THE LITTLE YEARS. When I was little, I would sit in a box and draw pictures. Eventually, my studio expanded to my closet where I made up characters and neatly archived them in blue binders (including hundreds of made-up Smurfs). I would sit on the green shag carpet under hanging clothes with my older sister Renee sitting in her office on the far other end of the long, skinny closet. She wrote poems and said I could be her illustrator. My oldest brother Freddy and his friend Kevin Brimmer drew a lot, and I thought they were the coolest. I decided then that I’d always be an artist. When I was 8, I won my first art contest with a drawing of Santa Claus. I still remember the phone call—it was the first time I ever remember crying because I was happy…I find a lot of inspiration for my art and stories from my life: traveling+adventures, family+friends, my dog, other pets, and memories.

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7 things I remember from my little years at 5438 Chatfield Drive, St. Louis, MO…

1. The above mentioned box/my first art studio.

2. I had a Papa Smurf Doll that I LOVED. I remember giving him hundreds of beard trimmings til he had a charming five o’clock shadow and snowed tiny white beads.

3. My dad had this awesome, huge swivel chair in his downstairs office, and my friend Tisa and I would take turns spinning each other til we had out of body experiences running upside down on the checkerboard ceiling.

4. My stylish green pants with the Polish embroidery and vertical ribbed lines.

5. My FAVORITE shirt: The Incredible Hulk.

6. Fighty + Gertrude, the 2 crawfish my sister Renee and I rescued from the live-well in my Dad’s bass boat in the garage. We kept them in a sherbert container and let them play on our driveway.

And 7. My thick glasses with the super springy frames sporting Bugs Bunny on the side.

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MY TEACHERS. In addition to my mom and dad, I have had so many awesome teachers and mentors throughout my life. I’m amazed thinking about them. Not only did they offer abundant inspiration and guidance, each one challenged me to grow and to record the world (as I see It), in pictures or words. My high school years are so big in my memory. My art teacher, creative writing teacher–even my history and biology teachers–supported and encouraged me to respond to any assignment in whatever creative way I thought of. My dad only had one concern that he asked Sr. Sheila, my high school principal, on graduation day, “I know Jenny is creative…but is she talented?” Hee. My dad always has looked out for me. It’s ok, I said to him. That’s why I’m going to art school! (He asked that question again to my art school instructor and job manager…)

ART SCHOOL. When I was 19, I moved to Kansas City to study illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute. I have to admit art school scared the hell out of me. I was intimidated, self-conscious and shy. But I was also dedicated and driven. I had a lot to learn (to make up for my lack of talent). The summer of my Junior year, I went to the Illustration Academy. I discovered a SO much about the world of illustration and learned new techniques (and thus, confidence). Also, my passion for making art grew BIG time. I had an exciting Senior year of classes along with a Hallmark internship that helped me find ‘my voice’ in my art.

HALLMARK. After art school, I was hired as an greeting card artist at Hallmark Cards in the Fresh Ink Studio. (We made the cool square cards.) The Hallmark creative community was unlike any other—it really felt like a family. Plus, my bosses let me sneak my dogs and my bird Jack into the studio (via the stairwell) every day! I learned from everyone there and treasured the constant exchange of ideas and energy. I also had a few writer mentors who encouraged me to write. I was fortunate to take many classes there, too—in printmaking, sculpture, woodcarving, pottery, fiber, etc—and learned early on the importance of creative-renewal. These are some of my card designs from HK…

TRAVELS. But 7 years is a long time, and I had other dreams…When I was little, my dad traveled the world…India, Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and more. I collected paper money from every country he visited. I wanted to travel the world just like him. When I traveled to Asia with my friend Maria, my world really opened up…and I wanted more…

A year later, I took a leave of absence to volunteer at a school in a small village in Nepal.

For 4 months, I lived in a small building with 15 strangers who quickly became my family. I made art with the children, learned a new language, experienced new traditions/culture, traveled in India and hiked to Mt. Everest. I knew I couldn’t go back to cubicles and florescent lighting.

I decided not to return to Hallmark. Human Rescources said it was the most creative resignation he’d read before—an email from 15,000 ft in the Himalayas. In the Fall of 2002, I moved to the mountains of Northern New Mexico. In 2003, I married my best friend (who I continue to travel the world with) and dove into the freelance illustration world.

FREELANCE. I LOVE being an illustrator. There’s nothing I’d rather do. I love solving problems creatively and telling stories visually. I also really enjoy working with art directors and designers and the collaboration that often happens. I have had the chance to illustrate a variety of projects including books, editorial, advertising, toys, home decor, greeting cards, logos, and surface design/licensing. Some of my clients include Henry Holt & Company, 10 Speed Press, Crocodile Creek Toys, Oopsy Daisy Fine Art for Kids, Studio Avo, QVC, Pottery Barn, Land of Nod, Unicef, Mc Murry Publishing, Christian Science Monitor, Hallmark Cards, American Greetings, and Peaceable Kingdom Press.

TEACHING. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been invited to teach and lecture at American Greetings, The Illustration Academy, and The Jackson Hole Art Association. I learned quickly that I LOVE teaching. Sharing–and exchanging–knowledge, ideas and inspiration with students and professionals has been really exciting for me. I get so energized watching students take risks–and advances. What could be more rewarding for a teacher? Plus, I learn so much. A classroom with 50 students = 50 teachers for me. I know I want to do more teaching in the future…

DREAMS. Dr. Seuss is one of my heroes. He taught me early on there is no limit to what we can dream up. (That’s what all my favorite authors/illustrators have taught me!) I also loved how his words played dances on my tongue. I was intimidated by writing when I was little so I mostly drew. In high school, I had a creative writing teacher who introduced words as another tool to draw pictures with. At Hallmark, my writer friends reminded me of that same thing. I have written lots of story-bits over the years, and although I missed my “goal” of publishing my first children’s book by the age of 25, I’m not that late… On April 1st, 2008, a huge dream came true. My first picture book was published by Henry Holt. My Travelin’ Eye is about the 6 year old me, Jenny Sue, and her travelin’, “lazy” eye that has a mind of it’s own. I had so much fun ‘just being me’ in this book, from the voice to little details of my childhood to how I see the world.

What’s next?  While I’m patiently waiting for the release of my second book with Henry Holt, titled Same, Same but Different, due out in 2011 and inspired by my ‘little kid friends‘ in Nepal and India., I’m busy playing with my daughter and dreaming up new ideas.