Behind the Book | Jennie Poh
last updated 04 December 2019
This month, we’re going behind the book of The Pirate Tree illustrated by Bright artist Jennie Poh, written by Brigita Orel and published by Lantana, an award-winning children’s book publisher of BAME authors and illustrators.
Described by Kirkus Reviews as ‘uplifting and perspective-bestowing’, The Pirate Tree is a gentle tale of overcoming differences through creative play. Jennie’s dreamy, textural illustrations bring this wonderful story to life; we were eager to hear about her creative process and her work on The Pirate Tree…
What’s your process when working on a book like The Pirate Tree?
We had a very tight deadline for this particular book, so unusually I went straight to colour rather than starting in black and white. I think I had a very definite idea about how I saw this book and the art after reading the manuscript, which is great when that happens. I started with the cover art and endpapers (which I love doing), and from there the rest of the artwork pulled together quite easily.
I like to work in photoshop, so I mainly work digitally these days! I always try and find interesting textures and try to make my own digital brushes from natural inks and paint marks to create a less digital feel.
How did you go about creating the characters?
I often watch my own children through play which is a great reference when illustrating children playing and interacting. I was very lucky to be given a loose brief for this project. Lantana (the publisher) gave me a lot of creative freedom. I initially sent the author character sketches and the development, which she really loved so then it was full speed after that!
How do your surroundings impact your creative work?
I have a little ritual before I start work. All domestic stuff must be absolutely clear (tidy house, tidy mind!) I do have a few indulgent niceties like a nice candle burning, a good cup of coffee and inspirational music playing in the background. I find I really have to set the scene before I’m ready to knuckle down.
Who or what inspired you to be an illustrator?
Growing up, I read a lot of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, and I always adored The Chronicles of Narnia. I think any illustrations that were enchanting, or heavily featured nature influenced me as a child, which has definitely spilled through to my work today. I was always painting and drawing as a child. At the time, I didn’t know I could do this as a job, so I now feel incredibly lucky to work as an illustrator.
How do you work through a creative block?
Leave your desk. Go for a walk, change your scenery. I think sometimes even creative minds need a good break. When I feel frustrated or absolutely stuck, I have to be quite strict with myself and take myself away to clear my mind.
What is your fondest memory of your time at the Bright Agency?
I think it was the time when my first big publishing job came through - funnily enough it was another pirate book! I remember my agent calling me saying the editor is about to call you, which he then did. It was just so exciting!
More picture books illustrated by Jennie Poh
What are you currently working on? Can you tell us what to expect next from you?
I’m currently working on a story about a biracial girl who is dealing with many questions about her heritage. I think this is a wonderful concept to work with and I can’t wait for people to see it.
You can see more of Jennie’s work here.
To work with Jennie, please contact Arabella Stein.