illustrator is Erin E. Stead. Oh man! Her line is to die for. Again, almost no color necessary. I’ve also recently started admiring Chris Riddell’s work, though I haven’t gotten to reading his Edge Chronicle series yet. So many illustrators make my favorite list and the number one reason is line, line, line!
You are also the sixth-grade art teacher and volleyball coach at Logos School. What do you enjoy about those professions? Do they help inspire your creativity?
Teaching and coaching is the best! What a privilege it is to transfer your knowledge of a craft or skill to another individual and watch them take it for their own, learn to love it, and improve, grow, and mature. There’s nothing better than to see a student learn to love what you yourself have loved for years. I’m recruiting many young book illustrators as we speak! Being around young people helps me keep my perspective fresh despite my ancient fairytale roots. And teaching basic drawing skills and reviewing the Masters of art’s history is always a good reminder to me and continually informs my illustration.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to do what you do?
Keep improving your craft. Excellent drawing skills will always improve and inform whatever medium you land on. Get into a critique group if you can. They can be a great encouragement and inspiration to greater creativity. Read lots of books. Read books that have illustrations in the style that you enjoy creating. Read artist biographies. Read up on artist methods. Read books about the kinds of books you’d like to illustrate. And finally, attend SCBWI conferences, intensives, and webinars whenever you can.
Where can we find more of your amazing work?