Monday, December 12, 2011

Jana Christy and John Seven
In Conversation with The Pen And Ink Blogspot

Jana and John
By Catherine Eun Lee, Contributing Blogger
Edited by L. Fernandez

Here's a wonderful couple doing amazing things. Illustrator Jana Christy and Writer John Seven sign their books just "jana and john." They are doing some neat things in the children's world, including their regular books! This husband and wife group that you can't seem to separate creates soft and wildly-fun stories with sometimes cute, crazy, yet amazingly beautiful paintings! She's terrific, and the stories will keep you coming back for more. Jana's blog is Enjoy.

First of all, what is it like to collaborate with your husband? Does it come easily for the both of you to work together? 
Jana: It's our favorite way of working and comes extremely easily. When we work on a project together everything is collaborative. John will work on an idea, then we sit down with it together. I may pipe in with writing suggestions, and he'll help out with pacing and layout. We often work side by side during the beginning stages of a book, go our separate ways then meet up at various stages of the process. 

John: We’re together almost all the time and spend a lot of it cracking each other up, so working together isn’t that big of a stretch. 

Your blog is amazing. It's like a historical view of your works and it's breathtaking. What art medium do you use? And do you use different art mediums together? Does your husband also help in your illustrations? What is your favorite way of working? 
Jana: Thanks! I work digitally, using an Axiotron Modbook and Corel Painter, Photoshop and digital collage. My favorite way of working is sitting on a comfy couch with my digital studio in my lap, a cup of tea next to me, music playing, and to know I have lots of uninterrupted hours ahead of me! 

Does writing come easily for you? What would one of your favorite first liners from one of your stories that have been published be? Were you always a writer, and always writing for children?
John: That depends on the day! I write something just about every day, since I am also a journalist, so I alternate between that work and personal projects. Sometimes stories just come out of me at rapid pace, other times it’s a more precise process that takes a lot more time. It comes easiest when the writing is in a voice that more reflects my own, but different stories have different needs.

I’ve been writing stories since I could first hand write. The earliest stories I remember doing were in one of those blue test books that you get at school. It was a series of stories called “Somewhere In Space” which was my version of the old television show, “Lost In Space.” That was typical of my goofy early efforts. When I was a kid, I also made tons of my own comic books.  I did that for years, but I was a horrible artist. I wrote all kinds of short stories through my teenage years, but never children’s stories.

As I got older, I thought I would go into film, but that really didn’t suit me and I settled back into writing. Jana was working on a children’s story of her own at the time and asked for my help. I ended up rewriting it and that was how our partnership began, as well as how I first wrote a children’s story. We worked on a few others together that were never published, but eventually moved onto doing comic books together for awhile, but creating children’s books together has always been our goal.

Do the stories come from personal experiences or just observation?
John: I’m sure there are little bits of personal experience in any of them as well as observation. They do reflect my world view and also my feelings about childhood. My general sense is that kids are usually more complex than they are given credit for and the entertainment they are given can reflect that complexity, either in portraying their emotional depth or their perception of the world. That’s at the very least what I try to do in any book I write for kids. 

Does observation mean a lot when thinking of illustrations, or does it just come to you through imagination? 
Jana: Observation does mean a lot, but not in a direct way. I mostly use my imagination when drawing, unless the subject is one that needs specifics, like some of the unusual creatures I painted in The Ocean Story. For those memory or imagination wouldn't do-- i needed reference material! 

What would your art most resemble? What style? Are there artists that you admire that you try to blend into your work? How long did it take you to develop your own distinct style? 
Jana: I think I have a variety of styles-- I really let the story dictate how the art will look. I just finished a book for Random House, which included fabric collage element- so texturally it was very interesting and had many layers, and my style needed to work with that. I don't think the illustrations look digitally rendered at all, but the process felt very non-traditional, very aided by technology. The book I'm currently working on for Abrams is for much younger kids, and I'm approaching this one totally different — in a more traditional way — digitally, but really just a large canvas with paints and pastels.

I don't consciously try to blend other illustrator’s styles into my own, but anything that I see and love probably registers way back in my art brain somewhere. I love the classic Golden Book illustrators- Alice & Martin Provensen, Tibor Gergeley, Mary Blair, Richard Scarry... I love Maurice Sendak, Paul O Zelinsky, Barbara Cooney and Giselle Potter. I don't think my art has actually changed all that much since I started working professionally — a bit more fine tuned through experience, but the essence of my characters, landscapes have always looked pretty much the same. What changes are the techniques that I learn and experiment with.

When you first got represented by Kid Shannon ... was that exciting? When was that? How did that happen for you? 
Jana: I’ve been repped by Kid Shannon for 3 years — it's been incredibly exciting! I simply sent them an email with a link to my blog and got a phone call about a half an hour later. I think I needed a few minutes to calm down before I could return the call. They take their job as seriously as I take mine, and that's exactly what I was looking for in an agent. They've been able to connect me with excellent publishers, greeting card companies and ad agencies. Illustrating the World's Largest Children's Book as part of a promotion for Carnival Cruise and having it showcased in Rockefeller Center and on The Today Show was especially exciting!

What is your favorite book together, and where can they get a hold of it? 
Jana and John: We’re very proud of The Ocean Story, which is a book we were asked to do by Capstone Publishing. It was after the BP oil spill, and they wanted a book that could explain that story to kids as well plus other dangers to the ocean as well as the wonders of it. Jana began the illustrations in a cottage overlooking the sea, in New Brunswick Canada where we were vacationing. Watching whales, porpoises, seals, as well as all of the plastic detritus that washed up on the beach every morning added an extra dimension of inspiration to the art. The book is available through Amazon. The Ocean Story received amazing reviews, including one from the School Library Journal, which meant a lot to us. We recently found that the book was honored with Creative Child's Magazine's 2011 Seal of Excellence award. We'd love to do another story along these lines.

What other journeys do the both of you see together, and separately?
Jana and John: We're very interested in exploring different methods of storytelling. In 2011 we did a web comic called Happy Punks, self published A Child's Guide To Anarchy, created a handmade mini-accordion book called Occupy 1.2.3 in coordination with Occupy Boston and signed a deal with Abrams to do a picture book tentatively titled A Year With Me that uses comic book sequential story telling. We're working on some other sequential storytelling books- that's an area we'd like to work in further. We'll also be creating more handmade books to sell at the MOCCA Festival in NYC this spring. We're looking in creating iPad apps as another way to tell stories. 

We also love creating music together! We've been so incredibly busy this past year with our various publishing ventures, we haven't had as much time to goof around with our collection of instruments as we'd like. We're planning on spending more time doing that in 2012, for sure.

Can you both give me a quote that you love? 
John: “I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream." - Moomin Papa
"Stop pretending art is hard." -Amanda Palmer

The Kidney Thing: will you ever come out with a book about this? It has a personal touch to me because my brother is going through kidney dialysis, and I was not a match for him. It's a touching story. 
Jana: Thank you! It's great that you tried to become a donor for your brother-- I hope he's doing well. I was really just journaling as therapy during the donation process- it can be very nerve wracking, emotional time and drawing pictures and writing down the experience helped. It allowed me to view every appointment as an art assignment instead of one step closer to having an organ removed! I would love for The Kidney Thing to become a book. I might want to tinker with it a bit- I have some extra material I'd like to add. I'd love more people to see it to help the cause of live organ donation! 

Animation: I saw two of your animations, and I love "I offer prosperity and eternal life" Where do you find all the time to do this? And is there a link where people could see this animation work? 
Jana: Here's a link to my animation page. I'm far from really knowing what I'm doing, animation-wise, I'm still just playing around, but it's fun! I love playing with different forms of storytelling, including animation. I'm not terribly great with words, so it’s fun for me to tell a story in an exclusively visual way. As far as time goes---I'm happiest when I'm creating, so as soon as I have a break between assignments I draw or paint. Our house is like one big art studio- john's writing all day, I'm drawing, and our kids, whom are home-schooled, spend most of their day drawing, writing, composing music, playing instruments or making films. It's just what makes us happy. 

A Rule to Break: was this work with your husband? It's so extraordinary. Its illustrations are lively, active, and emotional. I love this style about your work. Was this fun to do? And can you explain the book? And where can people find this? 
Jana: A Rule Is To Break is available through some local bookstores and museums and can be ordered through Amazon. John and I wanted to create a story where the child taught a lesson to adults as opposed to the traditional dynamic in children's books. The lesson being, that sometimes rules are stifling and need to be broken. That's pretty much how we've lived our lives and raised our kids so the book also functions a personal manifesto, which is why we self published it. The art was a complete hoot to do-- it needed to reflect the little Wild Child's complete freedom and was very liberating to paint! We're working with a fan in Argentina who is translating the book into Spanish for us- that will be exciting! We'd love to do other language translations as well.

I’d like to thank Jana Christy and John Seven for granting this interview.
Catherine Eun Lee
The Management would like to take this opportunity to introduce our contributing blogger, Catherine Eun Lee.

“I graduated California State University of Fullerton with a BA in Communications majoring in Print Journalism, and worked as an Assistant Editor for a trade publication until taking care of my ill mother at home for years. Now, I work in the fashion industry managing a lounge-wear manufacturing company, while working at nights and weekends on children's stories and illustrations. This past week, The LA Times just published my story called Mustard and Pea, and I am currently working on illustrations for a pre-school book called The Cookie Jar that will be released in 2012. Although this is not my REAL job yet and I’m still dipping my feet into this nice reservoir, I plan to swim and play in there more in the New Year.”


  1. The jellyfish illustration is my favorite.

  2. Love this interview and learning about yet another great illustrator through the SCBWI Blog Challenge!


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