When some amazing Pop-Up books arrived on my review pile and knew immediately that I was a huge fan of the author on instagram, I thought I would ask her if I could bring our readers an interview. Well, the great and lovely Jennie Maizels was all for it… and here it is…
Let’s Meet the Illustrator Jennie Maizels
Jennie Maizels is an incredibly talented illustrator, that creates works of art packed with details and wonder, that appeal to folk of all ages and stages. It is no surprise that her books include a number of award winning titles, of her many Pop Up books, Pop-up London and Pop-up New York bring 3D books to a new level, and have sold millions of copies worldwide. As well as illustrating she has an amazing online sketchbook club, and posts all about it on instagram and that is where I discovered her and fell in love with her whimsical work. You can meet Jennie Maizels on her website here, and if you do nothing else today, then get over to her instagram account and follow her there. And of course scroll down for the interview…
Let’s Meet the Pop-Up Books
Pop-Up London and Pop-Up New York by Jennie Maizels and paper engineered by Richard Ferguson: I have to say that pop-up books remain a magical mystery to me and even though I have seen dozens of crafts explaining how to make a pop up card I just cannot get it… and then there are these books, they bring 3-D and pop-up to a whole new and very exciting level. I have to say these books are as close as you are going to get to visiting London and New York in a book… ever.
You can go floating down the Thames…
Or hang out on 42 Street…
And the details… facts under every flap… everything works and twists and turns, there are little books within the books that are literally page turners… absolutely every flap has a hidden factoid about a person, a place or a thing. But the best feature has to be that you can peak into museums, turn the book around and peep into the buildings and the theatres.
I was amazed at how much information of the fascinating and “not your typical guide book” variety, was packed onto the spreads of these books. They are definitely not just a children’s pop-up book, in fact I was a little precious about these and they were placed up above the level of people of the toddler variety. Everyone will enjoy these, we have looked through them again and again and plenty of visiting adults have sat intrigued as they poured over them. They are an absolute feat of engineering, and filled with fabulous facts and then packed with incredible illustrations as well… these books are completer winners.
Se7en + 1 Curious Questions
- Let’s get a little background. As a child, did you know you would be an artist when you grew up? Did you know you would write books one day?
- Tell us about your journey as an artist… how did you get where you are today and who was your biggest encourager, or inspiration?
- Let’s talk about books. What were your favorite childhood books and is there a childhood illustrator that stands out for you. What are you reading right now?
- What is your work style? Are you disciplined (so many hours at a desk each day) or inspired (you just can’t help yourself)?
- Tell us about your work space?
- What is your favourite medium to work with?
- Your books are filled with intriguing facts… Do you enjoy researching them? And where do you find all your inspiration?
- Tell us about your Sketchbook Club, I know our readers would like to know more about this!!!
A few years ago, in a cupboard at my Late Grandparent’s house, I found a tiny book with rainbow writing on the cover. It said “My first Children’s Book, by Jennie Maizels, aged 7”. I honestly have always always wanted to be a book illustrator. Maybe it was because I wasn’t very good at anything other than drawing but I have obsessively painted, drawn and doodled ever since I could hold a pencil! My parents are both artists and I was bought up without a TV, so my childhood was a very creative one. My Father used to make up stories about a man who had been asleep for a hundred years and my Mother made all of my dolls house furniture and doll’s clothes. I would never have the time or patience to do that for my own children!
After A levels I went to Middlesex University to do my Foundation year. A wonderful opportunity to try your hand at all aspects of Art and Design. I very quickly made up my mind that illustration was for me and went on to study Illustration at Central St martins in London. The biggest turning point in my illustration ‘journey’ was when I was in my second year of Art School. I went to Barcelona on an exchange for four months. When we turned up to the Spanish art school, we realized the course was in technical drawing; the students were all sitting in silence drawing carburetors! So we never returned. In those four months I was more prolific than I had ever been. Drawing every day and keeping an obsessive hand lettered journal for the whole duration of my stay. Without any influences or any instructions, I developed my own style and confidence. It was such a fun and memorable trip.
Just before I graduated I was signed up with a literary agent who spotted my potential for Children’s Book illustration. She introduced me to the late, wonderful Kate Petty. I still feel blessed to have worked with Kate, who tragically died in 2007 and to have become such close friends as well as working partners. We produced eight fantastic Pop Up Books together and I loved every minute. After Kate’s death I decided to start writing my own books, she had taught me so much and over the years I had discovered my own voice and started to enjoy the process of researching and writing too. As well as Kate and my parents, my other role model was my extraordinary Grandmother, a poet, pianist and feminist, she taught e to believe in myself and be true to myself. I think I owe a lot of my confidence to her. She was empowering and hugely inspirational.
I love Janet Ahlberg’s illustrations, as a child I was obsessed with The Old Joke Book, I think I can see it’s influences in my work even today. I also love Jan Pienkowski. The Haunted House was one of the first big Pop Up Books on the market, I spent hours palying with all the mechanisms, I am sure it influenced me hugely! I adore intense detail, The Butterfly Ball (illustrated by Alan Aldridge) was my favourite book as a child. I loved how it had hidden secrets and so much colour! I don’t think it is still in print but I would really recommend it if you can find a copy. At the moment I am reading a wonderful book by John Lewis-Stempel called the Running Hare, it is an anecdotal diary of farming using traditional methods. It sounds a bit boring but it is so beautifully written, peppered with fascinating facts and written in such a poetic language. I live very rurally and am deeply saddened by the decline in birdlife and the starkness of the modern day farming landscape. John Lewis-Stempel proves in his book with such eloquencey, that it is all totally unnecessary and nothing is gained my using pesticides or chemicals.
When you are snowed under you don’t really have time to contemplate whether you are disciplined or not, I just seem to plough on, constantly time starved! I am hoping that I will soon not be so flooded with tasks as I concentrate more on Sketchbook Club and books only. As I work in a separate studio, I start work at 9am and finish around 5pm, when I zoom home to cook supper! I do pop out to walk the dog every day, otherwise I would go stir crazy.
I LOVE my studio. I am so happy there working away. It is very rural and I look out onto chickens and horses. I love watching the farmer move all the hay bales and work on his tractors. It is a converted Granary loft with a nice big room to hold my courses and another room for stock and order packing, I have filled it with colour, sketchbooks and tins of pencils, it is where I work best and think clearly.
I love Watercolours, I adore how portable they are and how multi adaptable they can be. From big swooshy washes, to intense details with a tiny brush, they have so many personalities. I use them a lot in Sketchbook Club and also in my personal, journal keeping work for hand lettering and illustrating. The joy of Sketchbook Club is that I get to use SO many different mediums as my wish is to open people’s eyes to the plethora of medium choices and take away some of their mysteries. I also really enjoy the use of collage, not just as the sole medium, but for embellishments, like clouds made out of old books, or sweet wrappers as jewels etc.
I love researching the facts for the Pop Up Books, when I was working on Pop Up London, I walked the length of The Thames with an old friend who worked with Peter Ackroyd (a real London aficionado) he had SO many brilliant gems of information, I kept having to stop and write them all down. I have learned so much from my books, when I went to New York, I could have been a tour guide I knew so much about the city, my husband was subjected to a constant stream of facts and anecdotes as he tried to enjoy his holiday!
I started Sketchbook Club two tears ago. My daughter’s old school had a really week art department and I wanted to support it without treading on anyone’s toes, so I started a club where the children could all work on pages of their sketchbook together. Thanks to Instagram, there were many demands for a grown up one, so I started one in my studio on Tuesday evenings, where we drink wine, paint and draw and generally have a wonderful time.
The secret behind Sketchbook Club’s success is the real life secrets of the methods I use. Member’s don’t like me telling people how we achieve such beautiful work each week. It is all based upon my strong belief that anyone can draw. The misunderstanding is that people assume drawing means drawing from life. I rarely draw from life. There is a reason that every illustrator owns a light box (they’re for tracing!). Drawing from life is a skill for draftsmen/women. It is a very challenging and tiny part of the art and design world.
I liken Sketchbook Club to following recipes, you wouldn’t bake a cake without a recipe, or play the piano without music and so what’s the difference? Why not draw with specific instructions, reference material and a prescriptive list of ‘ingredients’?
Drawing from life is the Choux pastry of cooking. Leave it to the professionals and maybe, when you’ve had lots of practice and your confidence has grown, you may even give it a go yourself…
I Instagrammed (can you tell I am an Instagram addict?) the work from our Tuesday night sessions weekly and the response was overwhelming. So many people wanted to take part and learn the ‘secrets’ but lived too far away to join us in my studio. So I decided to create an online version of Sketchbook Club.
Being a ridiculous perfectionist I used a proper production company, I wanted the videos to feel like mini TV shows and not your average Youtube tutorials. Each themed module has it’s own video and print-out reference sheets, plus full written instructions.
The wonderful thing is that so many people are taking part and each module has it’s own hashtag, so not only can you share you work on Instagram but also see what other Sketchbook Club members have created already. Check out the first module; #SketchbookClubHouses to see an example of peoples work and just how different and individual each sketchbook is.
The fact that they are all so different is hugely exciting to me. This is not a colouring-in book; yes, everyone has been given the same instructions and reference but you all started out with a blank page. YOU created it, you own it and the end result is because of your ability alone. It is hugely empowering. I love how surprised people are when they see just what they can achieve. It’s magic. Just don’t tell anybody about the secrets!