Illustrator Interview – Lisa Jahn-Clough

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dogs     I confess that after my trip to Portland, Maine, this summer and falling in love with the area, when I noticed on FB that Lisa spends part of her year there, I thought I should invite her onto the blog! Following on from Rebecca Emberley’s interview last week, I think you will enjoy seeing even more collaboration in today’s post as well. Is this a trend?   And a dad who studied lemmings. How cool is that?

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

[LJC] Author and illustrator, although I don’t do as much illustrating as I used to. My most recent picture books (the early reader series, Petal and Poppy) are fantastically illustrated by my husband. When I do one of my own picture books, they usually begin with a character and a theme that I might jot down with words. Then I will try to illustrate that character. In the case of my first picture book, Alicia Has a Bad Day, she began as an illustrated character first—actually she was a pair of hand-made paper earrings that I made for a friend, and then I put her into a story So it’s hard to say—it differs with a bit each book, and they kind of come hand in hand.

[JM] I love that Alicia was first a hand-made earring!                                            Where are you from, Lisa, and how has that influenced your work?

[LJC] I was born on a farm in Rhode Island near the ocean. We had goats, sheep, chickens, cats, dogs, and a monkey. I used to wander off and sit on a big rock under the willow tree and make-up stories that I would later tell to the goats. I was alone a lot, but fairly content with my family, the animals and my imagination. Later we moved to Maine and I spent a lot of time on an island doing the same thing (without the animals). I lived in Norway for a couple of years as a very young child while my father studied lemmings in the tundra. I like to think all of these places play a role in my work in terms of my themes of childhood freedom, loneliness and imagination.

While my picture books never name a place, most of them are in somewhat rural, woodsy areas and the characters have room to roam. Except for my picture book, Little Dog, which is rooted very much in Puerto Rico (where my mother now lives and where both my dogs came from).

All three of my novels take place in a made-up town in Maine.

[JM] Oo, adopted Puerto Rican pooches, how cool!                                                    Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[LJC] This is a very long story, because I am still in the beginnings of my journey as an artist, even though I began painting and drawing as soon as I could grip an implement. But the short version begins with a memory from when I was about three. I couldn’t sleep and my mother (a painter) gave me a crayon and paper and told me to draw something to help me sleep. I was still awake when she left and I’d filled the paper, so I started making marks all over the wall next to my bed. The next day, when my mother saw what I’d done she asked me to tell her about my drawings. It was then I realized that one of the marks looked like a lower-case “a” and another one looked like a capital “L” and those were two letters in my name. I realized I was writing as well as drawing. Those marks remained on my bedroom wall until we moved.

[JM] How does picture book illustration differ from creating graphic comic book art in your process?

[LJC] If you are referring to my recent comic-book early reader series, well those are illustrated by my husband, so my process is the creation of the story and script. His style is much more versatile than mine, and he can create a fun, cartoon, comic-book type of art by hand or on the computer. My illustration is very thick and painterly, and only done by hand. Although I have tried doing comic books, they tend to be in that same thick, sloppy style and don’t work out so well. I like the mess of paint too much.

[JM] Do you ever sketch any of your YA characters or settings for your own story development?

[LJC] No. I am not very good at drawing realistic people. The closest I came was with my novel, Me, Penelope. Penelope discovers a talent for art in the book, and each chapter has a line drawing of a heart-shaped image, supposedly done by her. Those are my illustrations. Also I did the illustration for the hardcover, which is a series of ink hearts over a painted purple background. I had a lot of fun doing these.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[LJC] Hands down I prefer gouache. Occasionally I try other things, like watercolor, acrylic, pastel, but I always come back to gouache. Sometimes I add a little line or shading of colored pencil over it for variation.

1 felicity-cordelia balloon_Page_06

1 felicity-cordelia balloon_Page_06

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

[LJC] As I said before these seems to be a recurring theme of loneliness in my books, along with finding love. The character that seems to recur over and over is Alicia from my very first book published in 1994 and still in print! She was really the beginning of my career in the publishing world and had a long incarnation before that. I use her for all my self-portraits and signatures, along with her little, yellow dog, Neptune.

I do tend to get very attached to my characters. I have three books about Alicia, and three books about Simon and Molly.

collection of my pic books

collection of my pic books

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[LJC] I live in two places. My creative home is my yellow, elf house in downtown Portland, Maine. I have a cozy studio off the kitchen, although I also work in the kitchen, the living room and when weather permits, in the tiny yard. I have a lot of books, art, toys and tchotchkes around—stuff from my childhood, stuff I’ve inherited or been given or collected over the years. Although I have a love-hate relationship with “clutter” I find having these things around helps my work quite a lot and makes me happy.

house where I work

Studio Wall

Studio Wall

During the academic year my husband and I rent a house in southern NJ (the part with trees) across from a cornfield. I don’t do as much creative work there since I am a full-time professor, but when I do I spread everything on the kitchen table and make a big mess.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[LJC] These days, I’ve been collaborating with my husband on comic-style books—the Petal and Poppy series, as well as a couple of other works-in-progress. I am writing the text in a script format, like a screenplay, and then he does the art. We go back and forth a bit in the process. It’s been working out quite well. We both still maintain our separate writing and illustrating paths, but it’s nice to have a shared one as well.


My own work always been a strange and illusive process, which is part of what I love about it. I began a new novel last summer, as well as a picture book about a little queen. When, or if ,these works will be finished or published is an unknown.

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

[LJC] In the house in Maine I have a lot of my mother’s paintings, along with friends of hers—many of them Monhegan artists (the island in Maine where I spent many of my childhood summers.) Also, my husband’s paper sculpture work from his early days as an editorial illustrator, and a lot of books, toys and tchotchkes, which I consider art.

living room_work room

living room_work room

living room art

living room art

Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                         JM: Name the first thing that comes to mind:

a)    Fish: Snorkeling off of Culebra, Puerto Rico

b)   Chrome: Yellow

c)    Park: walking with my dogs.

d)   Grandma: yikes! Nothing comes to mind with this one. I never had a “grandma”— only one grandfather who was so formal he even wore his tie to breakfast.

e)    Holy Grail:   Monty Python

f)     Blue: Jumping into the ocean on a perfect summer day.

g)    Contagious: Ebola

h)   Port: My father trying to teach me how to sail (because of Port and Starboard)

i)     Sphere: A circular form—for example, the shape of Alicia’s head.

j)     Ally: Friend

You can find out more about Lisa on her website:, and if you are in the Portland, Maine area, don’t miss an upcoming show for the 20th anniversary exhibition of her first book, Alicia Has a Bad Day (HMH, 1994)

alicia invite1

Thanks so much for joining us and I enjoyed reading about someone who dabbles in stories for a wide range of ages! To your continued success.

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14 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Lisa Jahn-Clough

  1. “…while my father studied lemmings in the tundra….” Oh, my goodness, what a great childhood that must have been! I wish my parents did something that fascinating. 🙂

    I think many readers/book-lovers tend to spend much childhood time alone, and therefore the theme of loneliness is probably a very relevant one (although I never did feel lonely when I had a book with me 🙂 ).

    I need to go look for the Petal and Poppy books now; I love comic-style books. Thanks for a terrific interview, Joanna and Lisa!

    • Thanks for your comments! And yes, there must be something about loneliness and creative people–it’s not that I didn’t have friends, I have and have had wonderful friends, but I was always aware of loneliness in the world. I also think that most creative people need to be alone in order to work, so that must contribute to it.

  2. Dana Carey says:

    I really enjoyed this interview. Lovely work! Thanks!

  3. Luv these character names & will look for the titles.
    Also luv the sweetness about trees in New Jersey as covered bridges & burbling, babbling, tumbling clear water brooks are the part of the Garden State from child days I know well.

    Appreciations for this interview.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. (I read it first thing this morning and have soaked up the art in my mind’s eye.) Thanks for sharing your work with us. Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Alicia!

  5. Thanks for reading this interview and for your kind comments. It is exciting that Alicia is 20 years old, now!

  6. Great interview ladies. I enjoyed learning more about your collaborative work with your husband. That must be so fulfilling to have someone to talk about your work with. Your comic-style book looks intriguing. Congratulations on your 20th anniversary!
    You had an interesting childhood. I don’t have a clue what a lemming is.

  7. Great interview! Ms. Jahn-Clough sounds like a wonderful person! 😀

  8. rhythm says:

    Wow! What an incredible, creative spirit you have found in Ms Jahn-Clough!! Thanks so much for sharing! I’m going to go sniff out some of her books for my book bag!

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