This is my interview with Jenni Desmond.
Which image did you start with in this book? The image on the front cover of ‘The Blue Whale’ is almost exactly the image I started with at the beginning. I loved the juxtaposition of a huge blue whale and the tiny little boat. I had no idea how this book would turn out when I sketched this image.
What inspired you to write this book? I found some blue whale facts one day and was really excited by them, they filled me with so much wonder. I sketched out the whole book in about a day but then got distracted and put it in a drawer and half forgot about it. A few months later, I had a meeting with Claudia at Enchanted Lion and she asked me if I had any new ideas. Claudia bought the multiple book series on the spot.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing this book? As the book developed and became much more complicated, I realised I was slightly out of my depth and we decided to get some help from Diane Gendron, a blue whale expert. One of my questions was whether 50 people could definitely fit inside a blue whale’s mouth. She had a boat that was a similar size to the mouth, and she got her students to stand in the boat, and then her friend did a similar thing with a blue whale’s skeleton. She confirmed that at least 50 people could fit inside!
Were you creative as a child? I drew constantly as a child. I think I found it easier to express my emotions using drawings. If I was angry I would draw myself stomping and shouting. If I was happy and excited I drew myself leaping about doing cartwheels and handstands. Actually, I still do this.
How did you come to be an author and illustrator? I did an art foundation and then studied English and History of Art at university. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do as a career. I wandered about a bit until I did a week’s course in children’s book illustration, where my world suddenly filled with light and I realised I wanted to make picture books more than anything in the world. I did a masters part-time in children’s book illustration and got an agent and publisher after graduation.
What keeps you fresh and inspired on a creative level? My number one thing is probably making my brain work properly by getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthily. I try to watch lots of films, go to exhibitions, and visit new places. I have a weakness for interior design which often inspires my work quite a lot. I am also doing ceramics at the moment, its great to do something creative that is completely different to books, it has definitely fed into my work.
Career highlight so far? 2016! At the beginning of 2016 I spent a month on Maurice Sendak’s farm in upstate New York as a Sendak fellow, it was such a special, magical time. At the end of 2016, my second book in the series, ‘The Polar Bear’ came out and won a New York Times Best Illustrated Picture Book, which was so exciting.
What are you reading now? I have a pile of books by my bed. ‘Independent People’ by Laxness, ‘White’ by Kenya Hara, ‘Oranges’ by Anne Michaels, ‘Caldecott & Co; Notes on Books & Pictures’ by Maurice Sendak, and the picture book ‘What Color Is The Wind?’ by Anne Herbauts. I recommend them all!
What are your favourite tools? I use a lightbox constantly when doing roughs, and also when tracing roughs to final artwork. I sketch with a 2b mechanical Faber-Castell pencil, and a slim click rubber. I then paint with acrylic paint and watercolours – I recently got some Schmincke watercolours which are wonderful.
Website address: www.jennidesmond.com
Read my review of ‘The Blue Whale’ here: http://www.readmeblogsite.net/2016/09/30/great-picture-books/