Arkansas Author/Illustrator November 2020
Author/Illustrator Jacki Kellum recommends that any aspiring children’s book illustrator “feel the magic” and never quit learning if you want to be successful in this challenging and creative field. With a double BA in Art and English with an emphasis in writing, and an MA in English from the University of Mississippi/Ole Miss, Jacki still considers herself to be an “illustrator-in-training” although she has been attending SCBWI conferences for the past 20 years, and won Best Portfolio at the 2019 Fall SCBWI-AR event—“At every SCBWI conference, I learn several things new.”
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Although I grew up in a tiny, rural farm community, my dad was the only adult around who studied art after high school. In the way that kids do, I simply accepted that my dad was a cartoonist, and unlike other children in my community, I had a library of cartooning books. Even when I was very young, I would drag out my dad’s cartooning books, and I would copy the cartoon lessons. The whole thing was simply part of my childhood. Even during elementary school, I realized that I was very visual. I knew that I noticed many things that other kids around me didn’t see at all, and I began seeking ways to show those other people what I saw.
My dad was also a natural storyteller. By the time that I could talk, I was smitten by stories, and I grew up with a pulsating desire to spin yarns. In high school, I discovered William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and that is when I became determined to write and illustrate for children.
What picture books most inspire you?
Where the Wild Things Are changed my life. That was the first picture book that I perceived as absolute magic. An old, old picture book The Last Puppy also inspired me—in a much different way. That story touched and spoke to the almost sad, quiet places in my heart. In that book, I discovered the healing capacity of picture books. The entire Click, Clack Moo series has inspired me. Although those books have an illustrator who is not also the author, they reflect a perfect marriage of image and text.
If you chose a favorite book or story to illustrate, what would that be?
Little Red Riding Hood. I like that story because it is laced with magic. My second choice would be Hansel and Gretel. I have an intrinsic need to create the Gingerbread house. I want to draw that house and afterward, I want to live in it.
What is a typical workday for you? Describe your best workday.
Unfortunately, I have not achieved a typical workday. On my best days, I get up and begin my art immediately after my first cup of coffee. I work best first thing in the morning. My art is spontaneous, and I need to be fresh to be spontaneous in my painting. At about noon, I quit trying to paint, and I begin planning my next day’s work. That is when I research images on my computer, and I begin to make preliminary studies
It is important to note, however, that because I both write and illustrate, some of my best days are writing days. I must write first thing in the morning, too.
Any new or upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?
Nothing I can talk about officially, but I can say that I have a book coming out with Random House Children’s Books that I am excited about and will be able to share more soon!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a children’s book illustrator?
Feel the magic. By that, I mean that picture book authors and illustrators need to be able to see the nuggets of gold in everyday life. Those are the more abstract goals for any picture book author and illustrator. More specifically, my advice is that everyone who wants to be a picture book illustrator should begin working toward that goal today. Don’t delay in your pursuit. Conquer your fear. Allow yourself to make mistakes and to throw those mistakes away. Truly study the planes of the human face and the other aspects of human anatomy. Understand value in lighting. Conquer at least one type of media, and work toward your goal every second that you can. Persevere.
“Writing and illustrating are simply who I am. My art is like my breathing. It is part of my being.”
Jacki Kellum website: https://jackikellum.com/picture-book-illustrations/