Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Jessie Sima

© Jessie Sima

March 24, 2017

We are thrilled to present debut author-illustrator Jessie Sima, whose picture book, NOT QUITE NARWHAL (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers) just came out last month. Be sure to enter to win a copy!




Tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

I grew up drawing and writing, but I never thought I’d do either professionally. In college I majored in Anthropology, but I still drew during most of my free time. I ended up buying a student copy of the Adobe Creative Suite and a drawing tablet and began teaching myself some digital art skills - mostly by participating in weekly online t-shirt design competitions. I graduated with a degree I didn’t know what to do with and a ton of shirt designs.


© Jessie Sima

I ended up working at a preschool for a year, and during that time I realized that art was what I enjoyed doing most. But I wasn’t ready to think of illustration as a viable option, so I went with graphic design which seemed like the safer choice. I applied to an Associates Degree program at Parsons in NYC that was specifically targeted at people who already had a bachelor’s degree. I only ended up staying one semester, partially because of the cost and partially because during that time I finally came to accept that illustration - and possibly children’s books - was what I really wanted to be doing.

I then went through a series of freelance art gigs, while still doing t-shirt designs on the side. Eventually my shirt graphic skills had gotten pretty good, and I took a job with a women’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy licensed apparel brand. Basically, I was designing graphics for use on shirts and dresses for licenses like Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, and Doctor Who. It was fun, and I was able to work remotely, but it wasn’t very creatively satisfying. In my free time I worked on my own stories and learned more about what made a good picture book. I joined SCBWI and a few years later I got a literary agent and a book deal.



Congratulations on your recent debut, NOT QUITE NARWHAL! How did this story come about? 

Thanks so much! The original seed of the idea that would become NOT QUITE NARWHAL came to me when I was in college. As I mentioned, I wasn’t going to school for anything directly related to children’s books, so it was more like, “A unicorn that lives in the ocean with narwhals. That would be funny.” But I didn’t have anything to do with that idea, so it just stayed in my mind until I was looking for a story to work on. When I came back to it years later, I was able to put a book dummy together pretty quickly.


© Jessie Sima


Which comes first, story or images? Which is harder to nail down?

For me, they slowly develop together. The starting point might be a line of text that pops into my head or a character that I draw in my sketchbook, but once an idea starts to take shape, I go back and forth between the two. The text is generally harder to pin down. I tend to overwrite, and then edit out text as I recognize where the illustration can do the work. I try to cut as much text as possible without sacrificing the “voice” of the writing.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing up the artwork for my second book, HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY, which is set to publish in Spring 2018. I've also started working on the illustrations for SNOW PONY AND THE SEVEN MINIATURE PONIES, written by the awesome Christian Trimmer, which will be published in Summer 2018. After that, it’s on to a currently untitled book about a young robot. I'm keeping busy.

Congrats on all of this great news! Can you walk us through your illustration process? 

I start my illustrations with loose character drawings and scene depictions. I try to see how the images and text might play off of one another and adjust as necessary. A thing I did with NOT QUITE NARWHAL, which I also ended up doing with HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY, was sketch walk cycle animations of my main character to get a feel for the movement. I have found this to be very helpful. (It had the added perk of starting me off on my journey of creating an animated NOT QUITE NARWHAL book trailer.)


© Jessie Sima


I work digitally, so when I start doing more structured sketches, I move things around and resize them and see what works best. I often work off of one digital file and layer versions on top of each other so I can refer back easily.

Once my sketches have gone through some edits and been “approved,” I begin doing final art by drawing the line art for the entire book. Then I go back through and add base colors, sometimes one character at a time. So for NOT QUITE NARWHAL, I went through every page and colored all the Kelps. Then all the narwhals. And on from there.

The last step is checking for consistency, and adding some details and special shading based on light sources, time of day, etc. 


© Jessie Sima


What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you would give to aspiring authors and illustrators?

The advice I would give my younger self would be:

1. There are many ways to have a positive influence on the world.

2. Doing something you love is not inherently selfish.

3. Listen to your family members who say that they wish they had pursued their art more.

This advice is pretty specifically aimed at me, but if there is anyone else out there who needs to hear this, it is for them too.

Some more general advice would be: Try to be someone who is good to work with. 


© Jessie Sima


What is one thing most people don't know about you?

When I was young I really wanted to be able to communicate with dolphins. I had a special seashell that I would dip into the ocean and that I semi-believed let the dolphins know of my presence. The beach my family usually went to had dolphins pretty often, so they would sometimes show up at the right time (coincidently, I fear) and I would put my head under the water and make high pitched noises at them. They probably hated it.

One that is more relevant if you meet me today: I’m a vegetarian.


© Jessie Sima


Where can people find you online?

You can find me online at www.JessieSima.com, on Twitter @JessieSima, or on instagram @jessie_sima.

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Jessie Sima is an author/illustrator living and working in New York City. She grew up in a small town in Southern New Jersey, unaware that she was a storyteller. Once she figured it out, she told her family and friends. They took it quite well. NOT QUITE NARWHAL (Simon & Schuster BFYR) is Jessie's debut picture book.


27 comments:

  1. Thanks for a fun interview and congrats on your book! It's always interesting to me how authors get their ideas for stories.

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  2. I absolutely love your illustrations!

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    1. Wonderful interview Jessie and love your author photo as well!! What fun! Congrats on your debut PB and I wish you much success!!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your backstory, thoughts, and writing/illustrating process, Jessie. Very inspiring!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on your debut!

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  6. Two of my favorite topics --- unicorns and ocean life. Congratulations on your picture book.

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  7. Congratulations and best wishes for your continued success.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story! Looking forward to reading Not Quite Narwhal!

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  9. I love this book already!! Can't wait to read it! Congratulations, Jessie!

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  10. Reading your dolphin/seashell story makes me think we would be good friends haha! I can't wait to read Not Quite Narwhal. Good luck with your next projects!

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  11. Congratulations on the debut! Maybe we can eat lunch together at a conference sometime--I'm vegetarian too!

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  12. Congratulations on your debut book, it looks like a must for my collection!

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  13. I am now avid to learn how to spell narwhale / narwhal! The illustrations are delightful!

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  14. Narwhals are getting to be popular book characters!

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  15. The author photo is perfect and very creative just like your book. I love unicorns. Thanks for sharing today. I think my daughter would love to wear the rainbow shirt with her sense of humor.

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  16. I love your illustrations, Jessie. Congrats on your success.

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  17. I can't wait to read this book to my son...and myself! :)

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  18. Thanks Jessie for sharing your road to publication. Congratulations on this sweet book and your upcoming book.

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  19. I really enjoyed seeing some of the sketches and progress art for Not Quite Narwhal! Thanks for sharing!

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  20. This looks absolutely adorable. Thanks for sharing your journey to becoming an author!

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  21. Beautiful book, and wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. Fantastic book! I think it will be a great one for transracial adoptee kids I work with in the schools. I also adore your author bio!

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  23. I am in love with your book. I am an Elementary School Media Specialists and my students would LOVE to be able to SKYPE with you. They love the story as well as the beautiful art. We are a 1:1 iPad school and we have talked about digital art.

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  24. I can't wait to read it! I was obsessed with unicorns as a child, but I need to branch out...

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