Illustration, Member News January 28, 2016
Jen Keenan: Princess Charming
Brooklyn-based illustrator celebrates "hand-drawn imperfections"
ADC’s Illustration Month continues to impress, as more and more ADC Members who work as illustrators take a place in the spotlight. This month has been such a hit that we will be expanding the theme into February in order to feature everyone!
Our next ADC Member is a Brooklyn-based illustrator whose love for colorful art has blossomed into her own “charming” business.
Just about every kid can draw, but not every kid is particularly gifted at it. Where did your childhood artistic inclinations come from?
I am the oldest of four, and my dad was a super smart chemist, and, well, chemistry was literally my worst subject (sorry, Dad). My mom had an interest in art when she was younger. She was quite talented, but never really thought of art as a career path. My parents definitely had dreams of my future where I would become a lawyer/doctor/super smart wizard of sorts. I don’t think it was an anti-art mindset per se, I think it was just not understanding that there were actual careers for creatives. Once I graduated, and didn’t have a million more years of school left to become said lawyer/doctor/wizard, I think everyone was pretty happy with my decision. (You are welcome younger siblings, who were then allowed to go to art school with ease)
When did you discover that “Hey, this could actually be a career”?
My “cool arty aunt” had a creative job, so I knew it was somehow possible to make a living doing something creative. I just didn’t know what I would do exactly. It turns out there is this magical major called graphic design. This was enough of a hybrid of art meets “practicality” to appease the parental units, while still doing something that incorporated my illustrative style.
How would you best describe that style? Did you fight against having a particular style, or do you embrace your style as your “brand”?
I think over the years I have definitely embraced a “look” for my illustration. My work celebrates hand-drawn imperfections, and (hopefully) captures a whimsical feel with a bit of quirky sophistication. And I absolutely love color, so my work is typically quite colorful and fun.
Walk us through your usual creative process.
My usual process varies depending on whether I am doing a digital project, or a more traditional, painted project. Typically, it is a hybrid of both.
I’ll start with loose gouache paintings. Since I like my illustrations to look a bit child-like and not overly tight, I kind of just go for it, and do what feels most natural in the moment. I usually then add some little decorative line details with an ink brush to add in some quirky details. Then I continue digitally and enhance colors, clean up hand-drawn type, and refine layout.
Tools of the trade: do you have any specific pens, pencils or other instruments that you swear by?
Yes! I love my Pentel ink color brushes. I swear by these for my lettering and for the little “doodles” and line details in my drawings. I experimented with SO many different pens and brushes and these are perfect because I can be messy and loose or tighter and more refined.
What is the most challenging thing about a career in illustration?
I think the hardest part about a career in illustration can be finding yourself as an artist. You have a chance to make your style anything you want, which can be overwhelming. It took me a long time to narrow it down to something that really felt like me.
“You have a chance to make your style anything you want, which can be overwhelming. It took me a long time to narrow it down to something that really felt like me.”
Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?
I would say the work I’m most proud of right now is the small paper goods company I have started, called Charming. I have been very inspired by a lot of other artists out there and the whole “makers movement”. I figured “hey, if other people can start a small biz why can’t I try too?” I think I have finally gotten to a point where Charming is looking like a cohesive unit. It is very gratifying to take a step back and be like “I made all of that!” and then think “okay, what else do I want to dabble in and add onto my catalogue, because it’s mine so I can do anything!”
“It is very gratifying to take a step back and be like ‘I made all of that!'”
Cocktail party talk: how do you describe what you do to someone who isn’t in a creative field, and what’s the typical response you get from them?
My full-time job is senior designer at Little Brown for Young Readers. When people ask me what I do, I typically say that I am a book designer by day and an illustrator by night. The most common convo I find I have is about the process of making a children’s picture book. Non-book making people often times don’t realize how many folks are involved and how much time it takes to create a picture book, or what an artist or designer or editor even does in publishing.
A lot of times people ask me “So you write the books?” or “You draw the pictures?” or “So you choose a font?” or “If I know someone who wrote a children’s book. Can you just publish it? How does that work?”
When I explain the process and thought and collaboration between designers, artists, editors, authors, production, printers, sales (and so on) starting from a manuscript all the way to a final product, people are totally fascinated by the collaborative nature and amount of work it takes to actually make a picture book. It is one of my favorite things about working in publishing — the teamwork and gratification of making a physical beautiful thing, and meeting all of the awesome people involved!
“It is one of my favorite things about working in publishing — the teamwork and gratification of making a physical beautiful thing, and meeting all of the awesome people involved!”
Where do you most often seek out creative inspiration?
I love going to my local bookstore, Word, for inspiration. There are so many beautiful books that are great to “nerd-out” over. I also find inspiration from vintage posters and toys, typographic food packaging, old wallpaper, turkish textiles and patterns, my funny pets—I could go on and on.
Which professional illustrators do you look up to and why?
There are so many talented folks to find inspiration from! Right now I am really into Maira Kalman. She is amazing so there are a million reasons why I love her work. But I tend to be drawn to work that is a little messy and quirky but also beautiful. I also am loving Zachariah Ohora’s work at the moment. I love his use of bright colors and cute humor in his work.
At the end of the day, what do you love most about being an illustrator?
I love being able to draw things that bring a smile or laugh to the viewer. And I love meeting and collaborating with other talented folks!
Illustration Month continues throughout January, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!