A good friend of Jenny's suggested I consider her for a MamaView, and I'm so glad she did! What a treasure trove of beautiful work and inspiring thoughts her website is. And just after "meeting" her I saw her picture book
on display at our local library. Check it out if you haven't already, it's wonderful. I love the chance this series has given me to get to know mamas of sorts of different stripes; so many talented, thoughtful, passionate women out there! I hope you enjoy getting to know Jenny as much as I did.
You seem very aware of the process of acquiring experiences that influence your art. Tell us about a few key experiences that have influenced you creatively.
Childhood memories. My first picture book, My Travelin' Eye , is one story from my little years, but there are also many other bits of stories recorded in the details of the pictures. Sneaking personal things into my books adds another layer of excitement and interest for me in creating them. There is so much stored in our memories. I love doing timed journal writings about my childhood because I rediscover so many things.
Traveling. It fuels my artist soul! Plus, I'm always up for an adventure: a road trip in the SW or months in SE Asia, a bombardment of eye-candy that fills my 'idea bank', a people watcher's heaven, and a place my spirit feels at home. The inspiration for my first trip to Nepal was to make art with kids in villages. A project we did together, along with several sketchbooks from Nepal and India over some years, planted the seed for my next picture book, Same, Same but Different (due out next year with Henry Holt). I also see influences in my personal art, visually, in layers-upon-layers of textures and elements, juxtaposing subject matter, and in color palettes; in content, it comes out in a more abstract, spiritual way.
And Nature. Living in the mountains, homesteading, gardening, sitting by the river, walking in tall pines, and especially extended time in the wilderness -- 5-10 days at a time sleeping under the stars with no distractions. I can't say exactly how this influences my work, but it must. Maybe in sensitivity and subtleties. I just know it affects my whole being in a powerful way.
You seem to have had a lot of encouragement from family, teachers and friends in your creative pursuits. What advice would you give to parents who want to nurture their own children's creativity?
My parents were/are my biggest cheerleaders. I'm sure that's why I cheer so much for my daughter. My dad had read us The Little Engine That Could countless times throughout my life, and my mom stayed up late with me (ignoring bed times) so I could finish elaborate, "extra-credit" art projects. My parents weren't artists, but these 2 basic, yet powerful things, helped me on my path as an artist: cheering for and believing in me. I think this is also why I never once thought I couldn't or wouldn't be an artist.
What I didn't have, that I'm happy my daughter will have naturally, is to be surrounded with art and artists of all kinds, healing arts, too... We are really excited to home school, too, so we can nurture her in these ways.
How has becoming a mother changed you as an artist? What have you learned about your creative self through this role?
Well, I've only been a mama for 10 short months now...it's ALWAYS changing!...so it will be interesting to answer this question to myself again in 6 months or a year from now and so on...first, I will say time has been the biggest change, that is, lack of time, to create. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I will be honest, it's REALLY challenging. (But, I can see how it does keep getting easier.) I am a full-time mama and part-time artist, working in all the little cracks-n-crevices of naps and nighttime. Every day is different so I am learning to surrender to each day, however it unfolds, because mostly, I just feel so happy to be with my daughter. She is teaching me so much!
I am mostly illustrating these days. I somehow managed to finish a picture book this year (with the loving support of my husband)! Being a mama has also made me realize even more that writing and illustrating children's books is what I'm supposed to be doing. It's what makes me the happiest. And Tulsi is the best inspiration yet!
As far as my personal art...I've been seeing how this year (and here on out) is an experience like traveling, that is so full to the rim of new experiences, imagery, emotions, and growth. I have painted so many paintings in my head this year...and it's ok if they remain in my head for now. No judgments. I'm confident that if I'm patient, when time presents itself, they will come to life. So, aside from my book and illustration work, I'm appreciating this time for what it is, sacred and priceless.
I've also learned to be gentle with myself. To be more patient. That sleep is essential to a mama, even more than art sometimes. And I'm learning to seize small moments, get back into my sketchbooks, record ideas now for later, that may fly away if I don't, and, to work fast.
You certainly seem like a progressive pioneer to me; do you think so too? In what ways?
Has anyone ever commented on your mothering or offered advice that immediately caused your core to tighten up and propel you to stand taller and stronger in a defensive-Mama-bear-
Immediately when I learned I was pregnant, I thought about what resonated with me on this new path. We had our daughter, Tulsi, with midwives because, in my mind, that was the only way I envisioned it -- thru pregnancy, labor and birth. And it was the most beautiful and powerful experience in my life. In my travels in Nepal and India, I prefer to spend time in small villages. The simple tribal life, in-tune with nature, feels most comfortable to me, which is why we live the way we do. I specifically remember all the mothers with their babies wrapped against their chests or backs, nestled so close throughout the day as they worked at home or in the fields. It made sense to me then and does even more now. I also remember the day my husband brought me to the mountains where we now live. That was 8 years ago. It was remote, magical, and the most beautiful place on earth in my eyes. (Still is.) I asked him in that moment, "How do I do this? How do I quit my comfy corporate job to live here and do my art?" "You are a manifester," he answered. "You'll figure it out." Lucky for me, I got to do it with him.
We are building a sweet homestead in the mountains. I maybe get into a car once every 7-10 days. We live in a one-room, 750 sq ft house which naturally calls for "less stuff" and demands creativity. I love that we don't own a tv and that we all sleep together. We are vegetarians and grow our own food, which has to be the most exciting thing in the world to us, along with being parents. It's awesome to know that someday Tulsi will flourish on this food, but for now, she is thriving on my milk. The best thing about our little life is that we get to spend so much of time together since my husband works for himself, too.
Your definition definitely resonated with me as soon as I read it!...in my art, lifestyle, and being a mama. It's what I keep striving for. I feel like we have such a blessed life, but also, it is a life we are actively choosing. Not that it's better than anyone else's, but I think it's the best one for us. Still, we are always trying to simplify more and let go of some ways for others that feel more real to us. Your site is such a great space to share and grow with other mamas. Thank you so much, Amy, and I loved reading your thoughts on BLOOM! YOU ARE SO INSPIRING!
As an illustrator you must have your eyes out for exceptional picture books. What are some of your very favorites?
Can you think of a tougher question?! I'll start with some of my favorite authors and illustrator: M. Sasek, Margaret Wise Brown, Brian Wildsmith, Leo Leonni, Dr. Seuss, Winsor McCay, Clement Hurd, Richard Scarry, Sara Fanelli, Calef Brown, Giselle Potter, Maira Kalman, Peter Sis... I have a big library of picture books, but my list of books to add is much bigger. Just to name a few really special ones in my collection: The Little Red Fish by Taeeun Yoo, Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett, and The Sound of Colors by Jimmy Liao.
Jenny, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights with us. I've now got a new list of books to pick up at the library and added fuel for our dream of real homesteading some day! Keep in touch!