Friday, September 2, 2011

Workspace and Work Tips from Janeen Mason

Week of August 28: Workspaces and Work Tips from Writing Friends
Friday, September 2: Illustrator/Author Janeen Mason

Welcome to my studio! This is my dog, Bing. Her job is to keep me company, and she works for treats. If you look closely you’ll see I'm holding a stack of my books. I have fourteen titles now. Some of these are books that I have written and illustrated, while others are books I've illustrated which were written by others. It wasn't that long ago that I was standing in line at the post office with my manuscripts and sketches carefully wrapped and addressed to editors—hoping for one to find a home with a publisher. Now my postal clerks all know me and they buy my books for their children and grandchildren. They come to my book signings and while they're waiting in my line to have their book autographed I've listened to them telling others, "I remember the days when she used to come into the Post Office and kiss the back of her envelopes before handing them over to mail."

You've come at a good time! I'm always excited when a new book comes out and here is my latest. It just landed on the shelves about two weeks ago. FISH FACTS was written by Geoff Swinney, the curator of fish at the National Museum of Scotland. I've loved fish ever since I first learned to dive in 1973. Imagine how thrilled I was to be able to illustrate this book. I spent days and weeks and months sketching and painting these creatures I hold so dear. If you have been snorkeling or scuba diving, then you'll know what I mean when I say to those who haven't, “It is like flying over an alien landscape. The colors! The creatures! The perfection . . . Shhh.”
I learned so much while working on FISH FACTS. Dr. Al Dove, the Senior Scientist from the world’s largest aquarium, The Georgia Aquarium, says about this book: “Well researched and brimming with unique and beautiful illustrations, FISH FACTS is essential reading for all budding young icthyologists, and some older ones, too!”

I created this art with marker, color pencil, and touches of acrylic gouache. These pages were individual studies of the various creatures, and thus kept me engaged throughout the project. It takes me months and months to create the art for a book, and make no mistake, it is work. I love creating art, but I have to find ways to keep myself enthusiastic, and so I buy new supplies and work in different media. (I make my living at this, my royalties pay my overhead, but the color combinations? The perfect brush strokes? The exact turn of a line? Those are things I get to keep forever. Those are the things that are stored in my own personal savings account to be used again as needed.)
The feeling I had as a little girl who couldn't wait to get into a new box of crayons? That never left me. For this art, I treated myself to the set of 100 Chartpak markers, and the sheer thrill of the colors carried me through this art.   
I listen to audio books and podcasts while I paint, too.  I've been a member of for years—I can download two audio books per month for a fee, and I've got quite a collection now. With a good book playing in my ear, I can stay at my drafting table for long chunks of lovely uninterrupted time. I “come to” when my husband calls me in to dinner, or when Bing must be let out.

And this is the original art for the book. I keep my art pinned on this big cork board in front of my drafting table so I can see it all at a glance while the project is underway. It starts as white paper with very light line drawings on every page and I watch as it fills in with color little by little, day by day.  
FISH FACTS is 48 pages long while my other books are all 32 pages. Multiply that by the number of books I've done, subtract some which were sold to collectors, and that's how much original art I have! So a few years ago we framed 100 pieces and created an exhibit of the original art that has traveled through Florida cultural venues. Last year I had an exhibit that hung in the 22nd floor gallery of the capitol building in Tallahassee for four months. Right now I have an exhibit titled “Drawn to the Sea” at the Dante Fascall Visitors Center in Biscayne National Park. It has been up for the summer and will come down on September 11, 2011.  We are adding more art to the exhibit, calling it “Drawn to the Story,” and shipping it to Pensacola, Florida where it will open at the Pensacola Museum of Art on September 16, 2011, and remain until November 6, 2011. The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville hosts the exhibit in 2012.
I speak at schools around the state, so organizing the visits and updating my presentations is always on my schedule.  Talking to kids is among my most favorite of things to do—right up there with buying new art supplies.  
And always, always, there is something new in the works. Here's a peek of my next book, OCEAN COMMOTION; CAUGHT IN THE CURRENTS (third in this award-winning series). I still kiss the envelopes before I hand them over to be mailed!

It’s Your Turn!
1. Isn’t Janeen fantastic? To learn more about Janeen, her traveling exhibit, or to schedule a school visit: or email:
2. Follow Janeen’s blog at

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