Q&A with Finn Jones Was Here illustrator, Jennifer Jamieson

We spoke to Jennifer Jamieson, the illustrator of Simon James Green’s latest middle-grade novel, Finn Jones Was Here, about illustrating emotional rollercoasters.

Finn Jones Was Here is out now.

Finn Jones Was Here

1. First of all, can you tell us about what drew you to working on Finn Jones Was Here?

Firstly, it was written by Simon James Green, so I knew it would be both funny and wonderful – the kind of book that I would want to immerse myself in for a few months. When I read the synopsis, the story was really interesting, unique, and also a challenge that I was really excited to take on as an illustrator.

I knew that this book would be a rollercoaster of emotions, and that’s precisely the kind of thing I love to draw. I firmly believe in using humour as a vehicle for important messages, and I was thrilled to be able to contribute my illustrations to the delivery of Simon’s brilliant jokes and powerful message.

2. What was your favourite illustration to create?

The illustration that was going to be the biggest challenge was the graphic novel double page spread. At first, I found it quite intimidating because there was a lot of story to fit into the spread. However, as I began to work on it, I fell in love with the process and it has inspired me to want to work more in a panel format and create more sequential illustrations in the future.

That being said, my favourite illustration from the book has to be the zip wire illustration. Sometimes when you read a text, a visual of the illustration pops into your head and just won’t leave until you transfer it from your mind onto the page. And that’s exactly what happened in this case. I knew I wanted to create a dynamic angle, with legs akimbo and panicked expressions on their faces. I am really happy with how it turned out, and I think it has become one of my favourites.

3. Can you tell us about how you got into illustration?

Illustration is actually a second career for me, having previously worked as a digital graphic designer for 15 years. Just before lockdown began, I had taken an online illustration course, and when the world shut down, I turned to this new hobby as a form of therapy. During this time, I joined the 100-day project, where I committed to drawing people in their lockdown lives each day for 100 days. I documented the happy moments, the sad, the tragic, the funny and inspiring.

This project became a fantastic way for me to find community and feel connected to the world around me. To my surprise, in the summer of 2020, an agent reached out to me and offered representation. It turns out that the unique and expressive characters that I had drawn during my 100-day project were the perfect foundation for a career as a children’s book illustrator.

4. Who are some of your favourite illustrators?

Oooh gosh I have about a thousand, is that allowed? As a child growing up in the West Country of England, I vividly remember reading stories about Pebble the horse by Benedict Blathwayt, a local author and illustrator who drew beautiful scenes of Exmoor and the spectacular coastline. Winnie the Witch and her Black cat, Wilbur, created by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas; I really love the humour and the movement in the characters. And the fantastic details in Winnie’s house, despite it all being black. I loved reading stories about Mog the cat by Judith Kerr. The relationship between Mog and Bunny is just wonderful. And now I’m wondering if this is why I love including cats in my artwork so much…

And now, these days I feel like I am surrounded by so many incredible illustrators. As a mum to young children, I take a lot of pleasure in reading with my kids and enjoying the illustrations together. Our favourites are Alex T Smith, for his brilliantly fun characters and hilarious stories. Jim Field, for his breathtaking scenes and brilliant compositions. Sara Ogilvie, especially her wonderful dog characters. Sarah Horne really is the queen of quirky characters. Tor Freeman, her comic strips are so, so funny. And David Roberts and his gorgeous line work, simple yet striking compositions, and the incredible fashion he dresses his characters in. There are also so many up and coming illustrators I’d love to shout out, but there are too many to mention, so I recommend you find my Instagram and my Substack newsletter where I love to celebrate brilliant, contemporary children’s illustrators.

5. What are your top tips for aspiring illustrators?

My absolute number one tip to give you the best chance of success is: KEEP GOING. I can say with 100% certainly the sure-fire way to not make it, is to stop. So in a word: draw. Draw every day, draw for fun, draw what makes you happy. Draw your kids, draw your cats, draw the neighbour’s cat. Draw like no one’s watching. Don’t be scared to post it on the internet, shout into the void. Keep doing this. I assure you, someone is watching, people will find you.

Try not to think about ‘finding your style’, because you are your style. It’s already in you, and only by drawing all the time will it show itself. Your style is in the mistakes you make when you’re trying to draw a hand, the imperfect way you paint a circle. Embrace your limitations and don’t worry when you see that the way you do things is different to the way other people do things, because those differences will become your super power.

Did I mention, don’t stop drawing?

Finn Jones Was Here illustration
Finn Jones Was Here illustration
Finn Jones Was Here illustration

Finn Jones Was Here
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Finn Jones Was Here is out now!

A funny, heartbreaking story about life and loss, and making every second count. Eric’s best friend, Finn Jones, was the world’s biggest prankster. Now Eric can’t believe Finn’s not here anymore. ...Or is he? Eric seems to be getting messages from beyond the grave, and as he follows Finn’s wild, cryptic instructions, his hope grows that he’ll find Finn laughing at the end. The journey also brings memories – and a truth that seems impossible to accept.

Simon James Green is the award-winning author of books like Sleepover Takeover and The Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck, which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Prize.

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