Monday, December 1, 2008

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Jennifer Morris

Today’s Art Day interview is with the versatile illustrator Jennifer Morris, who creates art for children’s books, greeting cards, and licensed products. Read on to find out more about Jennifer’s art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: Before I had kids I used to work in a cubicle as a software engineer. I actually have a master's degree in computer science, but I had always dreamed of illustrating. When my daughter was born, I quit my job to stay home with her. I figured that was a great time to test the waters and see if I could get any work as an illustrator. My daughter is almost eleven now and I haven’t gone back to my cubicle yet.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent picture book you illustrated, IF A MONKEY JUMPS ONTO YOUR SCHOOL BUS by Jean Cochran.
A: When Jean came to me with a manuscript about zoo animals running amuck at a school, I was thrilled. I love drawing animals - and silly animals getting into trouble are even better - I couldn't resist.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: Jean and I have collaborated on another book entitled “On a Dark, Dark Night” which is scheduled for release fall 2009. As you can see this is completely different styling from the first book we did (see cover below). But I think it this different styling works well with this subject of this book. I also have a couple of other books in the wings but don’t know how much I should say yet since I haven’t actually started working on them.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: The first illustration work I did was for greeting cards. Most of my designs were created for a company called Great Arrow. They do very graphic, hand silk-screened cards. Very different from my children’s work (see card image below).

I also do paper plate designs, mostly for kids birthday parties. As you can see, these are yet a different style. I find it hard to stick with just one style for every project (see plate design below).

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
A: I try to envision the story like a movie. Then I pick the key scenes from my "movie" to illustrate.

Q: When illustrating picture books, do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: Yes, I really enjoy adding my own things to the images. For instance in “If a Monkey Jumps Onto Your School Bus,” the monkey shows up on every spread, sometimes he's hidden - the kids like to search for the monkey. “On a Dark, Dark Night,” I created a little doggy sidekick that isn’t mentioned in the text.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: I blogged about creating the cover for "If a Monkey Jumps Onto Your School Bus." (click on the pages for the links) Monkey Cover page 1, Monkey Cover page 2, Monkey Cover page 3, Monkey Cover page 4, Monkey Cover page 5, Monkey Cover page 6, Monkey Cover page 7,

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: This may sound like a hokey answer, but it changes - really! I'm usually drawn toward warm colors - reds, golds, yellow-greens, but lately I've been going through a blue phase (but I'm not depressed honest!).

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: I love Photoshop. I experiment much more on the computer than I do with paint and paper. I always feel like I'm going to screw up when I'm using paint. I find being able to save a backup copy to be very liberating.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: A brand new box of Crayolas (the 64 pack with the built in sharpener). Although I was always bummed that the sharpener never made them look like new again.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I started a huge pen and ink drawing of a carousel horse. I think I was about 12. I was doing it with a quill pen and I gave up halfway through, but I kept it. I think its still under my bed at my parent’s house.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Yep, ever since first grade. I was probably the only kid in grade school with a copy of the "Artist's Market." I never submitted anything to a publisher but I used to read through it.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I do try to use reference - but not always. I use photos, purchased models and sometimes I make my own models out of Sculpey and Styrofoam. Here's a link to one of my Styrofoam creations.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A: I’d probably go back to computer programming. I did enjoy programming; there is a creative aspect to it that is similar to illustration (without the monkeys of course).

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: The challenge for me is to try to look at it with a fresh eye. Flipping the image over (either in Photoshop or in a mirror) helps me distance myself. Sometimes just taking a break can help.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: Mrs. Beasley. I still have her, although she is looking mighty scary.

Q: What illustrated books do you remember from when you were a child?
A: I think my favorite books as a kid were the pop-up books my mom got at Hallmark. I had an alphabet book, a poetry book, and my favorite, "The Adventures of Super Pickle".

(sruble note: Another Super Pickle fan – hooray!)

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: Umm let's see, I have so many favorites. Brian Lies, Mini Grey, Brandon Dorman, and Adam Rex and are a few than come to mind.

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: I wouldn’t tell jokes, I’d draw cartoons instead. It got me in trouble a few times.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: I’d get a big bucket of plastic figures (I would have LOVED those fancy Schleich figures) and play with them all morning, I'd watch cartoons all afternoon and eat a huge ice cream sundae without once worrying what it’s going to do to my waist.

Bio: Jennifer Morris is a designer, illustrator and children's book author. She has designed everything from paper plates to award winning greeting cards and is the author and illustrator of the Scholastic book, “May I Please Have a Cookie?” which has sold over 500,000 copies. You can visit Jennifer on-line at

Thanks for the interview Jennifer!
All images in this post © Jennifer Morris.


  1. Thanks to both of you for a fabulous interview!

  2. Great interview and wonderful art! I love the mention of the new crayons...that was a favorite for me, too.

    Also, I tagged you today.

  3. Wow, she is lucky to have such a diverse portfolio! Great interview!

  4. Mrs. Beasley! Does she still talk? Does she still say, "when you were a baby, I would rock you to sleep."

    Great interview. Jenn, I love the style for your next book and can't wait to see it.

  5. Great interview! I love the cover for On A Dark, Dark Night! And I am so smiling that she owned a copy of the Artists Market in grade school:)

  6. I really enjoyed this interview. Thanks! I too, have a Mrs. Beasley doll, but mine isn't my original one. Loved the illustrations and IF A MONKEY JUMPS ONTO YOUR SCHOOL BUS looks like a great book!

  7. Thanks everyone! Wow! I had forgotten what Mrs. Beasley said. I think mine just squeaks. Poor Mrs. B - she's pretty gross.