Jane Heinrich – Illustrator, Mom, Author & Inspiration

Jane Heinrich

Jane has been an illustrator for seven years and has worked with clients such as Penguin Random House, Magination Press, OUP, Cambridge and Pearson Education to name a few. Some of her books are Mattie’s Magical Dreamworld, Magic at the Museum and How I learn. She is based in England, but has strong ties in South Africa.

Butterflies by Jane Heinrich
Butterflies by Jane Heinrich

Celeste: First of all, tell me about the day that you first broke into the industry. Where were you, what was the push that got the publisher to notice you, what was the book…?

Jane: I feel like I’ve been breaking in the industry, little by little, for the past decade. I started illustrating when I was an undergrad student in Canada. I did a joint major in art history and classics and had a part time job as a personal assistant for my archaeology professor. One day she asked me if I knew anyone in the art department who would be able to do simple ink drawings of some ancient funerary monuments for a publication. I told her that I was sure I could do it, and from that day my job changed from PA to illustrator. I worked with her for the remainder of my degree, and for several years after I graduated. I even went on digs in North Africa, and drew all the excavations and finds. It was then that I realized that illustration was my passion.

I continued my education by doing a masters degree in art history (focusing on medieval manuscripts) at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The school is housed in Somerset House, which has an amazing art gallery and a seasonal skating rink in the winter. One night, after having spent hours in the subterranean library, I emerged into the courtyard and the paintings I was studying superimposed themselves onto the festive skaters. I knew I had to write a story where the paintings in the gallery came to life and had a skating party.

I pitched the idea to the director, who loved it, and wanted to commission the book. After a long story (and a few heartbreaking disappointments), I decided to self-publish. The book was short-listed for best-illustrated book at the Manitoba Book Awards in Canada.  That was the start. Magic at the Museum is still selling really well in the Somerset House gift-shop, especially at Christmas!

Hansel & Gretel Father by Jane Heinrich
Hansel & Gretel Father by Jane Heinrich

Celeste: A lot of illustrators think that once they’ve made that first job that they have made it. Tell me about your experiences – the high and lows.

Jane:  I don’t think you’ll ever feel like you’ve “made it,” even if it seems that way to others looking in from the outside. A creative career is an endless cycle of trying to prove oneself to the next big editor, and personal metamorphosis. Every project stretches your creative muscles in new ways; every rejection (and there still are rejections!) is just as heart-breaking; every success feels just as hard-won.

Celeste: You have agents representing you, which isn’t really a big thing here in South Africa. Tell me about what it is like working with agents.

Jane: I signed with my agent after many years of trying to find work on my own. They are a lovely husband and wife team who own Advocate Art. I walked up to them at the London Book Fair and showed them my portfolio. I received an email from them two days later offering representation. I still get a lot of work on my own, but it’s great to have people in the industry as a sounding board. I can send them project ideas or stories and they let me know what they think, where they might be able to sell it, or any editorial changes I could do to make the ideas stronger.

Owls by Jane Heinrich
Owls by Jane Heinrich

Celeste: You also branched out and have an Etsy Shop. I’ve heard people shops tend to get lost on Etsy. Have you had any success with it?

Jane:  In my experience, I can either be a successful Etsy seller, or a successful book illustrator. I can’t do both.

The kinds of illustrations that sell as prints aren’t book illustrations. Book illustrations leave more to the imagination, they require the viewer to think “what comes next? What’s the rest of the story?” An Etsy illustration has to stand on its own, and doesn’t really have a narrative element.

I worked on etsy illustrations and sales while I was building up my portfolio. I worked hard to have it publicized to drive sales. In fact, it was a feature in the South African Sunday Times that peaked the interest of Penguin Random House SA. The author, Lynn Bedford Hall, loved my African Animals images and wrote stories based on the illustrations. That’s how the Mattie’s Magical Dreamworld Series came to life.

In the end, the Etsy shop takes too much admin to maintain, so I’ve let it go to sleep for the time being.

Shine Bright by Jane Heinrich
Shine Bright by Jane Heinrich

Celeste: You recently become a mom and have had to learn to juggle working and looking after a little one – can you pass on any advice to other mothers who are in a similar situation?

Jane: Ha! If anyone has any advice for me I’d much appreciate it!

My 13 month old daughter still has two naps per day. A short morning nap and a long afternoon nap. Those are my working times. In between, when she’s awake, we play, go on outings to the park, I clean and cook… and do all sorts of other active things. It’s exhausting, but also rewarding. I’ve learned that I have to be happier with much slower progress in my working life.

Celeste: I read that you have some great projects you are working on, including a dummy book – care to share with us a little snippet of the story?

Jane:  I’m currently working on two more books in the “Mattie” series for Penguin Random House SA, as well as a personal project which is still in development stages. I’ve sent it to my agent for feedback. So we’ll see where that one goes!

Illustration by Jane Heinrich
Illustration by Jane Heinrich

Celeste: Most of your work is using traditional mediums, such as watercolour. How do you feel about digital? A lot of illustrators are worried that this is the way forward – what are your thoughts?

Jane: I do all my “thinking” sketches in pencil a huge sketchbook. When it comes to working on the final illustrations they almost always start on paper with ink, pen, watercolour and pencil, but that’s not where it stops. Almost every illustration is digitally enhanced or worked on in some way. Sometimes I paint the whole thing in pieces (characters, background, sky, etc) and layer them together in photoshop so I can play with the composition. Sometimes I add colour, shadow or texture to an illustration I’ve painted completely by hand. My illustration teacher told me that when it comes to digital you need to use “sleight of hand” like a magician. People should never know which part is digital and which part is done by hand. I hope I have achieved that!

I think each illustrator needs to work in a way that suits them best. There are plenty of illustrators who still do everything by hand.

Celeste: Thank you so much for your time Jane – how can people read more about your work and see your awesome artwork?

Jane: People can always stay in touch with my by checking my website: janeheinrichs.com or following me on instagram (@janeheinrichs). I used to blog regularly, but that is one of the things that I’ve had to let go of in the balancing act of motherhood and illustration.

The best thing to do, of course, would be to buy one of my books at the bookstore! The Mattie’s Magical Dreamworld series (Up, up and away and The Castle of Cupcakes) can be found at all Exclusive Books in South Africa.

Thanks so much for the interview!

Panda Illustration