Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Janie Bynum


© Janie Bynum

March 26, 2021 

We are excited to feature author-illustrator Janie Bynum and her recent picture book CHICK CHAT (North South Books, Jan. 2021).

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

I like to make people laugh—especially kids. Look for almost-hidden humor in my illustrations as I try to keep older readers engaged.

I’m an author, illustrator, and graphic designer living and working in a 100-year-old house in southwest Michigan. I have a son who lives and works in North Carolina.

© Janie Bynum

I attend watercolor technique webinars on a regular basis, spending more hours learning than doing during this pandemic lockdown. I love dark chocolate and a good crime drama series. No, I never binge. I also lie sometimes.

For drawing, I work almost exclusively in the digital realm using an art tablet and stylus with my computer, or with an Apple Pencil on an iPad. For color work, I usually combine digital drawing, inking, and pastel with traditional watercolor and other natural media. And, sometimes I work all-digitally.

© Janie Bynum

As a child, I drew quite a lot and made things out of household items. Lots of cardboard and oatmeal boxes were sacrificed. A few fingers were cut.

At around 11 years old, I wrote and illustrated a picture book dummy (not that I knew that terminology back then). I don’t remember the project being a school assignment; so, apparently, I created it to express something—possibly the recognition that I tended toward too much junk food consumption at that age. The story was a didactic (ugh!) tale regarding how to eat healthy by growing your own food. And there were aliens. Yay!

© Janie Bynum

As a student, even after creating my own book dummy, I don’t remember ever thinking that writing and illustrating children’s books was a possible career choice for me. After university, I enthusiastically began my career as a graphic designer at an advertising agency in Dallas, Texas. 

See Question 3 for the rest of the story about how I came to write and illustrate for children.

Congrats on your picture book, Chick Chat! Tell us about it and what inspired you.

PEEP PEEP! (Thank you!)

Being an inquisitive, talkative, and determined child, I tested the patience of my family—and quite a few teachers—with a lot of chatter. Baby Chick and I share all of these personality traits, as well as being fairly self-reliant. 

© Janie Bynum

Like Baby Chick, as the youngest sibling whose sister was a bit older, I entertained myself a lot. We grew up in a suburb of Dallas but spent quite a bit of time in East Texas on our grandparents’ farm or our own 80 acres. Poking around in creeks and back pastures, I was always bringing home some new non-human “friend.”

I grew up around chickens on relatives’ farms, and I loved gathering the eggs they laid. Since I’ve doodled chicken drawings for years, I figured that I would eventually write and illustrate a chicken book. Sure enough, a few years ago Baby Chick came peeping into my brain. And who doesn’t love a baby chick? They’re the cutest—even with all that peeping!

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

My road to discovering the children’s book world was a bit long and winding. But once I decided that I wanted to become a published author and illustrator, the pace of the process sped up considerably.

As a business owner in the corporate graphic communications industry for almost a decade, I began searching for other creative outlets. I took some painting classes over the years. But it was my move to Chicago that helped me discover my love of children’s book creation.

© Janie Bynum

I took a class on writing picture books at Columbia College Chicago, and I completed two courses in children’s book illustration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I learned the specific craft of children’s book creation, about pacing, and how to make book dummies. 

I discovered immensely helpful guides such as Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures and Marion Dane Bauer’s What’s Your Story? I joined the Chicago chapter of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), attended talks and seminars, and eventually took my portfolio and my first book dummy to the SCBWI Summer Annual Conference in Los Angeles where I met many aspiring and published authors and illustrators. I finally found my community.

One very generous author/illustrator introduced me to her new agent via email after the conference. I sent him my dummy and manuscript which he then submitted to Harcourt. Within weeks of attending the conference I was offered a first publishing contract for my first book: Altoona Baboona.

Who or what inspires you?

From an abstract standpoint, a drive to make sense of connections in the physical world and to understand my inner emotional world inspires me to create art and stories. 

From a more tangible perspective, nature and animals inspire me. I use anthropomorphism as a means of telling human stories. 

Sitting outside on my screened-in porch as I write or draw, soaking up the light and color, listening to the birds, watching squirrels and chipmunks play, nature inspires. A walk by the sea or simply staring out across rolling hills with the sea in the distance, nature inspires some more.

Books, art, people, news, travel. Inspiration is everywhere.

© Janie Bynum

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing a story and dummy about a very creative beetle who follows his dreams. A picture book series involving a slightly recalcitrant-but-lovable young bear may also be in the works.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring author-illustrators?

I am saying this to my young self, to aspiring author/illustrators, and to my current self.

Never. Give. Up. 

Draw and write. Draw and write. And do that some more. Make any kind of art and/or story—bad, good, mediocre—it doesn’t matter, because as long as you’re creating from your heart and letting your imagination go wherever it likes, meaningful art will emerge.  

© Janie Bynum

You won’t love everything you create. You’ll be lucky to like much of it!

Most importantly, you have to create the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Being afraid to make bad art (or writing) only feeds the Perfectionist Monster. And she will stop Creativity dead in its tracks. Ignore her.

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

In high school I developed a strong interest in microbiology and zoology and won the Science Award for academic achievement. The summer after I graduated, I worked in a hospital pathology lab thinking I might pursue a career as a biomedical illustrator. I didn’t. But I still love science and hope to illustrate a non-fiction picture book someday.

Where can people find you online? 



Instagram:       @janiebynum

Twitter:            janiebynum

As an experienced author and illustrator, Janie has created many lovable characters and stories for younger children. She enjoys developing characters to which children (and adults) can connect—especially through humor. Janie graduated with a BFA in graphic design with an emphasis on illustration. She loves to travel and experience other cultures, drawing inspiration from the people, landscape, and cuisine. 

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  1. Great interview! Janie, you always give such good advice. The book looks adorable!

  2. Book looks fun!

  3. These drawings are so expressive! What a fun cover!

  4. I adore your illustration style. Your childhood on the farm and having so many acres of land to explore was my "dream" to do myself. Thank you for the interview and sharing with us today.

  5. What a sweet and timely book. Happy Spring everyone!!

  6. Love the background story and how it affected your writing and illustrating!

  7. I love how Baby Chick has provided the egg with its own blanket and stuffie!

  8. I love the illustrations and it seems like such a fun story.

  9. Your illustrations are terrific. Making kids laugh is the best. Congrats on your book.

  10. I want to advise you writing and editing an essay of any complexity to save your time. The best editors are ready to help you with this difficult work. Improve your essay and get a well-deserved high ball.

  11. This looks really cute, I love the cover.


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