Kathleen Jennings is based in Brisbane, Australia. She is a three-time World Fantasy Award nominee and has won a number of Australian Ditmar awards for her illustrations. She can be found online at tanaudel.wordpress.com and kathleenjennings.com.
Kathleen provided art for this week’s story, “London Calling” by Philip A. Suggars.
This interview was conducted by email in February 2017.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Kathleen Jennings: I've always drawn on nearly every surface I come across, but I studied literature, German, and law. I worked as a translator and lawyer while learning to illustrate. The best thing I did was to draw something (even just a smiley face) every day, and to draw something from outside of my own head and put it online every week. To do that, I took part in the Illustration Friday challenge (and still do when I can). This made me get involved with other artists, learn, accept critique, and develop a backlog of art that formed the beginnings of a portfolio. Then art directors and publishers—first and especially Small Beer Press—took charge of me and made me stretch my skills.
Tory Hoke: Your work, like your illustrations for Ellen Kushner's Riverside novels prequel, Tremontaine, often makes striking compositions out of silhouettes. How did you develop this style? What do you find it has the power to do?
Kathleen Jennings: I've played with silhouettes for a long time, starting with some craft books that drew on traditional cut-paper designs, and then blending those with my love for Arthur Rackham's illustrations. I started seriously developing the style about five years ago in preparation for a fairytale-themed art show, and I fell in love with the possibilities.
I think its power comes from its rigorous simplicity: it forces me to translate all the expression, colour, and layering into outline and movement. Silhouette is an important part of regular illustration and animation anyway, because it is one of the first elements that makes a picture intelligible. It can be quite decorative, but it also does something more realistic illustrations sometimes have to sacrifice: creating a space for the viewer to fill in their own details.
Tory Hoke: Is there any way someone could get hold of wrapping paper of your fabric designs for the Hebrew language edition of Ursula Moray William's Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat?
Kathleen Jennings: Why, yes—yes there is. The fabric designs are up on Spoonflower, and most of them have an option to buy the design as wrapping paper (or wallpaper). I also put a couple of the designs on Redbubble, if people like the patterns but prefer not to have to make things themselves.
Tory Hoke: What inspires your creations? What effect do you hope to have on your viewer?
Kathleen Jennings: I do like to make beautiful pieces—images that work as a single work. However it's important to me that there is a sense of movement and story in the picture, however slight. Where are all the little silhouettes of people with swords running [to] in a Tremontaine picture? Why are the landmarks of London shifting and skewed in "London Calling"?
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Kathleen Jennings: There is a supportive, professional art community in Brisbane, but I am still getting to know everyone there. I got into illustration through the writing community, and most of the artists I know well I've met at conventions or art residencies, so most of my community is online.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Kathleen Jennings: Some of my favourite illustrators currently working include Rovina Cai, Kali Ciesemier, Omar Rayyan and Charles Vess (this is not an exhaustive list). There is a movement and energy and a sense of humour in their work that is nevertheless dignified and grave. It's a very powerful style of illustration: both ornamental and expressive, beautiful as an object but clearly leading to events beyond the frame.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Kathleen Jennings: Internal illustrations for books. This is more of a thing-I'd-like-to-see-from-publishers, but new printing technologies and funding models are creating the ability for presses (especially small ones) to make books that are beautiful objects all the way through.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Kathleen Jennings: At the moment, it's to be turned loose on some big classic (established or new) just to draw my way through it as I see fit. I did this with Angela Slatter's Bitterwood Bible for Tartarus, and it was so much fun. I love creating illustrations that are an ongoing chat with the text as I read it.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Kathleen Jennings: I'm working on an Australian Gothic/fairytale novella as part of my MPhil degree. It's to be illustrated, which is a challenge all its own because, while I often sketch writing notes, I rarely illustrate my own completed stories.
I've also started a Patreon to help explore some of my dream projects—I can test out ideas and concepts and share them with my supporters there. It's early days, but already I've been playing around with illustrated story concepts and stationery designs.
And of course there are illustrations for all sorts of Very Good Books in the pipeline.
Tory Hoke: Thank you for your time, Kathleen! It's been a pleasure.