When I set out to write SACRED, one of the things I wanted the story to be was sensual. Unabashedly, beautifully sensual. Like this painting by artist Jessica Lanan, of Scarlett and Will under "their" tree.
E: I love this scene. It’s so great to see Scarlett and Will under the branches of their tree. Tell me, what drew you to this image?
J: I had a hard time choosing a scene to illustrate because there were so many great moments in the book, but in the end this scene won out. I just love how sweet and flirtatious it is. I really wanted to capture that dreamy, romantic feeling in the illustration. Maybe it's because I just got engaged myself so I have romance on the brain! The pose was hard for me to envision so I had to have my assistant help me. (See photo.)
J: It took a bit of direction and practice to get a picture where it didn't look like I was awkwardly force-feeding him the apple.
E: I adore this photo. I think it's so cool that there are real people posing for a portrait of my characters. So, so cool. And congratulations on your engagement! Tell me, how long have you been an artist? Do you remember the first piece you were really proud of?
J: I don't think I can choose a date when I became an artist! It seems like it has been a part of me from the very beginning. The first piece I clearly remember being proud of was a colored pencil drawing I made probably around age 10 or so. It was a deer standing by a pool of water in the forest, and there were all sorts of flowers and plants around. I'd like to see it again. I bet it's different from how I remember it.
E: Who and what inspires you?
J: A lot of my inspiration comes from the world around me. Sometimes it's something as simple as the way the sun shines through the leaves in the garden, or the cheery glow of a window at dusk. I'm fascinated by the way that atmosphere can create different moods, and I'm experimenting with using light and color in a more symbolic and less realistic way. I also find inspiration in the work of other illustrators. Even when the style is not similar to mine, I find there is always something I can learn and apply to my own work. I think my biggest obsession currently is Shaun Tan. I'm also very fond of Trina Schart Hyman--I loved her illustrations as a kid and I still love them now.
E: Tell us about when and where you work.
J: My workday typically begins with me reluctantly dragging myself out of bed and biking to work. I spend the next eight or so hours at the University of Boulder doing communications/graphic design stuff and planning events. After work I try to make myself sit down and paint a small 3" watercolor to practice technique. I will sometimes work for about 20 minutes on other skills like anatomy or perspective or I'll doodle characters for upcoming projects. Some days I just don't have time for anything else, but other days I'll work on an illustration all evening. When I'm completing a final painting I prefer to do it all at once in a six to ten hour block of time, so that often happens on weekends. I wish I could do more, but for now I keep to the "slow and steady" approach! My work space is in our small second bedroom. We call it the "laboratory."
E: Do you have a preferred medium?
J: I started using watercolor on a trip through Asia back in 2006, and I never really stopped. Watercolor is difficult but it is beautiful enough to make up for it. Plus, it's super portable and easy to clean up. I used to do some ink line work as well, but I felt that I was using it as a crutch for poor value organization so I cut back to just light pencil.
E: What other projects—both professional and personal—are you involved in?
J: I'm working on some smaller side projects--spot illustrations for a local web company--and preparing a new picture book starring a plucky little raccoon who goes out into the wild to find a legendary monster. (There's a fun twist to this, but I won't spoil the story.) Aside from that I'm working on some new promotional pieces and actively seeking an agent. Oh, and planning my wedding too!
E: What advice would you give people who’d like to break into the art world?
J: I'd suggest joining the SCBWI or other professional organization, or to just find people with similar interests and goals so that you can help one another and cheer each other on. It can be easy to get discouraged, especially when we compare ourselves to others, and having a community can help get you through those inevitable tough times and rejection letters.
E: Do you have a web presence?
J: Yes! My website is http://jessicalanan.com.
E: Do you think you have anything in common with any of SACRED’s characters?
J:I resonated with Scarlett and the way she [edited to preserve story surprises!]. In certain ways I've had similar experiences to hers. It was really meaningful and I think the book has a great message for young people.
E: Thanks for saying so, Jessica!
Here's a sketch of Jessica's piece, as well as a close-up of Scarlett and Will:
And, once, more, the full, final image: