Jonathan Bean – Illustrator Interview

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12299359_523877447766642_7197692598960900264_nJonathan Bean has a knack of writing picture books with families I want to belong to and characters I want to be. Such levels of identification are rare for me with picture books compared to MG and YA novels. I suspect in part it is because there is so much heart in what he writes and illustrates. Check out AT NIGHT or BUILDING OUR HOUSE. I am thrilled he was happy to do an interview today.

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

[JB] The beginning of a new idea is fluid for me. Sometimes drawn pictures are a part of it, sometimes not. But there are always mental pictures, regardless. The danger with drawn pictures arriving early is that I can easily end up with a handful of attractive images but no story, or a thin one. So I try to get a story roughed out in writing as quickly as possible. Also, there’s a certain freedom to sitting down with my laptop knowing that, for a while, I won’t have to do any drawing.                                                                                                

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

[JB] I’ve lived most of my life in Pennsylvania. I spent six years in NYC, two in grad school and four after. Those years were very important professionally. However, many of the ideas that hold strongest sway in my work are related to experiences I had growing up or the natural world I spent a lot of time exploring with friends as a child. That said, ideas pop up from all sorts of places: family, friends, country, city, other books, beautiful places, ugly places, good weather, bad weather. I try to be alert to all possibilities.   

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

[JB] I can’t recall a beginning. Though, I can remember when I began to be conscious of myself as someone who could draw well. Around the age of eight or nine I drew a lot from National Geographic magazine photos. One day, my family had guests over and my parent’s asked me to run and get a one of my drawings. I don’t remember much about the drawing, but I clearly remember being asked to show it. I think early moments of recognition like that significantly shape the concept a person holds of themselves, even years later, for good or ill.

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

[JB] Watercolor, block printing, ink, pencil, pen. . . I’m usually in the middle of trying something new. For THIS IS MY HOME, THIS IS MY SCHOOL, I used hand-carved bamboo pens for the first time, drawing with them at arms length. For REAL COWBOYS, by Kate Hoefler, (HMH, Fall 2016) I used hundreds of stencils in combination with spray paint, printmaking rollers, potato prints, ink, sponges, scribbles, splatters and sploshes.



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

[JB] Certainly! These photos show the stenciling technique I used for REAL COWBOYS. The great thing about a stencil is that, once made, it can be used again and again. I took full advantage of that!

[JM] With which great kidlit character do you most identify?

[JB] I love The Wind in the Willows and identify strongly with Rat. He new what he liked and why he liked it and was content to have one pastime and life that he knew intimately and loved deeply. Said he, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

[JM] As a Brit who grew up with Rat and Mole and Toad, I would have to agree! What does your workspace look like?

[JB] I’m currently in the middle of getting prints ready for a show at a local gallery, Robinson’s Rare Books and Fine Prints. That’s why there’s a linoleum block on my drawing desk.




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

[JB] I know there are, but it’s not the sort of thing I think about consciously. I’d like to leave it up to the viewer/reader to make these observations or connections.

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

[JB] Mostly original artwork made by friends, and a couple wood sculptures I made in undergrad. 

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[JM] Your place looks so cozy!                                                                                   What is the greatest piece of advice you have received?

[JB] Responding to a promotional mailing, Susan Hirschman wrote me when I was a junior in undergrad and suggested I try writing and illustrating. I gave her suggestion a try and quickly discovered both the challenge and fun of playing words off of images and vice versa. There are some beautiful wordless picture books, but for me there is a musicality, a playfulness, that is missing when one or the other of the word/image tandem is absent.

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

[JB] For an urban park, I’d have to pick Central Park. Living in NYC, I spent a lot of time there wandering around, usually with a pair of binoculars for bird watching. I don’t think there’s a path or trail in Central Park I don’t know. For a wilder setting, I’d pick Acadia National Park in Maine or the Adirondacks. My thoughts drift north thinking about places I’d like to spend time.

[JM] I lived on the UPWS near the Nat. Hist museum for 18 months so loved getting to know that area and the tennis courts. Now I am ten mins north of the park and am discovering the Meer and North Woods. Maine and the Adirondacks are of my favorite places too.                                                                                                  Cats or dogs?

[JB] Both!

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[JB] I like to bird watch?!

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[JB] Quietintense (if I may be allowed to invent one)

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

[JB] Lattes or Cappuccinos from one of Harrisburg’s great coffee roasters/cafes!

[JM] Thank you so much for sharing with us,Jonathan. And good luck with your exhibition at Robinson’s Rare Books and Fine Prints. Follow and find out more about Jonathan here:



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4 Responses to Jonathan Bean – Illustrator Interview

  1. Patricia says:

    Lovely to learn more about the other side of the picture book process. I’d never thought that stencils, homemade pens and other artistic devices would play a role.

  2. I love the range of styles and art supplies in Jonathan’s artwork. Super illustrations.

  3. Pingback: This is My Home, This is My School – Perfect Picture Book Friday | Miss Marple's Musings

  4. His work really must shine for the compliments you made about your complete identification with a PB story, characters and artwork! This is a very interesting interview. I enjoyed his comments about starting with illustrations and needing to be careful that he has a storyline jotted down so that he doesn’t end up with a series of illustrations and a weak story. Your interviews are always so insightful!

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