Illustrator Interview – Jane Chapman

Jane Chapman at work- ©Jane Chapman

Oo, I am so excited about today’s guest on my blog. Picture books, as you are aware, are a beautiful marriage between illustration and text, both blending together to reveal the story to the reader and listener. Today’s illustrator achieves this harmonious relationship with such grace you wouldn’t notice where words end and pictures begin.

We have a radio program in the UK called Desert Island Discs, where you choose limited amounts of music, reading and items if ever stranded. If I were stuck on that proverbial desert island with the Bible, The Works of Shakespeare and the choice of just one other book, I think I might choose BEAR SNORES ON written by Karma Wilson, and illustrated by my guest, Jane Chapman.
  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?
  • What’s your nationality and where have you lived and how has this influenced your art?

[JC] I’m an author/illustrator living in England. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I think I must have a very British perspective on life. I was in Brighton as a student (aka London-by-the-sea), but aside from that I’ve spent my whole time in the rural Westcountry.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

[JC] I loved drawing and making things when I was a kid, and I always had a project on the go, – nothing has changed there. If I’m not writing or illustrating, I’m stitching maniacally.

I went through school thinking that art could only ever be a hobby, but I chickened out of science and maths after A’levels, and did an Art Foundation Course for a year as a fill in. I LOVED it, so I went on to study Illustration at Brighton University (where I met my husband, Tim Warnes), and had a lot of encouragement from Alan Baker (my tutor) to give professional illustration a go… so I did! If it hadn’t been for him, I’m not sure what I’d be doing now.

  • What does your workspace look like? 
  • Your husband, Tim Warnes, is also an illustrator. How much do you collaborate, both on projects together or critiquing each other’s work?

©Jane Chapman

[JC] My workspace is very untidy because it is quite small, and I’m often working on a couple of books at once. I have a few pots of drawing implements, a couple of tubes of paint, layout pads and paper – that’s all I need aside from an ancient photocopier! I use it to jiggle my drawings to make them fit together. I’m not very computer literate, so it’s all literally cut’n’paste for me!

I share the studio with Tim. We have desks facing in opposite directions so that we get some space from each other, but it’s very useful to be able to ask his advice – especially towards the end of a painting when I can’t tell if it’s finished or not. He’s also very helpful with his blue pencil when I’ve been struggling with a character drawing; he acts

Jane Chapman and Tim Warnes

as my agent/publicist; he knows all about computers; he is our accountant; website manager; Daddy daycare… oh dear, I look very fluffy in comparison.

We don’t ‘collaborate’ as such, but I’ve illustrated two of his texts, and have written a story that he’s illustrated to be published next year.

Tim prefers listening to music, but I can’t concentrate unless Radio 4 is on in the background, so guess who’s won control of the remote?

  • I am in love with Bear and his friends. As you have illustrated many of Karma Wilson’s books now, how has the collaborative aspect developed over the years?
Bear Says Thanks  – Written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, Released Sept. 4th, McElderry Books, 2012

[JC] As far as the Bear books go, just after my oldest son was born I was given the chance to illustrate ‘Bear Snores On’. I couldn’t believe my luck- it was by far the strongest text I’d ever been offered. I painted it in between feeds, and I remember how precious that time was.

Karma and I have a very long

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, McElderry Books., 2002

distance relationship. She is a great author to work with because once the text has left her very capable hand, I’m allowed to do pretty much whatever I want. I’ve read her descriptions of Bear and his friends on her website, but they are completely different to the characters I have in my head. It’s very interesting!

We have a new project together in the pipeline, but I’d better not say too much about that yet. Trade secrets you know…

  • Do you have a fun school visit moment you could share with us?

[JC] Occasionally Tim and I go into schools to talk to the kids about our work, and to encourage them in their reading (and art). We’ve learnt that little children often don’t know the difference between a question and a comment. Once I was trying to enrapture a class with my drawings of rabbits and I asked for any questions. A little girl put her hand up to say that her rabbit had died. Then I heard about someone else’s guinea pig, and before too long we were grieving for hamsters, cats, ponies, Grandma’s dog, neighbour’s fish, Grandad….it all escalated before I’d even registered what was happening.

  • Do you have any favorite animals you adore to draw?

©Jane Chapman - sketchbook

[JC] I’ve just recently rediscovered the joys of having a sketchbook, so now I can’t get enough of shopping centres so that I can secretly draw people from behind my coffee cup. I’m not sure that I want to illustrate people though, I’d rather stick to animals. No one knows what a bear looks like when he’s decorating a Christmas tree, but they’d pick up on the weakness of my drawing if I tackled a human.

©Jane Chapman

The market is very risk averse which is why I’m constantly commissioned to paint bears, mice and rabbits, but I’d much rather have coatis, or ostriches, or wild boar, or anything a bit more unusual. I had a lovely project with Scholastic last winter with all sorts of disparate animals that was really fun.

  • Do you belong to any organizations that have been particularly important for your career?

[JC] I’m a member of the Society of Authors, and they are really helpful when it comes to contracts. Their lawyers have explained a lot of jargon, and have helped us to renegotiate some clauses.

  • Can you share a current piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?

[JC] I’ve recently finished the art for a Walker Books project, but I can’t show you too much yet!

             Christmas Bears – Little Tiger Press

I’ve written a book this Summer for Little Tiger Press about two bears at Christmas, and I’ve packaged up the roughs this afternoon. I’m pleased with the characterization, I think I’ve got a bit better!

I do hundreds of very rough drawings from reference first, then I sift through them to find useful poses to spark off compositional ideas, then I refine, refine, refine the characterization, muck about with them on the photocopier, cut and stick them roughly into position, draw them up so that they are presentable, and only when they are approved can I get on with the painting.

I don’t do any colour sketches. It’s as if my head can only handle one thing at once. When I’m writing, I only think about text and pacing. Once I have a final text, I switch into visual mode and start drawing. Only when all the roughs are approved can I consider the colour.

I work in acrylic paint. I’ve tried other things, but acrylics suit me very well. I never know what I’m going to get at the end, so I can’t do watercolour painting at all! Acrylic is good because there is a lot of freedom to change your mind as your picture progresses. I am wedded to about eight secret colours that I use over and over again, but my palette is only ever limited to four per book. I don’t need any more than that.

Jane at her desk, working on MONKEY FOUND A BABY by Jeanne Willis (Walker Books, 2013) ©Jane Chapman

©Jane Chapman

Jane and some of her needlework – ©Jane Chapman
  • What advice would you share with an artist fresh out of art school who wants to become a children’s book illustrator

[JC] Draw, draw, draw etc! Drawing is good because it makes you notice details.

You must do your research before approaching a potential client to make sure that you’re not wasting your time or theirs. A good way to start is in a bookshop. Find work that’s similar to yours, and note the publisher. It’s easy to find information on the internet about how to present your portfolio, but it’s worth phoning the company to get a name to add to the address. Many designers are wanting to ‘discover’ new talent, so if you can get a designer on your side…. you could be in.

When Tim and I started out, we showed our portfolios to as many people who would look at them, and we are still working with some of those original contacts. Most people rejected us, a lot gave constructive criticism, some put us ‘on file’ and came back to us later, and two publishers offered work. It look simple written down, but it took a long time, and persistence.

It’s important to be easy to work with, friendly and professional. There are many creative people who are gifted artistically, but not all of them can meet a deadline, or take criticism well. It’s very hard having your work discussed dispassionately in front of you, so you have to be thick-skinned, and flexible about your style. Ultimately childrens’ picture books are market driven which means that the The Sales Team is king!

  • Five Fun Ones to Finish

What word best sums you up?

[JC] Busy.

If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[JC] South Cornwall.

What is your favorite smell?

[JC] Blackcurrant leaves, ripe tomatoes, baked oranges, clean washing !!!!

Cats or dogs?

[JC] Cats.

If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[JC] Aslan (sublime) or Chalk and Cheese (ridiculous….hold on, I spend EVERY day with Chalk and Cheese)!

You can discover more of Jane and Tim’s work here:

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Jane. I confess it is a pleasure to interview a fellow-Britt, I think maybe the first on my blog! The South Cornish coastline rivals any others I have seen in the world for its wild beauty! The thing I found most fascinating is that you only use four colours per book. Wow! I wish you continued success, Jane. I couldn’t find Bears Says Thanks in the Cambridge bookstore I visited last week, so I am hoping to have more success in Richmond next week!
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45 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Jane Chapman

  1. What a great way to start my day, Joanna! It’s fascinating to read about an artist’s methods. Only four colors in each book? I’m going to spend some time with our well loved copy of BEAR SNORES ON today really looking at those gorgeous illustrations.

  2. I love Aslan too! I really like your boy sketch. 🙂 I love the Bear books! 🙂

  3. Brook Gideon says:

    Wonderful interview! Thank you Jane and Joanna!! I had a wonderful watercolor teacher that uses a limited palette of colors and it is amazing what you can get out of them! It also helps to keep the illustrations/paintings consistent. Amazing to see you use four! And just wondering how you don’t get a sunburn/heatstroke through your window? I have to cover my skylight on sunny days!

  4. Roberta Rivera says:

    A wonderful interview with Jane had me inspired. Nice to read about our illustrator colleagues across the pond. Jane, your work is beautiful. I love your bears. Joanna another great interview.

  5. Krista says:

    Thank you for a lovely interview. Joanna, you teach and inspire me through your blog. Jane, your work is amazing. I’ll be sure to share BEAR SNORES ON with students here in Florida.

    • Joanna says:

      I have never yet read BEAR SNORES ON to a child an not have them love it, Krista. You will have to wait while they tell you about the pictures, though, before you can turn the page.

  6. Great interview. I loved seeing all the photos.

  7. Tina Cho says:

    I really like your interview style, Joanna! Jane, I’ve never heard of baked oranges! I wonder how that’s done! It was wonderful to learn more about you and your work, and the next time I read a Bear book, I’ll have to count your colors!

  8. Cathy Mealey says:

    Marvelous interview. I chuckled re: your school visit recollections because that is so absolutely accurate! Now I must go off and Google directions on how to bake an orange while I peruse my BEAR books.

  9. What a wonderful interview! I so loved the way Jane talked about her work — one can tell she truly loves what she does. (And I know an up-and-coming writer who includes unusual animals in her work, initials J.M.. Here’s hoping for a Jane-illustrated Joanna book some day!)

  10. Thank you for such an interesting interview Jane and Joanna. Wow, the artist who breathes/paints life into Karma Wilson’s books. I enjoyed listening about her process. Four colors, that’s amazing. I love her illustrations. They have such a great partnership. Liked the other illustrations too. It’s nice she and her husband work so well together.

  11. Darshana says:

    What a wonderful surprise to read in the morning. Great interview. I do love the Bear books!

  12. Wonderful interview. I loved seeing the artwork in the post. The school visit story is priceless!

  13. I’ve read many author interviews but haven’t read an illustrator interview, until now. So fun to read about the process and the life of an illustrator. Thank you, Jane, for sharing your journey. And thank you Joanna for doing this interview!

  14. Carrie F says:

    Excellent interview, and I loved seeing all the sketches and work in progress.

  15. Wow! How wonderful to read an interview with THE Jane Chapman! I loved the story of the school visit – so funny and so true 🙂 And that lion you’re painting in the picture of Monkey Found A Baby is just charming! 🙂 Thanks for a great interview, ladies!

    • Joanna says:

      I really look forward to reading Monkey Found a Baby, Susanna! You know, No one has said no when I asked them to come on the blog, consequently I have ‘met’ some marvelous illustrators this year! Lucky me!

  16. This is so great. I’ve loved Bear and his friends forever! Can’t wait to read/see the next one. Thanks, Joanna! And Jane…I laughed out loud at little ones not knowing the difference between a question and a comment! Isn’t that so true?! (And adorable!)

  17. Joanna says:

    Me, too, I can’t wait to get my hands on BEAR SAYS THANKS and MONKEY FOUND A BABY.

  18. It has been a highlight of my career to launch BEAR SNORES ON into the world and edit the BEAR books with Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, two remarkable talents. Delighted to see this interview with Jane! Thanks, Joanna!

    • Joanna says:

      Glad you enjoyed the interview, Emma. How grateful we are that you recognized these talents over a decade ago and brought them together.

  19. Jane Chapman says:

    Everybody is so kind! I should have credited Emma Dryden with seeing the potential of partnering me with Karma, sorry about that Emma.
    As for baked oranges….

    Peel and slice the oranges (About 8 will feed 6….or 4 greedy people like me). Arrange in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar, dot with salted butter, add a good slug of sherry or orange liquer and bake for 40 mins.
    Serve with very good icecream.

  20. Candilynn says:

    Love, love, love the illustrations of Bear Snores On.

  21. Dana Carey says:

    Really interesting interview, Joanna & Jane. The sketches and Jane’s explanations about her process but I must admit, I’d love to know what those “8 secret colors” are. But I guess a mystery palette leaves us wanting more… And I too, do patchwork on the side so I loved seeing Jane’s needlework. Beautiful!

  22. Donna says:

    I love your Illustrations Jane, you inspire me greatly! I have just purchased Bears loose tooth, can’t wait for it to arrive in the post! I am an artist too, I also went to Brighton University, and I am trying a new style in my work and aiming mine at a younger age group. My work is usually quite realistic in style and I love drawing children in particular. I love the way you interact your characters which is something i am aiming to improve upon, so i find it useful using your talent as a guidance in how i can achieve this. Thankyou, your’e work is beautiful.

  23. Pingback: Good morning, Kidlit and GOODNIGHT, ARK! Laura Sassi’s Debut! (plus a giveaway!) | Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

  24. Pam Miller says:

    Thanks for the inspiration today. I expected lovely bears and lions, but you gave a peak at your work station, yummy recipe, and more. You made my day!

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