Today we welcome C.S. Jennings to the table, a funny and talented guy whose work makes me smile as much as he does. C.S. is actively involved in our Austin chapter, a social media guru of sorts, a speaker at monthly meetings, and one of the behind-the-scenes people who makes our world go 'round. We are so happy to feature him here and get to know a little more about him, his work, and what makes him smile.
Where did you grow up, and did that place shape your work? If so, how?
I grew up in west Texas. It was a dry, hot place and we spent most of our time on our bicycles exploring the towns we lived in. You’d find me up in a cotton wood tree, watching smoke from a fire rise across town. You’d see me on my knees watching the dung beetles rolling their precious orbs. I had a large group of stuffed animals and puppets, each with a different name, personality, and voice. The places I grew up in gave me room to knock around, and that’s what I do in my studio. (Plus, I have a penchant for drawing cows and horses. I spent a lot of time around those as a kid.)
Did you always want to be a writer/illustrator, or did that come later?
When I was a little guy, I wanted two things for my future: to change my name to “Steve Austin, The Six Millionaire Dollar Man." (That would be my whole name, “Steve Austin The Six Millionaire Dollar Man.”) The second thing I wanted was to be on the Muppet Show. Neither of those things have (yet) come true. Becoming an illustrator and a writer, however, were more a matter of being for me. We all draw as children. Some of us never put our pencils and crayons down. Reading didn’t come easy to me. My mother, in her brilliance, gave me a book in which to write stories—there my love and pursuit of words began. Those two pastimes inevitably intersected.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Hahahaha. I have no idea. They’d see someone who works hard and likes to laugh. They’d see me grab my sketchbook to draw or write something before it escapes. And they would see me drink tea. I drink a LOT of tea.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
What feeds my work are the the moments in the day I stop to look around. The shadow and gleam as light comes through my window reflecting off a coffee cup on my table. Watching a young cardinal or woodpecker scrabble around the bird feeder in my yard. Other people’s work inspires me, whether it’s writing or drawing. Something in a bit of music. I don’t know, it sounds corny when I write it out, but there’s a part of me that’s given to wonder. Wonder feeds the core of where my work originates. Artists and writers are observers, constantly gathering, storing, cataloging. Whether looking in, or looking out; I am fed by what affects me.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
My first picture book was a highlight for sure. In college, I’d stood in the children’s section of my local bookstore, dreaming of seeing my book there. A few years later I stood in that same bookstore and there it was, shining back at me, “Jennings” on the spine. Also, I was an animation lead on Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly.” I sat at the premiere in Hollywood, surrounded by clapping and excited people. Later, at a panel at Comic Con in San Diego, the other leads and myself fielded questions from the large room. Those experiences were pretty great.
What surprises you about the creative life?
Details. I am surprised by what a nerd I can be about small details. Shapes, the way a line ends, or the break of a pencil mark. These tiny things excite me in my work and when I see it in other’s. It’s funny too. I can sit at the drawing table drawing over and over, each sketch not right, not conveying the character or emotion. Then, there the character is on the page. Smiling at me. I know I labored to get it there, but it does seem almost magical when they arrive. I’ll turn off the light for the night, but I’ll sneak back into the studio, flipping on the lamp above my table, and just stand and look at it. My best work, I don’t feel responsible for creating it.
Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find?
I hope they find a smile. I hope when someone encounters my work it makes them laugh. Joy is really what I want to convey. It’s always been that way for me. Grit or darkness are not part of what I do. That’s not on purpose, that’s just what comes out when I work. I think that’s why the children’s industry is a fit for me. It’s a place where it’s still ok to smile.
Author bio: C.S. is an Austin, Texas based children’s and editorial illustrator. He brings top shelf know-how to the publishing, gaming, editorial, advertising, and entertainment industries. (He also was an animation lead for Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly.) Author of Hello, Texas! (Sterling Publishing) and author-illustrator of the picture book Animal Band (Sterling Publishing); he’s also illustrated books for Penguin Group, Scholastic, and Stone Arch Books. Find him online at CSJennings.com.