Jennifer Thermes – Illustrator Interview

JenThermes_HeadshotI have been following Jen for quite a while now on social media and as I am a huge Darwin fan, I wanted to highlight her on my blog before her next picture book comes out!

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[JT] Illustrator/author. My beginnings are a very messy back and forth between words and pictures, trying to get the story down on paper. I love words, but I wrestle with them! Images come much easier. The whole process seems to go smoother if I see at least one scene in my head, because it sets the feel for the whole book. It seems to work this way whether I’m working on fiction or non-fiction.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[JT] I grew up on Long Island, NY, which likely explains my love of water, and spent a lot of time in New York City as a young person since it was an easy train ride away. We’ve lived for many years in Connecticut, surrounded by trees, fields, and lots of animals. I tend to like the extremes best—either very rural or urban. I think everything you see and experience influences your work.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[JT] Art class was always my favorite in school, as it probably was with most illustrators! I drew a lot, read constantly, and also kept a journal. At a certain point I had read probably all the non-fiction books about horses in the world, so my mother gave me a few historical fiction books, which I LOVED. I find that connection interesting, now that I’m working on non-fiction ideas.

After art school (Parsons School of Design in NYC) I worked at a magazine for a few years before making the leap into freelance design and illustration. Our kids were young and I was doing design work and creating maps for magazines and newspapers, so those were hectic years! Eventually I started writing and illustrating for children’s books, and finally feel like I’ve found my place in the universe.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[JT] Pencil, watercolor, pen and ink. I’ve been experimenting lately with watercolor pencils, too.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[JT] I’m drawn to animals and nature, but really anything that conveys a mood or an emotional connection between characters.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP or soon-to-be -published book, and the process of creating them?

[JT] My next book, CHARLES DARWIN’S AROUND-THE- WORLD ADVENTURE (Abrams, 2016) is coming out in October! Since I was a map illustrator first, I wanted to tell the story of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and actually show kids where he travelled and what he learned in each place. One big design challenge was maintaining the flow of the book, since a book is read from left to right, but Darwin traveled right to left– or westbound– around the world. Like any picture book, it was a huge puzzle to solve– especially combining the maps with the story. I’m still waiting to reveal the whole book, but here’s an interior sketch and a few details of art in progress…

Darwin sketch

Darwin sketch

Darwin Detail Compass

Darwin Detail Compass

Darwin detail desktop

Darwin detail desktop

Darwin detail ocean

Darwin detail ocean

Darwin detail undersea

Darwin detail undersea

Map After The Ashes

Map After The Ashes

[JM] Name three artists/illustrators who have particularly influenced you.

[JT] This is the hardest question! Only three? Some perennial art crushes… Melissa Sweet, Kelly Murphy, Sophie Blackall. I find their styles unique and unmistakably their own. There are so many brilliant artists out there and I’m always coming across new ones.

[JM] I loved hearing about the design challenge of the direction of Darwin’s journey. What does your workspace look like? 

[JT] My studio is a small room that the cats allow me to share with them. I’d probably call the decor “cozy clutter.” It’s actually quite efficient, though. Sometimes I dream of a huge studio in a barn somewhere, but I’d probably just fill it with unnecessary junk. I adore having a sitting and a standing desk as an excuse to not be hunched over the artwork all day.

Studio_desktop studio

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

One thing is a set of three old and slightly faded Japanese prints in my studio that belonged to… I’ll call her my fairy godmother. They are beautiful, and I find them calming.

[JM] At what point in your process do you consider the endpaper design?

[JT] I think about endpapers right from the beginning of a new book. A picture book is a complete world inside the cover and endpapers extend the story or set the mood, so they’re very important.

Front End sketch

Front End sketch

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                  [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[JT] Acadia

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[JT] Cats. (But I love dogs, too! All animals, really.) From left to right: Bean, Cat and Geri!

Studio Cats

Studio Cats –  Bean, Cat and Geri

[JM] What a great way to keep the cats away from your work! Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[JT] I know the lyrics to an embarrassing number of 80’s songs. Want to hear me sing?

[JM] Haha, disco queen, eh? What word best sums you up?

[JT] Studier.

Years ago I was reading and sketching and staring off into space on some idea and one of my young nieces said, “Jen, you are always studying something.” (She was right.)

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[JT] Water, coffee, and the occasional peanut m & m splurge if I’m really stuck on something.

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3 Responses to Jennifer Thermes – Illustrator Interview

  1. I like the term “cozy clutter”! I think that’s my decor, too, but hubby calls it “a mess.” 😀

    I can’t wait to see the Darwin book! I’m a huge Darwin (and evolution theory) fan, too. 🙂

    P.s the cats are gorgeous!

  2. Excellent interview with Jennifer. I really love nonfiction, so I look forward to Jennifer’s book on Darwin. I also love Darwin’s theories. I was particularly interested in her comments about “loving words, but wrestling with them!” And how much easier it is for her if she sees the story visually, before she writes. I’m not an artist, but I can relate to her comments. Love her cats and work space.

  3. Alexandra says:

    I really, really enjoyed this illustrator interview. It’s wonderful learning about other fellow artists, what inspires them and how they do their work. Thanks for sharing this!

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