Ever since I was little, I wanted to write and illustrate picture books. For some reason, I always felt like this was a luxury to be done later in life, as some bonus to checking a traditional career off the list first. On one hand, I wish I could go back and start on this path earlier. On the other hand, a lot of my experience informs my work now anyway, so maybe it worked out?
By JEANNE BOWMAN, SCBWI Montana
My career path started at Montana State University where I graduated with a BFA in graphic design. After graduation, I worked from coast to coast at publishing companies, tech startups, and advertising agencies before going on my own as a freelance designer. When my youngest started kindergarten in 2019, it seemed like the perfect time to put more focus on my picture book dreams. However, 2020 brought the pandemic and suddenly I was helping my kids with online school and having less work time than I'd had since they were in diapers. I somehow managed to carve out time for my art, spending a year with Denise Holmes and Steph Fizer Coleman in their Let's Make Picture Books group. I learned so much and was able to create the core of my picture book portfolio. The format of the workshop has changed (it's now self-paced), but I would still recommend it if you're looking to add to your portfolio and learn more about the business. I also joined a regional author critique group and began writing poetry and picture books.
My stories and art focus on the magic in the ordinary, the beauty and authenticity in being weird, and the urgent matter of making the world a more joyful and peaceful place. My dream would be to be a published author/illustrator as well as illustrate toys, games, puzzles, and children's apparel!
What is the most important thing you have learned as a creator so far?
The most important thing I've learned as a creator is that NO ONE is safe from feeling like they're not good enough. I'll never forget a conference where the Fan Brothers said they had imposter syndrome. They're work is exquisite and in a style I could never do—and they've been successful artists for years. I couldn't believe it! That was a turning point for me. If the Fan Brothers have imposter syndrome, then everyone does! I now work to accept that feeling as a part of the process. It's part of caring about your work. It's part of wanting to be better. It's part of being an artist of any kind. I'm not saying my mind is all sunshine and rainbows now, but I am learning to let that feeling ride along with me, not derail me.
Where in the region are you located?
I'm in Missoula (but I'll always be a Bobcat...boo Griz!).
Where can we find more of your work/ follow you/ get in touch with you?
I struggle with two things the most: 1) Making time for art (because I still spend a good amount of time on graphic design work) and, 2) Putting myself out there. I started my illustration journey in 2020, but I still haven't reached out to a single art director, editor, or agent. I'm scared to reach out and I'm also scared to get the work. Ha! I've made a promise to myself to contact people in the illustration world this fall/winter so I'm gonna do it. Y'all can hold me to it!
I really look up to the people who center children in their work, like Jim Henson and everyone at Sesame Street, Joe Brumm and the team at Bluey, Luke Pearson and the Netflix team for the Hilda series. I love to be inspired by the wacky, kid-centered humor of cartoons too, like Kiff, Craig of the Creek, and Steven Universe. Illustration-wise, I really admire Shawn Harris (especially Have You Ever Seen a Flower?), David Roberts (especially Someone Just Like You and Bathe the Cat), and everything Benji Davies does.
Jennifer (Nacho) is also our Social Media Coordinator for Instagram. Our team hopes that Montana's regional Instagram will be a source of kid lit inspiration, celebration, and admiration. We'd love to share your wins on our page! From book deals to book birthdays, local events to writing tips, and even new portfolio pieces you're excited about, we want to celebrate YOU. Send your kid lit news to Jenn at email@example.com or direct message us on Instagram @scbwimontana.
By JEANNE BOWMAN, SCBWI Montana, Nov 1, 2023
Jeanne is the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI Montana and a published illustrator. Recent works include The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde for Familius Publishing as well as Charlie Russell and the Gnomes of Bull Head Lodge by Emily Crawford Wilson for The South Dakota Historical Society Press.