In Diana’s White House Garden, a picture book written by Elisa Carbone and illustrated by Jen Hill, readers meet Diana Hopkins: a plucky, occasionally mischievous kid who lived in the hectic White House of 1943. As the daughter of the chief advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Diana wanted to help with the WWII effort and eventually landed the job of planting the White House’s original Victory Garden.
This installment of Meet the Illustrator features Jen Hill, the artist behind the sweet — and historically accurate! — portrayals of Diana, her family, and her friends (including Fala, FDR’s adorable Scottish terrier) in Diana’s White House Garden. Brightly chatted with Jen about her childhood memories of drawing, how book characters drive her illustrations, and the benefits of working alongside other artists.
What first made you excited about art?
When we were little, my mom read to me and my brother every night before bed. We always read picture books. I remember being captivated by the art, and to this day remember the pictures I looked at more than the stories I heard.
One early art-related memory stands out. In kindergarten, a couple of little girls and I were drawing, and one girl said we should draw brides. So we did. When we showed them to each other, they told me mine was wrong, because instead of a triangle with a circle on top I had drawn a flowy, amorphous-looking thing that, to me, looked much more like a bride than two stacked shapes.
I absolutely loved to draw and would sit for hours at our kitchen table drawing all sorts of things. I also drew on walls and furniture, which was not so good.
What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
James Marshall’s George and Martha series are my favorite books of all time. His humor goes straight to my heart. I credit his work with my ambition to make picture books.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
All over the place, but mostly from narratives. I like characters — imagining what drives them and the worlds they inhabit.
What does your workspace look like?
I work in an art studio with four other illustrators in a big warehouse building in Brooklyn called The Pencil Factory. My corner of the room is super cozy yet spacious enough for me to spread out. My studio-mates are the best. We always have a jolly banter at least once a day. Two of them are also picture book illustrators; we share a lot of advice, opinions, resources and knowledge.
What materials do you most like to use?
Gouache on watercolor paper or bristol. And pencil. And Photoshop. I employ lots of tricks to get the desired effect. Lately I’ve been drawing in good old-fashioned pen and ink for a book project; I love that too. Unlike with Photoshop, one wrong move with pen and ink can mess up the entire project, which is scary — but maybe that makes it more psychologically gratifying when I successfully execute a piece.
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
If you want to be a picture book illustrator, you should become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You should also check out The Horn Book. And independent bookstores are a treasure trove of beautifully illustrated picture books, and the supply just keeps replenishing itself.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
“Magenta” is the first that popped into my mind. Probably because it evokes “majesty,” which is an excellent word.
Jen Hill is the illustrator of Diana’s White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America by Erin Hagar, Spring for Sophie by Yael Werber, and Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller. Jen’s children’s television credits include ‘Time Warp Trio,’ ‘Home Movies,’ and ‘Sesame Street English.’ Jen is a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied children’s book illustration with David Macaulay and Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and her intern, Little Bee, who is very helpful for a cat.