I’ve always loved drawing and making things – I spent my childhood and teenage years making everything from pencil cases to comic books, and even a giant furry camel. Somehow I got side-tracked into doing a geography degree (still love maps and field trips) and had a career in magazine writing and editing – titles to do with horticulture, landscape architecture and garden design. (I was even, for a short spell, Geography Editor of the Geographical Magazine). But in the evenings I was itching to draw and make things, so I attended evening classes in all sorts from life drawing to etching, screen printing to raku pottery.
When someone I had worked with for many years died unexpectedly, I realized life was short, and I should do something about that nagging feeling that all I was doing in my work was processing other people’s creativity. So I enrolled in a part-time Foundation at Wimbledon School of Art, one of the best things I ever did. This led to a part-time MA in Illustration and Animation at Kingston University, where baffling briefs led me to create things like a story on a pianola roll, and a set of reversible velvet creatures based on the senses, inspired by synaesthesia.
|Can you guess the senses? Each of these creatures can be unzipped at the mouth and turned inside out to create another ‘sense’ – adding the ‘6th sense’ made it an even number of pairs.|
After graduating I started working with schools – something I still do regularly and enjoy enormously. It began with a living willow tunnel at my own children’s school, but since then I’ve done a huge range of projects, from a screen print of the built environment of Brick Lane, as drawn by a year 6 class, to a guide by and for children to the just-restored organ at the Royal Festival Hall, and a commemoration of Twickenham’s WW1 stories for a public park.
|Giant illustration in Twickenham - the result of collaboration with 4 classes of children, two groups of older people and a drop-in community workshop.|
I always learn a huge amount from the way children approach artistic work – their drawings have an enviable freshness. One of these school projects unexpectedly led to a lovely commission from London Zoo – to make a giant hand-made book for their outreach team about their ferret, Toffee.
At the same time I was developing my own work and stories, but in a rather quiet way – I hadn’t really got the confidence to send anything out. This changed after I got to know a local curator, Joe Madeira, who started a gallery close to my home and invited me to have a solo show. The first one was called ‘Snout, Claw, Tusk, Paw’ and featured some giant cubes as well as a lot of original drawings.
|Interactive exhibit: giant cubes I made for my exhibition 'Snout, Claw, Tusk, Paw'|
A year later I had another, with a series of 9 limited edition prints imagining animals playing Victorian parlour games. These sold so well I finally felt ready to do a mail-out, which got me several meetings with publishers and an agent.
|Winking - print inspired by a Victorian parlour game, from the exhibition 'Compendium’.|
|Dressing Up, from the exhibition 'Compendium’.|
|I designed this concertina mail out to send to publishers and agents|
My first picture book as author/illustrator, Pink Lion, will be published by Walker next year.
|A sneak peak from Pink Lion|
I’ve also just finished illustrating a picture book by Paul Stewart, Wings!, which is coming out with Otter Barry Books, also in 2016. For this book I decided to have a change and worked entirely in collage, using scraps I’ve collected over the years, painted swatches and even some leftovers from projects with children.
|Wings! All in collage.|
My board book This Rabbit, That Rabbit (Baby Walker, 2013) was chosen by Bookstart to be given to all new babies born in the UK in 2015. Earlier books include Duck Sock Hop by Jane Kohuth (Dial Books, 2012), and some early readers for Orion.
|My baby book This Rabbit, That Rabbit - with models!|
I also specialise in designing, writing and illustrating family trails for museums, from the V&A to the National Trust – it’s good to have an alternative field of work, and these are great fun to do. I’ve just started teaching illustration to adults at Putney School of Art and Design, where I first did etching and life drawing many years ago. And every Tuesday morning I run an art class for under 5s – I look forward to this each week and have been known to borrow their ideas!
Other clients I’ve worked with include Penguin US, Ladybird, Orion, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Corporation of London, Historic Royal Palaces, the National Health Service, the Wandle Trust, The Garden Museum, the London Museum of Water and Steam, and the reading charity Beanstalk.
When I’m not working, I am often to be found out on the river Thames in a coracle, skiff or punt, looking out for passing bats, cormorants and wagtails – or up to my chest in the river Wandle, fishing out rubbish. I've even made a complete alphabet out of things found in the river. I’m currently planning a graphic novel re-imagining Moby Dick on the river Wandle - all the characters will be wearing waders.
Don't forget to check the Featured Illustrator Gallery to see more of Jane's work!
Her personal website and blog is here.
Agent: Philippa Milnes Smith at LAW