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Q&A with Jensine Eckwall, illustrator

Q&A with Jensine Eckwall, illustrator

By Phoebe Dunn |

Jensine Eckwall is an illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. She has been illustrating for clients since graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 2013, and you can see her work primarily in books for middle grade readers. In September her project Soulless was released, an illustrated edition of Gail Carriger’s Victorian supernatural romance novel. Jensine works in both traditional and digital media and enjoys creating short comics and surface patterns, alongside learning animation. She is an MFA Candidate and Dean’s Fellow at the Fashion Institute of Technology. We asked her a few questions about how she first got into design and her creative process.

How did you first get into design?

I studied illustration in college, and after that, got small jobs, mostly for newspapers and magazines. It was a great entry into illustration but never the perfect fit for my work, which is more narrative. I started to send out my own promotional materials to prospective clients in all fields. A few years after graduating, I was very lucky to be assigned my first book cover by Katrina Damkoehler at Knopf (Penguin Random House), for a middle grade fantasy novel called The Goblin’s Puzzle. She was great at guiding me through the process. I felt like she was able to recognise very well the direction I wanted to take my work and the angles I was interested in exploring. We worked on another middle grade book together called Threads of Blue shortly after, and then more assignments from more clients followed.

Are there any book covers that you particularly admire?

At the moment I’m enjoying Edward Gorey’s covers for John Bellairs’ ghost stories.

Take us through the process of creating cover art from the initial briefing to completion.

Right now I have an agent, so an inquiry either comes to me through them, or if the client has approached me on their own, I loop them in. The initial few emails for a prospective job contain a short description of the subject and themes of the book, any visual inspirations they may already have, the time frame in which the various steps are due and the budget. Once all is agreed, we sign a contract and I get sent a manuscript. I read the book in full and pull relevant details, pasting them into a Google Doc. Here I note physical descriptions of characters and locations, fleeting ideas as they come and scenes or details that interest me. Usually I write a short sentence describing each sketch idea as it comes. Before I start drawing, I collect references that relate to my sketch ideas. This reference folder will be added to as the project continues. I then sketch as many ideas as I can come up with for the cover. I focus on capturing the central tone and emotion, and giving an idea of the characters and places the reader will explore without spoiling anything. These sketches are done within a size template provided by the publisher. I usually sketch digitally, either on a Wacom Cintiq or iPad Pro.

There may be some back and forth with the Art Director (my main contact for the project) to pick and perfect a sketch. I then make a detailed drawing that will translate easily to the final piece, usually along with a colour study in Photoshop to establish the colour schemes before refining any further. Once the colour rough is approved, it goes to final. I work digitally and traditionally, but for most book projects I like to work in traditional media. I print out the black and white lines from the colour rough and lightbox them onto watercolour paper with pencil, then paint, referring back to my colour study, with watercolour, ink and gouache. I paint the image an inch or two larger than it needs to be to leave room for bleed or any small shifts. I scan the painting and clean it up and adjust the colours in Photoshop. I then send the final file to the client for approval. Usually, there are some tweaks or revisions, which I will make using a combination of digital and traditional media. 

How would you describe your style and how did you come to discover it?

The way I work is equally influenced by very old and very contemporary techniques. I’m not a very natural or facile drafter, so I’m often drawn to more naive or abstracted art and rely on the same devices these artists use to make their work look good. I like to work traditionally because a direct hand to paper allows more of that appeal to come through. However, I’m working more and more digitally, so I don’t totally know how to define my style at the moment. I’m currently in graduate school for illustration with the hope of refining my approach and getting it closer to where I feel my taste is.  

What is the one book that you have repeatedly recommended?

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

You can find out more about Jensine Eckwall and her work through her website, twitter or instagram

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