Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 16, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Jaclyn Sinquett

Jaclyn Sinquett grew up playing in her dad’s garden, feeding worms to box turtles and tossing french fries to seagulls at the Jersey shore. She now spends her time painting shells with her little daughter, catching up on a certain great baking show, and illustrating books for children. Her favorite color is yellow ochre.

Her family always encouraged her creativity and provided inspiration with gorgeous nature books and lots of different art supplies.

Jaclyn still loves drawing animals and nature, and crafting thoughtful, detailed illustrations using a wide range of techniques. Her work is best loved for its fresh color palettes, hand-lettering, and characters that touch the heart.

Jaclyn received her BFA in Illustration from the University of the Arts in 2008. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is proud to be represented by Christy Tugeau Ewers at the CAT Agency.

Here is Jaclyn discussing her process:

I started work on It Will Be OK: A story of empathy, kindness, and friendship (written by Lisa Katzenberger and publishing with Sourcebooks in Feb. 2021) by reading the manuscript about a million times.


I took notes and researched the characters, in this case a giraffe and zebra. I gathered inspiration of how other artists have illustrated these animals, and started experimenting with how to make mine unique and memorable. I landed on this character study which I shared with the publisher and author. I did refine Zebra and Giraffe more after this, as the sketch process revealed more of who they were to me. Next steps were to create super rough, tiny thumbnail sketches of the whole book, playing with scale and perspective. Once I was happy with the general layout for the whole book, I blew up my thumbnails and sketched right on top of them at full size.

Here is the refined sketch for this spread. This is done completely in Procreate with a pencil brush. I always place type in my sketches using Indesign, something I picked up while working at FSG. For me, the type must be treated as part of the art/composition.

I created a small dummy of all my sketches to be sure I liked the flow of the book.

Once my sketches were approved, I moved on to final art. I painted both the main characters for this book traditionally and worked on them digitally afterwards. Here you can see me working on Zebra – he’s quite scaled up. To do this, I printed a large version of my sketch and used a lightbox to trace the image onto smooth bristol. This was then painted with watercolor and color pencil. I always put sketches and other final paintings out around my work surface, so I can check for consistency. I kept all the color pencils I used for the main characters separate so I had quick access to them.

I tried to keep a lot of life in the painting, as I loved the sketches for this project and didn’t want to lose that energy. Sometimes I think I spend too much of the creative juice on the sketches…it can be hard to recreate the life in the final art. Here is the finished painting scanned and roughly tiled together. At this point I would clean up the image and do some color correction, remove any dust or stray marks. Then I would place him in the scene, and digitally compose the background. I’d add transparent layers over him with extra washes and details. I love the pencil brush in Procreate for adding nice dark lines and definition.

To build the background imagery, I used a library of scanned painted and drawn textures. I especially liked keeping the tree trunk a simple shape full of natural texture from the brushstrokes. I like combining the refined painting of the main characters with a looser approach like this to scenery.

Here is the finished spread.

How long have you been illustrating?

I graduated from the University of the Arts in 2008 and have been working ever since. Sometimes that’s looked more like graphic design, but illustration has always played a huge role in my professional life, even when it wasn’t strictly my job description. So I think it’s safe to say I’ve been illustrating 12 years. I’m pretty new to children’s publishing, though, and have only been illustrating in that field for the last 2 years or so.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I did an illustration for a summer reading program brochure for the New York Public Library back in 2008, I think that counts as my first official illustration gig. I cringe when I look back on the art, though…I just dug up the old emails and I’ve grown a LOT in the last decade!

What made you decide on attending The University of the Arts in Philadelphia?

I had been going to school at The College of New Jersey for Fine Art, but ultimately decided I needed something more specified. A kind professor suggested I was a natural illustrator, so I ran with that. I went to an open house event at The University of the Arts and really fell in love with the program—at the time, the illustration degree was broken out into 3 different concentrations: traditional, digital, and design. I really loved the idea of the design track, which seemed practical and well-rounded, blending in graphic design skills with illustration. Plus I’ve always been attracted to working with type and lettering.

Why did you choose illustration as a major?

I loved creating characters and telling stories. I loved solving visual problems and working with metaphor. Oh, and I was totally in love with the idea of my art being printed/sold/seen/used by people in the real world.

Did you take any children’s illustrating classes?

I never took any classes that were specifically about children’s books, though we often learned about them in the main illustration courses.

Did art school help you find work when you graduated?

Yes, they put me in contact with the people at FSG, where I started working as a Junior Designer.

How did you find the job as a Junior Graphic Designer at Farrar, Straus and Giroux after graduation?

The Illustration Chairman at UArts put me in touch with the Art Director at FSG to set up an interview. I was hired to replace another alumni who was moving on.

Did you move to NYC for that job?

Nope, I commuted all the way into Manhattan from PA every day. It was pretty insane and not at all sustainable! But I was young and got the apartment before I got the job.

Do you feel like you learned things by working there that helped you at other jobs?

Oh my gosh, yes. I learned so, so much about designing, working with illustrators, editors, art directors, and a marketing team, and I learned the importance of keeping super organized files. Working in a team setting and seeing “behind the scenes” in publishing was really cool. I didn’t really know what I wanted at that time in my life, and the commute was torture, so I ultimately decided to move on. But I’m forever grateful for that experience and for the incredible team I got to work with. I was lucky to be shown the ropes by designer Jay Colvin, to work with the incredible Frances Foster, and see lots of gorgeous original art (Georg Hallensleben, Peter Sís).

What do you think help you develop your style?

I really, really struggled with this, like so many artists do. I loved creating all different kinds of art, for all different subjects and interests, in lots of different mediums…This made it really impossible to see what I should be narrowing in on. Ultimately nothing but time and creating tons and tons of art made me realize what I wanted to do most. Style follows that, at least for me. I also had to figure out who I was as a person, and what made me tick, what made me happy. I had to grow up some more and figure out where my artistic soul lived. That sounds really dreamy but for me it was true.

I honed my skills as an illustrator working in greeting cards – I still do today. The job offers tons of variation in subject and freedom to experiment with different techniques. Think how different a birthday card for mommy from a young daughter is from a sympathy card for a neighbor, for example. I learned so much about tuning my voice…It’s about who your illustration is for, where it’s coming from, and what you want it to do in the world.

One day I realized I was happiest when I got to create the kids’ cards. I was my most pure artistic self when putting faces on food and painting unicorns. Not sure what that says about me exactly other than I am, at my deepest level, a very silly and sincere person.

I still consider my style to be one that fluctuates with my voice, and with the purpose of the project at hand. I think I’ll always be evolving in that way.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

A few years into illustrating greeting cards, I realized my greatest love was in children’s illustration. I also realized I loved telling stories with my art. I started longing for deeper meaning and narrative in my work, looking for a chance to develop characters more. I was incredibly intimidated at the prospect of starting down the publishing journey, and so I pinned it to a cork board with a caption “someday.” It sat there, untouched for awhile. Then I had a baby girl and realized I needed to create my “someday” or it would never happen. I needed to show her how to really chase down her dreams and believe in herself – how to try your hardest at something you care deeply about, even if you might fail doing so. And I needed to find out if I could make this happen for myself – I could live with failing, but I couldn’t live with myself if I never really tried. So I leapt in. I joined SCBWI, started building up a portfolio with the scraps of time I could string together while working and being a new mother. I started cold-e-mailing people. I got lucky.

How did you connect with your agent Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency?

One of those cold-emails landed in the inbox of the incredible Joann Hill at Disney-Hyperion. She so graciously offered to meet with me and do an in-person portfolio review. Joann spent an hour of her time talking me through my pieces and giving me advice about next steps. Oh my gosh, I’ll always be grateful to her. She recommended a few agencies, and Christy’s was one of them—The CAT Agency. I had already been following Christy on Instagram and had fallen in love with the way she cheer-leaded her illustrators. I also really loved the illustrators on her roster, and how friendly and supportive they were towards each other. I was looking for community. So I worked on my portfolio and reached out to Christy, with all my fingers and toes crossed.

Christy responded with the sweetest email, brimming with kindness and encouragement, and a gentle decline at that time. She gave me a hugely in-depth portfolio review as well, and I took every word to heart. I set to work pushing myself creatively and completely replaced my portfolio with new, better pieces inspired by her and Joann’s advice. I met with Christy in person at a SCBWI conference, looking to thank her and show her my progress. Not long after that we were signing a contract to work together, and I couldn’t be happier. I have an agent that really sees me and believes in me as an artist and a person. I can be totally real with her and ask any questions and she’s always there for me. It’s a total partnership and I got really lucky landing with the right people. The agency vibe is great, too—no icky competitiveness. Nothing but support and encouragement, and advice whenever needed.

Was Sincerely, Emerson: A Girl, Her Letter, and the Helpers All Around Us your first illustrated book?

It’s my first published trade picture book, though I do have a button/board book published with Cottage Door Press that came out this Fall. I also created the artwork for It Will Be OK by Lisa Katzenberger before Sincerely, Emerson, which is publishing in February with Sourcebooks. It all sort of happened at once.

Did The Cat Agency get you that contract?

Yes, Christy is amazing. She suggested me for the project.


How long did HarperCollins give you to illustrated the book?

Sincerely, Emerson was a super rush project because it was/is so timely, and so needed right now! I had about 3 months start to finish. It was lots of fun and really wonderful working with the team at Harper and with Emerson on her inspiring story. I’m beyond grateful I got to work on this project for a million reasons. One of the many great things about it is how quickly it published after I created the art for it – so satisfying and exciting! I didn’t have to wait long for its book birthday.

You have another illustrated picture book coming out this February titled, It Will Be OK: A story of empathy, kindness, and friendship with Sourcebooks Explorer. Were you working on both books at once?

Oh I’m so in love with It Will Be OK. I can’t wait for the world to read this story! Yes, I think there was a week overlap where I wrapped final art for It Will Be OK and plunged into Emerson sketches. It was a thrill for sure. I felt like (still feel like) someone needed to pinch me.

You’ve been working at Designer Greetings for 8 years. Do you work from home or do you have to go into an office for that job?

I can’t really believe it’s been 8 years! But then I remember how much has happened and evolved in that time. Designer Greetings is so great and has been a wonderful resource for me as an artist. I’ve grown so much working in greeting cards, and I feel like I really discovered my style and my artistic purpose through this job. I’m working fully from home at this time and loving it. It has been really helpful creatively to work in my home studio, instead of commuting and working in an office environment. I did that for many many years, though, and it’s all doable. Lots of artists really benefit from traveling outside the home to work. I do miss seeing my lovely coworkers’ faces and working more closely with them, but we still stay connected and work together. And I just love being in my own space and feeling 100% comfortable, free to create. I am very introverted and a total homebody though, which I think helps!

Do you have you any other books?

Yes! I’ve had the pleasure of creating 2 sweet button/board books with Cottage Door Press. Farm Animals published in Fall of 2020 and I just recently wrapped up final art for Meet My Family. I’m also currently working on a super-fun book called I Love Strawberries! written by Shannon Anderson and publishing with Feeding Minds Press in Spring 2022. I can’t wait for the world to meet Jolie and her pet bunny, Munchy.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

Yes, I’ve gotten to do a couple projects with Ladybug Magazine, which were great fun.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Well I’m actually in the middle of moving. But I did have a lovely studio, and plan to have one again in my new home. It’s important to me to have a really fresh, comfortable space to work in (when I can —I also have a 3 year old!). But I also make little mini spaces all around the house to work in, so I can chip away at projects here and there all day long.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I won’t say I wouldn’t consider it, but I will say it would have to be incredibly compelling and a perfect fit for me.

You will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

Oh my gosh I have a hard time pinning one success over another, because it really is a journey…Signing with Christy was a big one, landing my first PB (It Will Be OK with Sourcebooks) was another. Probably the biggest success has to be my work on Sincerely, Emerson. The scope of that book project really humbled me. It’s based on a true story, and it’s really timely considering the world we are living in. It felt really big to work on that book. But honestly every project has felt big and special.

What is your favorite medium to use?

My favorite way to work is to combine some traditional watercolor painting and color pencil with digital painting. Then adding collaged textures in as well. I call it my “Frankenstein” process because things get all stitched together digitally.

Has that changed over time?

I’ve always been a digital painter, but the process has certainly evolved. I used to do a lot of pen and ink stuff when I was younger.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes, I do everything with either a Wacom tablet on my desktop, or the Apple Pencil on my iPad.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

I have a watercolor pan set (Yarka St. Petersburg Watercolors) that I really love to use with smooth bristol. I also have a huge supply of color pencils I’ve collected since I was a child. I used to gather art supplies at yard sales…some of these pencils are 25 years old or more. I have them sorted by color groups in big bags. I also use Photoshop and Procreate, and pull from a huge library of scanned paint and marker textures.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I don’t have a specific time goal, but I spend a lot of time working. Whenever I can, really. It brings me joy. I don’t really take days away from creating art. Even the stuff I do just for fun tends to involve creating something.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Oh yes, I do lots of researching and brainstorming. I try to think of every character or person in the story, who they are, where they live, what they like…that takes research. Setting, scenery and styling takes research and inspiration. I’m working on a book about a little girl who grows her own strawberries, and I’ve been reading tons about it. I even got to speak with a strawberry farmer in Florida who answered questions for me. It’s a great part of being an illustrator, constantly broadening and learning new things. And it’s so vital that there is accuracy, meaning, and representation in the illustration—especially when you make books for children.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

It’s certainly made inspiration and research easier. And I find Instagram to be a rewarding social media platform, where I’ve made many friends in the kid lit field. It’s great to find a community of like-minded artists, and the internet makes that really doable.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I hope to someday author-illustrate my own picture book(s!).

What are you working on now?

I’m developing I Love Strawberries! at the sketch stage at this time, written by Shannon Anderson and publishing with Feeding Minds Press in 2022. I’m also working on ideas for my own authored stories, and developing my portfolio (always).

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I use a “paper-feel” iPad screen protector that makes sketching much more enjoyable. It feels way more like pencil on paper. “ELECOM” brand, “smooth” surface for $19 on Amazon.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I will suggest that you make yourself fabulous to work with. Be organized, timely, accommodating (not a doormat, but a good team player), courteous, and professional. Getting that first job isn’t nearly as important as what you do with it and whether you get the one that follows. Make work you are proud to make. Take jobs that speak to your heart, and trust yourself. Be kind. Don’t worry too much about the fastest road or making your art fit a trend. Figure out your voice and what your work is supposed to do in the world, then get after it.

Jaclyn, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Jaclyn’s work, you can visit her at:

WEBSITE: www.jaclynsinquett.com

The Cat Agency: http://www.catugeau.com/jaclyn-sinquett-1

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Delightful art. Wonderful charming style.

    Like

  2. Wow! I’m always so in awe at such talent. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  3. Giraffe and Zebra are now two of my favorite expressives. And all of this other work by Jaclyn is similarly expressive and warm, even when the styles are different. Really beautiful illustrations.

    Like

  4. Great stuff! I love the mom and daughter cuddling under the stars. So sweet.

    Like

  5. Loved learning more about Jaclyn’s process! She is amazing!

    Like

  6. What a lovely feature! Jaclyn’s work is so beautiful! I adore it! And so happy to be part of the CAT family with her.❤️😀

    Like

  7. Love your work, Jaclyn! There is so much to see and enjoy! Well done. Best wishes!

    Like

  8. I love these illustrations. Your work is beautiful Jaclyn!

    Like


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