PAL Illustrator of the month for October 2018
We are pleased to announce that Karen B. Jones is the Kansas/Missouri PAL illustrator of the month for October!
Karen B. Jones is a freelance illustrator. Working exclusively in digital media, her favorite subjects include robots, monsters, magical effects, and 10-year olds (especially girls) caught in the scary parts of exciting adventures.
Karen currently lives in Kansas with her husband, two daughters, and a fierce house tiger. When not illustrating, she enjoys exploring the local trails on her ebike and staying up way too late online.
Thanks to Karen for sharing her thoughts and her incredible work with us this month. If you’d like to see more of Karen’s work go to https://karenbjones.com.
How did you get started in illustration? What is your background?
I drew all the time in school. I doodled during class and took most of the art classes my high school offered, some of them more than once. But I didn’t make a career of it because I wasn’t confident I’d be able to earn a reliable income. Instead I became a web developer, which I also enjoyed. I pretty much stopped drawing for several years. Not intentionally, but I just got out of the habit.
Life went on. I got married, quit the web company a week before my daughter was born, and became a stay-at-home mom. Four years later, I made up a silly little story for my oldest while my youngest was on the changing table. They loved it and asked me to tell it to them over and over again. So often that I decided that I ought to make a little picture book out of it for them.
That’s how I started drawing again and rediscovered how much I really loved it.
What is your preferred medium, method of working?
I only work in digital media anymore. I use a wacom cintiq, which is a screen tablet that you draw on with a tilt- and pressure-sensitive stylus. I usually use Adobe Photoshop, but I can also work in Illustrator for vector graphics. I like Kyle T. Webster’s Photoshop brushes and I use the Lazy Nezumi plug-in on most of my line work to keep it smooth and in perspective.
How did your style and technique develop?
Initially, I had to put a lot of time and practice just into transforming my rusty drawing skills into something presentable. Never mind about technique, it was about basic competence. I had to train myself to really see when my sketches were right and when they were off somehow. It can be difficult to apply a critical eye to your own work without getting discouraged. But I was confident that this was something I could do, and, more importantly, that it was something I really wanted to do. So, I kept at it.
Beyond learning to draw again, my style and technique were heavily influenced by the tools I was using at the time. When I first started, I was working mostly with ink pens on paper. I had this one thick brush pen which I really liked. It made nice, heavy, black lines. As I moved away from using the ink pens, my lines thinned out. I tried watercolors, colored pencil, and art markers. I eventually settled on working digitally because it required less space in my house, and it gave me that magic undo feature that lets me experiment and change things to my perfectionist heart’s content.
As I mastered Photoshop and Illustrator, I experimented with different brushes, layer styles and other tricks. I re-learned how to draw in one-, two-, and three-point perspective. Some of these techniques I incorporated into my normal drawing style. Some I keep in my back pocket for special situations, like when I need to draw magical effects or unusual lighting.
Can you describe a typical work day for us?
I work from home. So first I get the kids off to school, and then I head into the living room to start up the computer. I usually have NPR streaming in the background, or the CBC. Then it’s just me, my cintiq, and talk radio until the girls get home. I usually continue to work through the afternoon, with the occasional break to help the kids with something, until 5 or 6 when I call it a day. If I have a really packed schedule, I may squeeze in another hour or two’s work once the kids are in bed, but I try not to do that too often.
What do you find the most challenging in your work?
Finding work is the hardest part of the job. What I really want to be doing is drawing, but to get the projects to draw, you have to attract the clients. That’s why I’m excited to have recently signed with Janet DeCarlo of Storybook Arts, Inc. As I write this it’s the beginning of September and she’s already found me work to keep me busy well into October. So far so good.
What would you love to try?
I’d love to try a middle grade graphic novel or even a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Do you have a favorite book(s) from your childhood? How about more recently?
I remember being obsessed over The Babysitter’s Club books when I was younger. I had a whole shelf full of them. I was pleased to see the graphic novels of those when they came out. It’s a great way to reboot the series and I’m a fan of Raina Telgemeier’s work.
I also liked the Choose Your Own Adventure books, The Secret Garden, and anything with horses.
What would be your dream project? Or what was your favorite project?
So far, my favorite project has been illustrating The Genie Loophole by Paul Maguire. I loved drawing the magical effects and the main character kept getting caught in the most ridiculous predicaments. It was a lot of fun and Paul was great to work with.
My dream project is not really any particular project at all. I just want to make a steady income drawing pictures. That’s my dream.
Any words of advice for folks just starting out in illustration? What do you wish you would have known sooner in your illustration career?
It was a bit of a struggle to figure out what sort of niche I was best suited for. My first book was aimed at ages 1 to 3 because that’s about the ages my kids were at the time. It worked, but after that I spent a lot of time trying to draw cute or whimsical pieces because to me children’s illustration meant picture books and little kids. Eventually, I realized that although cute is fine sometimes, I’m not that good with whimsy and I really prefer drawing older kids that have a little more attitude. I’m still a children’s illustrator, but I’m a better fit for middle grade, not preschool. Realizing that earlier might have allowed me to focus on what I’m better at earlier.
What new illustrators might take from that is that there’s a wide range of audiences and formats within the children’s market. Your illustrations don’t need to conform to just picture books.
As for advice, there’s no one thing that will cinch it. But, for a start, you need to do your research, hone your craft, and develop an impressive portfolio.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming book releases we should be on the lookout for?
As I mentioned before, I just signed with Storybook Arts and I have great hopes for that relationship. I’m currently in the middle of my second project for them, a picture book titled Standing Up To The Bullies by Ashley Kazery for Learning A-Z. It will be my fourth book and my third picture book.