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An Interview with Jennifer Black Reinhardt

By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff

Hello friends, and happy Wednesday! Our Adventures with Flora are coming to an end as we finish South Pole Pig this week. However, the fun is not over yet! You may have noticed the wonderful illustrations present throughout our reading. The woman behind these illustrations is Jennifer Black Reinhardt, and today we’re lucky enough to feature an interview with her. We hope you’re inspired to pick up a pencil and start sketching after reading this piece, enjoy!

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in art?

When I was in second grade, I drew a series of caricatures that I called “Kidlets.” My teacher loved them and was very encouraging. One day I drew a picture of a little boy all covered with hair and since I knew no one would really know what it was, I wrote this underneath it, “My brother needs a haircut---NOW!” It made everyone laugh and I realized the power of pictures being combined with words to tell a story. From that moment on I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

How long have you been drawing? Do you draw daily?

I think most kids love to draw and I was not an exception. What I do remember, though, is really studying lines. How the curve of a line creates a silhouette. How I could change the shape of one line just a little tiny bit and create an entirely different character.

I do draw most days. I remember ever since I was very young feeling an almost physical ‘need’ to draw.

How did you come to be the illustrator for The Adventures of a South Pole Pig?

For several years, I had been sending promotional art postcards to Christine Kettner, who was the Senior Art Director at HMH. I never heard anything, until out of the blue I received an email asking if I would be interested in illustrating a book for them. She told me about the story and the characters, and I said, “Sure!” We later presented together at a conference and I was able to hear her side of the story. They were looking for an illustrator who could have a delicate line and not draw too ‘cute’. She had pinned some postcards of mine up to her board and thought I would be a good match.

What was the process of illustrating a novel like? How did you develop what the characters would look like?

The character sketches were the first step. They were still finalizing the manuscript and working on page layouts, so Christine sent me excerpts from Chris’s writing where he described the characters, or scenes where they seemed to really show their personalities. The editor also sent along a photograph of a pig that Chris said was what he thought Flora would look like. It was a very cute pig with large ears.

I did do several pieces that weren’t used as final artwork. Initially, I used a great deal more cross-hatching and detail in the illustrations and they wanted them very simple and ‘clean’.

I then read the novel (and cried) and began sketching. Christine sent me galley layouts where space was left on the page for me to fill. You will notice when you look at the pages in the book that sometimes the type wraps around an area and I needed to design the shape of the illustration to fit that space. They didn’t usually tell me what the illustration should be, sometimes an editor will add a brief description of what they would like to see illustrated. I was pretty much given free reign to draw what I wanted to.

When you're not illustrating novels, what is your favorite thing to draw?

I love writing and illustrating picture books. They are quite different in concept and execution than a novel. In a novel, the illustrator is brought in near the end of the bookmaking process to kind of decorate the page by providing a visual synopsis of what the author has described in the text. With a picture book, that is not the case at all. A picture book should be a marriage between the words and the artwork. The illustrator is brought on board as soon as the manuscript is fairly completed, to bring in their own expertise, creativity, ideas, and to add a new dimension to the story.

What’s your ideal working environment, or where do you do most of your work?

I have my own room upstairs in our two story house. It’s very bright and the windows look into the treetops. I am from a family of artists and collectors of quirky oddities. Therefore, my walls are covered with art that I adore. I really enjoy being surrounded by color and things that make me smile.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Old things. All kinds of old things. Things that are weird, handmade, that should have been thrown away, but someone loved. Antique pictures of people that I don’t know. I really enjoy items that have a history and a story of their own. The odder and more misfit it is, the more I find it loveable and interesting. I believe that’s why the books that I write, and my favorite books by others, embrace that feeling of finding and appreciating the perfection of imperfection.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

You need to be the first--- the one--- the only person--- to believe in your work. Hopefully, down the road other people will climb on board with you, but they are not going to hop on your bus if you’re not driving. And that is much easier said than done.

It’s very difficult when you are surrounded by other people’s inspiring work, to not be critical of your own style. Try very, very hard to embrace the differences that make your artwork truly yours. Hold on to that uniqueness tightly, don’t let go, and don’t give up--- Because having THAT is what will bring you happiness.

We love Jennifer’s advice, and we’re holding it tight as we go about our days. Know this, while you must be the first person to believe in your work, we believe in each and every one of you. You are the future artists, writers, and great minds of our society! Embrace that, cherish it! As you begin mastering your chosen craft we hope you’ll share it by tagging us on social media (@readtothem). We’ll see you on Friday for our last Friday Reconnect of this read. Until then, stay kind and be you!

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