Our featured illustrator for the spring is author-illustrator Jiemei Lin. She works with both digital and traditional media such as watercolor, pencil, oil, and mixed media. Lin’s works frequently take on themes of individual and cultural identity with a keen eye for design and color. Her mission as Illustrator is to represent and communicate with young audiences from underrepresented groups in her visual language. Lin believes that in her world of illustration everyone deserves to have their story told and that every relationship begins with kindness and love. She currently lives in Pullman, WA with her husband, young son, and, a cat named Lucy.
Mei, (Do you mind if I call you that or would you prefer Jiemei?) thank you for being our spotlight artist this season. Can you walk us through your artistic process from initial idea to final design?
Hi Kyle, thank you for having me. Yep, I go by “Mei,” that’s what my family calls me; it sounds like “May” I was born in May, FYI. My creative process is probably not too unusual for a lot of artists. I usually don’t sketch much before I get started, making several mistakes, creating some happy accidents, and ending the piece when it is ready. Sometimes I would ask for critiques from my agent, friends, and family; my partner is an art professor, he was also my classmate in the MFA program back in 2011. We have been critiquing and helping each other during the art process since the day we met. Now I have been working with kid lit art, getting feedback from my kid is also very important to me.
You have a keen eye for color and perspective. How do you go about choosing POV and color scheme for your work?
I went to the Visual Communication program for undergraduate school; I am always interested in playing with color and patterns. I don’t know if I have a guide for color or if I have any rules for controlling colors and patterns; it is more like a dance with the mind, just let it happen.
Some positive news out of 2020, you were selected following an open call last spring by the Spokane Arts commissioners to paint a mural downtown. What was that experience like?
I have done four murals in Spokane, WA, in 2020! (The Alleyway project with Spokane arts, BLM mural with Terrain, Art in Monroe with NMBD, an outdoor mural with Feast World Kitchen) The alleyway project was the first one. I have had an art exhibition in Chase Gallery curated by Spokane Arts, which was the beginning of our excellent relationship. The lift was scary at first and got fun by the end. I was very socially distanced thanks to the big lift! I feel fortunate to meet all those amazing artists and curators from all those programs. I always believe in the power of public art: it is free to everyone. Art doesn’t have to make you comfortable, but it makes you think; you may connect with people differently and see the world from a new perspective when you start to believe. I will always encourage that cities and communities to have more public art, especially the ones raising the voice of underrepresented groups.
You’ve also done murals in Pullman too. What do you like about them and what are some of the challenges when working on such a large scale?
The challenge of painting on a large scale is the time; it takes forever to paint every detail, I have been working solo in Spokane, so it was a little lonely. Another challenge will be the weather, that’s why all public artworks happen in summer. Spokane and Pullman have the perfect summer weather for painting outdoor. In Pullman, I had a team: students of Painting class from WSU fine arts. My design also had the best project managers: Professor Joe Hedges from the Fine art department and Dr. Amy Nelson from the Department of Chemistry. For the Kamiak elementary school mural, a collaboration between the Fine art department and Chemistry department, students made their paint with the help of Dr. Amy Nelson. The mural changes colors based on the outdoor temperature.
You joined SCBWI in 2019, can you describe how being a member has contributed to your evolution as an illustrator?
I joined SCBWI in 2019, a little bit before my postpartum depression period. I was clinically depressed for most of 2019. I lost my ability to create or laugh. My husband encouraged me to apply for the SCBWI Inland NW conference in Spokane; I have missed the deadline of the BIPOC scholarship and the registration date entirely because of my cluttered mind. However, the deadline extended, and I won the scholarship; attending the conference was the first time I left my postpartum depression bubble. I started making art again after the conference, and it was encouraging to meet other kid-lit writers and artists. I signed with my agent Jen Rofe in 2020 online and organized my critique group for illustrators in summer 2020. SCBWI helped me become a children’s book illustration and lifted me from my dark cloud of depression for a little bit.
You are represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for children’s illustration. How did you go about getting represented and do you have any advice or best practices for illustrators looking for representation?
I have read about Jen from Elisa Wheeler’s blog (The author-illustrator of “Home in woods”). So I emailed Jen Rofe my portfolio. Now Elisa and I have the same agent! My advice is to get SCBWI’s the book, and it helps you to prepare your materials. Always email the agency if you have any questions. KIDLIT world is so friendly that people are not going to hurt you (haha).
You also teach Introduction to Digital Media at WSU. How has that helped you grow as an artist?
Introducing digital media presented me with a new perspective of how art education is changing (in a dramatic way) based on technology development. The best thing about teaching in college is getting a chance to meet young adults from different backgrounds with different life goals. I always enjoy the class collaboration; we have an art show or movie showcase as the final project. It’s powerful to see all those amazing and talented young people get together to make something happen.
How do you prime yourself to be creative?
Warm-up sketches, social media feed, reading books, and listening to music and audiobooks.
What do you do when you have “creative block?” How do you overcome it?
Do something else, like organizing and cleaning the house, cooking, listening to podcast, watching TV. I was born and raised in China; being bilingual permits me to read cheesy detective fiction and romance fiction in Chinese while pretending to read anything “important and smart.” (I am not saying that detective fiction and romance fiction are not essential and smart; they are! )
Do you have a favorite artistic companion — a certain pen, pencil, sketchpad that you take everywhere you go? Why that one?
My iPad and apple pen. At home will be my Wacom Cintiq pro.
Who are your top five favorite illustrators or artists and why?
Kerry James Marshall, powerful, beautiful, challenge, the greatest. The painter of my heart and my soul.
Yoko Ono(and the the fluxus movement): The fluxus group in my opinion makes the real American art: immigrate artists, challenge the tradition and speak out to gender, racial issues and social injustice.
Favorite kidlitart illustrators:
Dung Ho who illustrated “Eyes that kissed in the corner” by Joanna Ho
Richard Scarry, I am a busy reader.
Daisy Hirst who illustrated and storied “Hamish takes the train”
What are you working on now? What projects are you looking forward to and why?
A story that may become a real book and several editorial illustration pieces for all audiences.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to do what you do?
1. Always make something, doesn’t have to be good.
2.You don’t have to post all the time on social media, you do not create for feed.
3. Follow your heart, not the hearts of your parents, in fact, your parents’ hearts say “I want my children to be happy”, they may not know it yet, people do not listen to their hearts often. (this advice goes to my fellow creative kids with parents say making art is not a way to make a living)
Where can we find more of your amazing work?