It’s a special treat to have successfully published illustrator Jessika von Innerebner, who is represented by veteran agent Kelly Sonnack with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, stop by for an interview! She’s known as Jess von I to her friends (which now includes you!) and is a full-time freelance children’s book illustrator who travels the world. Morning cups of coffee, long-boarding and laughing at corny puns are a few of her favorite things. Some newly released projects include, Grow Up Ant-Man with Marvel, Miranda & Maude the Princess and Absolutely-Not-A-Princess with ABRAMS and Rox’s Secret Code with POW! The rest, well, we’ll soon find out!
1. Jess, you and your self-proclaimed “talented man”, Cale Atkinson, produce such high quality, incredible illustrations! Before we dive into all the nooks and crannies of your illustration journey, how in the world did it come to pass that two exceptionally hard working and talented people found each other?
About 12 years ago, I was working away at a game studio in Victoria, BC. Little did I know when Cale was hired my life would kick off in a new and fantastic direction full of adventure. I’m so grateful we crossed paths and stared an amazing life together. YAY!
2. You’ve mentioned many times over that your childhood was filled with creative encouragement. Tell us more about what that home environment was like for you. What specific things did your mom or dad do that stand out to you as key developmental milestones in your now successful career as an illustrator?
When I was very little, construction paper, crayons, and creativity were encouraged. Art made by my brother and I would be displayed on our playroom wall, which was carpeted in a lovely pink and red shag rug. But as I got older, things shifted in our family and it was a fight to keep art in my life. I was and still am stubborn and driven. These traits kept me drawing and continue challenging and improving my skills now.
3. Something happened when you were 17 that made a future career as an illustrator more reality than dream. What key steps took place at that time that transformed your passion into your paycheck?
As I finished high school, a family friend creating art for garments invited me to check out the art department where he worked. It was really cool and there were many things I could learn! I spoke to the boss and offered to work a week with no pay and learn as much as possible. I proved myself by the end of that week I wanted a job and I got it. That experience apprenticing helped start my career and it allowed me to grow and learn as I got paid!
4. You’re not alone in advocating for the Cintiq drawing tablet. Illustrator Steve Brown recently gushed on his experiences with the Cintiq, too. As an artist, you work in a variety of mediums and have professed eagerness to try new things and challenge yourself to get better. Has technology advanced to the point where drawing digitally is equivalent to drawing on paper? What areas have electronics not yet matched when compared to you taking out paper and pencil?
My first encounter with a Cintiq was at Disney Online and I was hooked. Though I use pencil and paper to scrawl out thumbnails and rough ideas most of my work is finished on a Cintiq with Photoshop.
When I’m creating a piece for an art show, I’ll use crayons, paper cutouts, lino-cut stamps or watercolor; that’s my play time! Nothing beats the tactile feel of working with actual materials, something tech can never replace.
5. You’re accomplished and experienced in working for yourself and others, with a distinguished client list that includes Disney, Marvel, Dream Works, Nickelodeon, Penguin Random House, ABRAMS, and countless others. Yet, you have this special mindset towards the freedom of freelancing. What, if anything, do you miss the most about working for a company? What, if anything, do you least enjoy when it comes to being a freelancer?
Through my career, I’ve enjoyed working with many studios of different sizes. My jobs ranged from storyboard clean-up artist to art director. This span of time was such an awesome experience, allowing me to try out different roles in different settings. You really learn how you prefer to work. For me, I really enjoy my freedom and creating when I feel creative. When there are deadlines you knuckle down, then take breaks between projects. A huge part of my life is traveling. I can go anywhere and work on the road as long as I have power and internet. This adventure fuels my creativity!
There is not much I miss while working freelance if I’m honest. I have more freedom but I definitely work harder and I love it!
6. Your illustration style has matured over the years and has become very distinctive. In fact, when I see artwork posted on social media, I often know who it belongs to before seeing who posted it! You’ve written about how you’ve developed your abilities over many, many years soliciting feedback from other artists and trying different styles. Is illustrative style chosen or does it choose you?
Hmmm, I feel both can happen. You can direct your style and it will come out in your individual way. It’s organic and morphs as you learn and grow, that’s a beautiful thing!
7. No matter how amazing artists become, they tend to develop their own way of expressing themselves, even though most will freely admit they grew up copying artists they admired. With each successful artist expressing themselves differently, is it possible to change one’s style? Aspiring artists may think they can’t draw exactly the way someone else draws. Is that simply because they have their own style that needs to blossom and copying admirable artists helps that bloom occur?
It’s totally possible to change your style. By copying other artists you admire you can feel out how to move your pencil/pen. The more you practice the better you’ll get, kind of like working out a muscle.
8. It’s been said that if you work doing what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. Would you share some of the processes you maintain as a successful freelancer to keep those paychecks coming? What parts of freelancing as an illustrator are a major chore for you? What things do you wish you could delegate? What things do you wish you could spend more time doing?
With freelance, you definitely need to be a self-motivator! There are many moving parts that a full-time job takes care of that now fall on your shoulders. From promoting yourself to getting the work done, how much to charge, paperwork and invoices, chasing down paychecks to taxes. All while trying to have a social life and if you have kids on top of that…you’re amazing!
For me, I’m VERY grateful to have an amazing agent who takes care of many things so I can spend my time creating.
9. Many successful illustrators have home studios. While the solitude can be lonely, it can also encourage productivity. In your case, having Carl with you in the studio, have you found a balance between solitude and collaboration? Is there one you recommend more than the other for aspiring creatives?
Yes! There are days we talk and laugh, listen to podcasts or jump on a Skype group chat with others who work from home. Then there are days when we need to be more productive so the headphones go on. Sometimes I’ll head out to a coffee shop to be in a new setting. Everyone has a different way of working; I find mine can differ from day to day.
10. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years? What about in the next 5-10 years?
Over the next 1-2 years big things! Many I cannot share as of yet, (NDA’s abound) but stay tuned! Over the next 5-10 years, I hope to be doing much of the same. Creating art, writing stories and enjoying adventures around the world!
Thank you very much, Jess, for sharing your journey with us!
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