Illustrator Spotlight: Janet Lee

© Janet Lee


Janet Lee is an amazingly talented artist and illustrator. I fell in love with her work in the graphic novel for children, RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN, a steampunk fable by Jim McCann (see my review).  


Q.  Tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get into illustration?

I am an accidental artist. I have always been interested in many different things--music, theater, art, literature--and I made the decision around 8th grade to settle down and focus on writing. I was going to be a writer. So I got a degree in English (minor in Creative Writing) at college and went on to work in the publishing industry for 16 years. Never did write a book.

I accepted a promotion at my company which moved me to our textbook division. I loved my company and all the wonderful people I worked with, but the job itself wasn't terribly fulfilling creatively. So, I found myself making art again. My husband encouraged me to show my work in galleries, and I was beginning to show my work out of state as well as getting queries about illustration work.


© Janet Lee

One Christmas, a friend of mine came home from New York to visit his family. Jim was working at Marvel Comics at the time, but was making plans to begin writing his own books.  My house was filled with the odds and ends of several shows I had recently taken down, and he found (and bought) three pieces: a boy in blue wearing steampunk goggles, a robot angel, and a large, Margritte-inspired piece of men in striped suits dropping from the sky over the rooftops of Paris. These pieces inspired Jim to write RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN, and two months later, he emailed to ask if I wanted to illustrate a graphic novel. 

Eventually, with the success of RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN, I was offered work with Marvel Comics and left my publishing career to be a full-time illustrator.

Q. Your illustrations for RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN were made in an unusual way. Can you tell us briefly about it? Do you still use this method for your work?

I used decoupage to make all the illustrations for RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN, and believe myself to be the world's only decoupage comic artist. Basically, I draw and color layers of original illustrations, then cut them out and glue them onto painted boards to create each page. Sometimes there are as many as five layers for each image which creates a slightly 3D effect. The completed boards are scanned. The result, I hope, is an image which makes the reader feel like they are stepping into the page.

© Janet Lee

I still use this method almost exclusively in my gallery work. Decoupage can be a difficult choice for monthly comics: they operate on unbending deadlines and print on a paper stock that doesn't show the layering of the images as well. So the last three comics I have done have been more traditional, drawing (and sometimes coloring too) on paper. But I have several upcoming projects which will be done in decoupage again. It seems to be my preferred default.


Q. What projects are you working on now?

I'm in the process of laying out the images for a wonderful memoir (not mine!) that will soon be making the rounds at publishers.  And I have three other spectacular scripts waiting in the wings after that (two comics and one children's book). Unfortunately, I can't give you any details there yet.  

I CAN tell you about ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND. My husband is a novelist and, of course, we've discussed my lifelong desire to write, so together we decided to launch a free web comic based on the Little Nemo stories by Windsor McCay. We just started on January 1, and will be posting a new comic monthly at www.gotosleepnemo.com


© Janet Lee


Jim and I are also moving forward with the sequel to RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN.  Look for news of that later in the year. 

Q. That is exciting news. What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring illustrator?

Don't be afraid to try something unexpected or even wacky.  Make the best art you can in a way and style that pleases you.  Each project is your calling card.


© Janet Lee


Q. Tell us one thing most people don't know about you.

My right hand is deformed. I was born that way. My fingers on that hand are unusually small and the joints on two of them are fused and nonfunctional. Even people who have known me for years fail to notice my right hand, probably because the deformity has never held me back from doing anything. I trained myself to use my left hand for things like basketball and softball, but I am right handed. I draw, paint, and write with my right hand. Only regret: I'll never be a concert pianist.


© Janet Lee


Q. Where can people find you on the internet?

My website: www.j-k-lee.com 
My webcomic: www.gotosleepnemo.com
Twitter: @Janet_K_Lee 

and if you feel like shopping:

9 comments:

  1. I am so glad you profiled Janet Lee! That last painting of hers up there that was on the KidLit411.com site had caught my eye and fancy and I wanted to know more about her. I think I may have found another favorite artist. I love how she is so good at so many things and does incredible art without any training!

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    1. I have her Marvel Jane Austen Books, which I LOVE, and got to meet her at a convention in New Orleans. She's a most excellent person and artist.

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  2. Amazing artist! Very curious, she's only been educated in writing? Or did she also have any art education?

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    1. Hi Tara.

      No art education, I'm afraid, beyond the odd class or workshop I take because it catches my eye. I've taken a little figure drawing, a little oil painting, and I'm about to try screen printing. It looks fun.

      Thank for asking!

      Janet

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  3. Thank you Janet for agreeing to be featured in our ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT this week! Your artwork is truly amazing!

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  4. Your work is awesome, Janet! I especially love the decoupaged art, but having a comic-loving son, I truly love the edgy comic pieces, as well! You are such a diverse artist!

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  5. Thanks, everyone! I feel incredibly lucky every day.

    Janet

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  6. What a fantastic interview!

    Thanks so much for the insight into your creative process, Janet. I love how you never let your hand deformity stop you! I severed two fingers in my right hand as a child, and also have a deformity, even though they were reattached (I am right handed too). Although I am a writer, not an illustrator, I pushed through and made sure that I never let my injury stop me in any way either. Kudos to you!

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