Getting to Know Globe-Trotter Jelena

May 19th, 2019
Let’s sit down with one of our talented illustrators Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis, who’s worked on a number of our books, and learn a little bit about her. In 2018, Jelena illustrated Please Don’t Cry, Mummy’s Tummy Smile and Just the Two of UsHer latest book Africa Day is coming up for release this August!

Hi Jelena! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into illustration, and what you are up to now?

I am self-taught, so I feel like I’ve snuck into the creative industry. I have a physics degree and worked as a researcher for quite some time. At some point I wasn’t feeling passionate about it anymore and was dreaming about drawing for a living. It has always been my hobby. It was a leap of faith to start illustrations as a new career path and a challenge for my confidence. It was down to my husband who gave me the nudge I needed. When I started it was hard work and not a bit romantic as people usually think about it, but I felt I was in the right place. I continued and improved and now I am actually illustrating children’s books!

It’s amazing what we can do when we have the faith and support of the people close to us. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your illustration process?

My process includes a lot of preparation because I like to do all artistic and design decisions before I pick up the brush. I really start when I have the character design, storyboards ready and the feedback from the editor and author. I make the clean line art for all pages of the book and do rough colour sketches on the computer as a test. When I have a solid plan for the whole book I can focus on the painting. I usually do figures and background separate and put them together in Photoshop. This way I can reposition things and people, if we need a bit more space for the text or change the composition. Finally, I add effects for the light and shades.

How would you describe your illustrations in three words?

Fantastic, charming, detailed.

In your bio, it says that you were born in Old Yugoslavia, grew up in Germany, and now live in Denmark. How does the experience living in these different countries affect your work?
I actually moved again. We are now living in England on the Wirral! The influences on my work are probably unconscious, because my sources of inspiration are not necessarily connected to a location, which are things like TV shows, movies, work of other artists, and my daughter. I would just feel wherever at home when I could do some drawing. It is a hobby that was easy to keep even when moving a lot.

Drawing is definitely an easier hobby to keep in your circumstance - every country has art supplies that won’t be hard to find!

It also says that you learned art from a classical Serbian artist. Can you tell us more about that?
My interest in art was nurtured by my parents from a very early age. They would buy paints, crayons and pens for me and find after school classes. The art classes by the artist Sergej Jovanovic, who was teaching at the art school in Belgrade, were actually evening classes for students but he was generous to take me on although I was only about eight years old. My dad would be sitting patiently through the class, while I was sitting at my easel dashing around with watercolours trying to paint the still life object positioned in the middle of the class. The paper was a gigantic A0 format and the brushes were too long and big for me, but I enjoyed being messy with the colours and I still remember some of the teachings I tried to understand.

That sounds like a great memory from your childhood; it’s important for children to be able to express themselves and maybe get a little messy doing it!

What’s your favourite colour to use in illustrations?
My favourite colours at the moment are honey yellow and light purple. They make a great team of complementary colours. But I always try to match the colour palette to the story. When the story is about cute things I tend to pick colours from the warm range, like pink, orange, and yellow, maybe yellow-green too, and if it is an adventure story I would pick colours like sky blue, green, turquoise and brown.

Yellow and purple do work well together even though it’s an unexpected team. Such a fun combination to play with!

What was your favourite book as a child?
According to my parents stories, I sat on the potty as a toddler for ages reading ‘my first words’ book Disney book with old school animal characters in them. I still have the book and I can recall my fascination for the lovely characters holding all sorts of house hold things. Later, when I started school in old Yugoslavia, I got a book called ‘children’s encyclopedia’ (SR: decija enciklopedia) which was fully illustrated. The pictures were tiny, accurate and cute, teaching about our planet, life and nature, the universe, history, and science. I devoured the book, looking at the little people and animals over and over again. I’m still influenced by that style.

That sounds like a great book - I wish I could see the books that are early influencers of your art style.

Thanks for taking your time chatting with us! We wish you luck on your career ahead and look forward to see more of your books on the shelves!

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Tags: children, art, artist, drawing, Illustration, Kids Lit Art, publishing

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