2012 Snapshot Archive: Kathleen Jennings

First published at Tansy Rayner Roberts’ blog.

Kathleen Jennings is an illustrator and writer based in Brisbane, Australia. Her recent short comic “Finishing School” was nominated for the Aurealis Awards for Best YA Short Story, and for the Ditmar for Best Artwork (along with her cover for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze). You can see examples of her work, especially the gorgeous fan series The Dalek Game, at her website.

Check out Kathleen’s 2010 Snapshot here.

1. Kathleen, you’re rapidly becoming known as both a professional and fan artist in the Australian (and international!) spec fic field – from your blog with the running series ‘The Dalek Game’ to your pro work with Small Beer Press, and all manner of projects in between. You’ve even been drawing portraits of Australian spec fic writers! What have been some of the most fun and exciting artistic challenges of the last few years?

Oh, everything! I learn in bounds from each project and I love them all, from the ones I complain and agonize over for months (90% of the work is angst) to the last-minute requests for emergency llamas. It’s all a bit surreal, but I like being the woman to call when you need a llama.

I like putting dream jobs or collaborations on my wishlist and having them come true – getting to work with Small Beer Press to the point that I don’t fall off my chair when I get an email from them (I did the first time), having my nagging pay off when I want to try a new technique on a project, getting away with some terrible little private jokes in the background and pictures of “Finishing School”. Even being asked to submit for Steampunk! Being introduced as “this is Kathleen – she draws Daleks!” and having people say, “What’s a Dalek?”. Being asked to design a wedding invitation with Daleks on it. The back-and-forth with art directors, whether at publishers or lurking in their lairs. Getting to illustrate a Catherynne Valente story!

2. Speaking of which, you recently worked on the cover and illustrations for a Valente story with Fablecroft Publishing and To Spin A Darker Stair. What was most challenging for you about the project, and are you pleased with the results?

Catherynne Valente and Faith Mudge 🙂

The most challenging aspect was coming up with a single cover image that would suit both stories – the subjects and moods – and not prefer one to the other. I gave Tehani about ten thumbnail sketches, and the final image wasn’t one of them! A full collection is a lot easier. I am happy with the result, because the image is very obviously a fairytale one, but doesn’t (I hope!) give any plots away.

I thought the internal illustrations would be simpler, because I got to do two for each story, but I hit a snag on my technique there – I’m happy with them as far as I could go with the particular technique I used at the time (and I love the staircase in the first illustration) but I’ve adapted my process since then and I think I’m getting freer handed. But that’s always the way – I learn so much on every project. I have to squint sideways to look at some of the line work in “Finishing School” now!

3. What projects can we look forward to see from you next – both as an artist and as a writer?

Hah. I hate opening my mouth about new projects, just in case! Or maybe I just enjoy dropping cryptic hints. As I write this, I’m putting the final touches on a cover and internal spot illustrations for an Australian children’s fantasy novel, and drawing thumbnail sketches for covers of several very different upcoming novels, featuring smiths and submarines, cities and woodcuts and tornadoes. I’ve also done one of my favourite covers for a reissue of an important collection of stories and it is really hard keeping my mouth shut, because I want to hold it up and say, “Look what I nagged them into letting me get away with! Isn’t it pretty?”

I have a few short stories which are finding their way out into the world (sometimes after torture by evil Doctors) and a Large Amorphous Manuscript which I pull out and edit whenever I wish to taste of despair. I’m conscious of how much time writing (or at least editing) needs as opposed to illustration, so I’m taking steps to keep them balanced. I have to be deliberate, because I also have a full-time office job, and because writing and drawing blend in my mind – almost all my drawings form part of a story (in my head or otherwise), and my writing notes and drafts often include sketches.

And after saying I never wanted to LOOK at another comic again after nearly getting heat stroke while completing “Finishing School”, I’m working on another piece. I had the brilliant idea of trying to integrate a parlour game with the plot and it’s like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube, so we’ll see how that goes.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I don’t like leaving anyone out, so I’ll only admit to several unpublished stories by Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett, which are pure magic. I want to draw the obscure hints and details in the corners of them but they have Other Plans and won’t let me. Yet. But watch out for that when it’s published!

5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4 and our last Snaphot, what has changed most for you?

I’ve been taking this seriously, if quietly, for a while and I don’t notice things changing. But then I put my head up and realise how much landscape has gone by. I know so many more people and have had the opportunity to work with authors and editors I never expected to – and more than once! People know me, and aren’t too startled when I drag them off to have coffee. There are instances of reciprocal fannishness which is… weird, but very cool. People get excited about idle daydream projects. So it’s as if I was allowed to take all the best bits of two years ago, and then they were made even better.


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