Featured Children's Book Illustrator: Jen Corace

Published 2 years ago

October Bookroo boxes have started arriving! We’re really excited about the books in this month’s board book boxes. One book we included is Little Hoot. It’s authored by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace. It’s one in a series of three books presenting clever stories to little readers who don’t, for example, like to eat their vegetables at dinner (more spinach, Little Pea?). Little Hoot presents the terrible dilemma of Little Owl, who is forced to stay up late and play when he wants to go to bed. Even little readers are sure to appreciate the irony.

Today we’re excited to share an interview with Jen Corace, award-winning illustrator of Little Hoot and many, many other books. Jen is originally from southern New Jersey but now lives in Providence, RI. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design (“RISD”, pronounced “RIZ-dee”) where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration.

Jen Corace sketch of Little Owl

Getting the color right for Little Hoot, courtesy of Jen Corace

Bookroo: What did you enjoy most working on illustrations for Little Hoot and the other Little books?

Jen: What I enjoyed most about working on the LIttle series was it’s style. It’s a looser, freer pen and ink style with watercolor fills. It’s a nice break from other work that I do which tends to be more maniacally planned out, more detailed and uses a lot of pattern.

Bookroo: What does the illustration process look like for you? What steps and iterations does your work go through?

Jen: In general, my process starts off with research. Even if I am working with anthropomorphic characters like Little Hoot or Little Oink it’s helpful for me to have an understanding how those animals look in the real life, how they move and then to interpret that in the creation of the character. It’s important when you make animals upright and put them in clothes that their anatomies work for the story.

After that I will work on the pagination which is essentially small thumbnails of the book that helps break down the text and set the initial visual flow of the book. Next is the first round of sketches, send that into the editor, get notes back, second round of sketches, send to the editor and then I usually get to move onto final artwork.

Bookroo: Does the author or anyone else provide guidance as to what direction to take with illustrations?

Jen: Children’s book work is definitely a team effort. I mostly take notes and direction from my editor and art director. At times I will get notes from the author via the editor and I will take that into consideration when I am reworking sketches.

Bookroo: Can you tell us about the path that led you to becoming an illustrator?

Jen: Growing up, I had a mom who was very encouraging of my interest in drawing and art. She placed me in many after school and summer art programs and she was the one who talked to my high school guidance counselor about art schools. So she really gave me a lot of support to find my feet and feel like a career in art could be a reality.

Other than that the type of work I naturally am drawn to is narrative in nature, so studying illustration was an obvious fit for me.

Bookroo: What was a highlight of your time at RISD?

Jen: RISD operates on a two and a half semester system. The half semester is called Wintersession. It’s a six week period where students can take up to two classes which could be taking an elective class outside their major, filling in liberal arts credits or taking travel classes abroad. My Junior year I was able to take an architecture history/social history class to India. Twenty RISD students and two teachers traveled for five weeks from Mumbai to New Delhi studying the archtecture in relevance to the social structure of India. The sixth week we were allowed to travel on our own so a smaller group of us went to Kathmandu.

It was a really special time.

Bookroo: In addition to illustrating children’s books, what other projects do you work on with your skills as an illustrator?

_Jen: Ooh … I keep my hands in many pots. It’s part of the reason why I love freelance illustration … I never get bored. The opportunities are wide and varied. I do as many gallery shows as I possibly can. I just closed a show in Providence last week and will have a piece in a group show at Rotofugi in Chicago in December. I’ve done product design for Crate and Barrel, a board game called Lords and Ladies with my brother Jason, two years ago I was asked by Genevieve Gorder to design a one of a kind ornament for former FLOTUS, Michelle Obama. I’ve worked on editorial illustrations for Real Simple, The Smithsonian Magazine, Tin House, UU World Magazine and on and on and on. _

Bookroo: When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

Jen: My friends are my family and I spend a lot of time with them. I like to entertain so during the summer I try to have dinners on my front porch. I have a sizeable garden that I try to keep under control. I go on a lot of walks … I love to walk. Oh, I also love to sleep, I’ve got a good bed. But honestly on my downtime I’m often cooking up the next scheme for me to work on.

Bookroo: We’ve heard you’re a big fan of breakfast. What are your favorites?

Jen: Currently my favorite breakfast is half a bagel from a local, new bagel shop in town that makes AMAZING bagels, butter, scrambled egg, homemade pickled red onions and chopped up cherry tomatoes. I really enjoy going out to breakfast with someone who will split a sweet dish and a savory dish. I like a waffle, but I never want a whole one … or a whole stack of pancakes. And now that it is getting colder I am looking forward to steel cut oatmeal. I basically love breakfast because it’s so mix and matchy if you do it right. I like to build.

Bookroo: Do you have any upcoming children’s books you’d like to share with our community of book lovers?

Jen: In January, Brave Jane: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel, written by Lisa Pliscou becomes available to the public. It’s a children’s biography of Jane Austen that I really enjoyed working on. I was even able to travel to England to research the areas that Jane Austen lived. I am currently working on Small World, a book written by Ishta Mercurio. It is a STEM-concept story that explores a girl's journey of growing up in the world and discovering its beauty.

We really appreciate Jen’s willingness to share more about herself and her work with us. Who's ready for breakfast?! You can learn more about her on her website. And please let us know what you enjoyed from the interview in the comments below!

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