September 17, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #118: Jenni Desmond

I was lucky enough to chat with Jenni Desmond about her newest picture book Migration, written by Mike Unwin. Jenni is known for working on books with environmental themes, and her illustrations in Migration are another feather in her overflowing cap of beautiful books. Enjoy our conversation!

About the book:
Animals of all shapes and sizes make epic journeys across our planet, through harsh weather, avoiding hungry predators, in their efforts to survive. Travel around the globe with some of the world's most incredible animals and discover their unique migration stories.

Follow the emperor penguin through snow, ice and bitter temperatures; watch as the great white shark swims 10,000 km in search of seals; track huge herds of elephants, on their yearly hunt for water and be amazed at the millions of red crabs, migrating across Christmas Island.

Follow the amazing migrations of these 20 creatures: Arctic tern, barn swallow, bar-headed goose, ruby-throated hummingbird, osprey, wandering albatross, whooping crane, emperor penguin, African elephant, blue wildebeest, caribou, straw-coloured fruit bat, humpback whale, green turtle, Southern pilchard, salmon, great white shark, monarch butterfly, globe skimmer dragonfly, Christmas Island red crab

Let's talk Jenni Desmond!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Migration?

JD: Migration came about when Bloomsbury UK paired Mike Unwin and I together. His writing for the book is so beautiful and enticing, it tells the true story of each animal in a way that is really absorbing and really sparks the imagination. What an honour to illustrate such work!

LTPB: This book (and many of your books!) are rooted in nonfiction and center around endangered animals. Where do you find your inspiration? What kind of research do you do? 

JD: I despair about climate change, and about how human beings are slowly taking over the natural world. It makes me really sad. I hope to be able to do my tiny bit in this world by trying to inspire people, especially the next generation, about nature and have material for them to learn more from. I try not to preach, as I don’t think that’s particularly helpful to be honest, but instead I try to instill a love of animals and nature and the environment so that they (and adults of course) genuinely care and want to help. When making my books I do a lot of research, mostly reading long text books about the animals and watching many, many videos and documentaries. I also try to see the animals in real life whenever I can.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text? When you do both, which do you generally start with?

JD: Illustrating someone else text is really enjoyable for me as the framework is already in place and then its my job to push the boundaries that the text has given me. When you write it too, ANYTHING can happen because you are able to change the writing, and then your brain goes this way and that way and up there and then sometimes explodes (especially when writing fiction). However if it doesn’t explode, its extremely fulfilling to hold a book in your hand that you did entirely yourself. Of course its never really by yourself as there are so many other industry people involved too, especially the editors and designers. If I’m writing it, I’ll normally start with the text but I’m always aware of the pictures and normally do rough little drawings alongside.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

JD: Each book I work on I decide what is the most appropriate medium to use for the story and for the audience, but its often quite similar to the techniques I used for Migration. Here, I used ink, watercolour, acrylic, pencil crayons and then a form of printmaking called drypoint, where you scratch the image onto a metal plate with a sharp instrument, and then put ink into the plate, damp paper on top of that, and then it goes through a big roller. It’s really fun to do and really inspiring for me to be in a big airy print studio smelling the inks, getting really messy, and watching the ducks go by on the canal outside. Drypoint is probably my favourite medium, and its much quicker than etching too which I don’t really have the patience for. I like to keep trying new things as it feels important to keep the thrill of discovering and happy accidents to keep advancing your work. I then scan everything into the computer and work on it in photoshop to make it look exactly how I want. I can be much freer if I know it doesn't have to be perfect and can be cleaned up in photoshop.

LTPB: What are you working on now?

JD: I had a baby last year and so I’ve slowed down a little recently, but I’ve just finished my next book which is called Snow Birds which will be out in 2020, and I’m now starting a new non fiction which I’m really excited about. It’s been quite interesting actually having my own child while doing picture books. I’ve always made books for the child I was and I think that I’m quite in tune with what it feels like to be a young one. I dont really see it to be very different to how I see the world now to be honest. So I’ve always made books for my inner child but I didn’t have actual children to read things to most of the time. Josephine has made me understand things in picture books that I didn’t care about so much before, and so as a mother I'm finding this new stage of looking at picture books fascinating. 

A million thanks to Jenni for taking time to answers some questions! Migration published last month from Bloomsbury Children's Books.

Special thanks to Jenni and Bloomsbury for use of these images!

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