Name: Jenny Cooper
Date of birth: 11 June 1961
Place of birth: Wellington
Now living in: Christchurch
What is your favourite food?
Just about everything that is bad for me, unfortunately. My partner Chris and I also love growing our own veges. Silverbeet is really easy to grow, although we tend to look at it proudly, and not eat it.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I often get chocolate on my artwork and have to paint over it (from eating Toffee Pops when I work). My cat Molly walks on the artwork too, with dirty paws. Look for cat paw prints in my books, sometimes you can see them around the edges. Once I spilt a whole bottle of black ink over a painting, and all over myself and the floor. It was a disaster. And once I was working away happily and turned round to see the room full of smoke. I called the fire brigade, three firemen rushed around with their lights flashing and sirens wailing, only to tell me I had just let the jug boil dry and it was only steam. I offered them a cup of tea, but they said they would go back to the fire station because they were watching a good program on television.
How do you relax?
All the usual grown-up things like gardening, reading and pottery (which I am very bad at). I love going fishing with Chris, he fishes, I drink tea and read, or swim in the river and scare the fish away. I like having friends for dinner, except for having to cook.
Who inspired you when you were little?
I don’t know the names of the illustrators, but I used to spend hours looking at books of fairy tales and legends, and then copy the illustrations. Even today I am really good at drawing princesses, but no-one writes books about princesses nowadays, so I don’t get to draw them.
What were you like at school?
I worked hard, was quite shy and enjoyed most things. Three times I got beaten up when I stepped in to stop bullies, which I find interesting to think about now. I hope I would do the same as an adult.
I drew all over my books, doodled in every margin and the thing I enjoyed most was doing the title pages in the front of my books, at the beginning of every year. And I love drawing cross-sections of things, plants and so on.
What was your favourite/most hated subject at school?
I really loved biology which was good because it taught me to understand plants and animals, and now I use that knowledge a lot in my work. Strangely I didn’t like art much, because they tried to make us use big paint brushes and crayons, and I liked drawing with biro and lead pencil. In my School Certificate Art Exam they made us draw a metal rubbish bin which annoyed me, as I specialised in horses and princesses.
What was the book you most loved as a child?
Who is your favourite illustrator?
This changes all the time. At the moment I am enjoying Shaun Tan, Wolf Erlbruch and Freya Blackwood. Next week it will be someone different. There is always something new to look at.
Why did you want to be an illustrator?
I don’t think I could help it. When you like to draw, nothing will stop you, and being an illustrator is one way to draw as a job. It almost happened as an accident, but I am very lucky that it did.
Do you have a special place where you write and illustrate your books?
Yes my studio is very important. For many years when my children Kenese and Kalia were small, I worked from my bedroom, and it is good nowadays to have a large sunny studio where I can spread myself out and take my work seriously. It is also nice to shut the studio door on Friday afternoon and not go back there until Monday morning.
What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer or illustrator?
There is real pleasure in creating something from out of one’s head, something that didn’t exist until you thought of it. I love working alone and being able to concentrate very hard (but it also gets lonely). I love it when I think I have got something right, a shape or a face, or capturing an action, or shadows or something, then I feel very proud (but I hate it when I am not happy with my work, then I get frustrated). Funnily enough, I don’t particularly like seeing my books after they are printed, because there are so many things I would improve or change. But I keep thinking that the NEXT book will be better.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Keep your eyes open and draw what interests you. Copy other people’s work (there is nothing wrong with copying, it is great practise) and draw draw draw. Don’t be embarrassed by your mistakes, it is all learning. It doesn’t matter if the drawings don’t start out very well, because we all have to keep improving all our lives.
Read some books by Jenny Cooper
More information about Jenny Cooper
Read posts featuring Jenny Cooper from the Christchurch Kids Blog.
This interview is from 2008.