Jessica Lanan's FINDING NARNIA

I don't know about you, but my favorite books growing up were C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. So, I had to get a closer look when I learned about local author, Caroline McCalister's FINDING NARNIA. It's just gorgeous, and I have the illustrator, Jessica Lanan here to today to talk about it...
e: What was your creative process/medium for Finding Narnia, can you walk us through it?
I start with tiny thumbnail sketches where I try to figure out the pagination and the compositions. These usually like a mess and my poor editors probably don't know what to do with them. Once I've figured out what will go on each page, I do several rounds of revising where I figure out all the details. There is almost always a perspective drawing, some kind of lighting model and various color testing. I often coerce my friends, family and neighbors into posing for me. For the final art I work traditionally in watercolor and occasionally a little bit of gouache, which is basically opaque watercolor.

e: What was your path to publication?
I decided that I wanted to try illustration back in 2009. I just typed "how do you become a children's book illustrator" into Google search and found the SCBWI. I went to a lot of conferences to learn how it all works, and I managed to get a few contracts to illustrate with smaller publishers over the years which gave me some great experience. I never went to illustration school so I had to practice on my own by studying illustrators I admired and painting and drawing from life. In 2016 I connected with my agent at the SCBWI NY conference portfolio show and I started to get a lot more work after that, including my first book as an author/illustrator.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of Finding Narnia?
As part of my research for this book I visited some of the places where C.S. Lewis lived. I spent a few days in Oxford then caught an overnight ferry across the Irish sea to visit his childhood home near Belfast. On my last day in Northern Ireland I climbed Sleigh Bearnagh in the Mourne Mountains. The path disappears at a certain point and you have to follow a crumbling stone wall up a very steep slope. I wasn't at the top for long before a thick blanket of fog descended. The wet grass and heather was extremely slippery and I fell several times and collected some spectacular bruises. I was lost for a while, slogging through bogs and sliding down wet rock faces, wandering in what I hoped was the correct general direction. I didn't see a single other soul the whole time I was there. I don't believe C.S. Lewis ever climbed those mountains, but it still felt like a bit of Narnian adventure.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
The most magical illustrations are the ones that allow me to feel totally immersed in the story. It helps when there's a strong sense of place and a clear mood or emotion. For me "Heart Art" is a portal to another world where the reader can stay for a while and become a part of things. (Not unlike a certain wardrobe, come to think of it.)
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Not particularly well, I fear. I'm working on posting sketches more regularly on Instagram, since there's a great community of artists and author/illustrators that use the platform. I would also like to get more involved in doing school visits and book fairs and that sort of thing, since it's fun and energizing to meet your readers.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I love painting the most. There's something so satisfying about putting a big wet wash of watercolor down to see what will happen. Of course sometimes that "thing that happens" turns out to be a big disaster and the painting has to be scrapped and started again. But as they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained! The most challenging part of being a creator is probably dealing with the inevitable frustrations like self-doubt and disappointment. You have to develop a thick skin and positive attitude and just hope that if you put your heart into your work then somebody out there will appreciate it, and that will be enough.
e: Is there something in particular about Finding Narnia you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
C.S. Lewis drew upon the different experiences of his life--including the more mundane experiences--as inspiration for his creative writing. That's something that any young aspiring writer or illustrator out there can do, no matter how ordinary their life might seem to them at first glance. There can be magic anywhere, even if you don't happen to have a big dusty wardrobe in your attic.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I've illustrated two books that are scheduled for 2020, and I have several new author/illustrator projects in the works that I'm hoping to get out for submission soon. But to brainstorm a general topic on my wish list, I'd like to do a book about dance someday. I have a lot of dance experience to draw upon and I think watercolor has amazing potential for showing movement and energy. Lately I've been working on bringing more of those qualities into my artwork.

e: Very cool - I'd love to see it when you create it!
Thanks so much for having me on your blog! It's been a pleasure.

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