5 Mins 3 years ago

Jen Bartel on editorial illustration, stubbornness, and being a boss at social media.

If you've ever attended Comic-con, visited Forbidden Planet or read a copy of Jem and the Holograms you will almost certainly have feasted your eyes on the work of Jen Bartel. Dripping in Neon 90s influence and strong women being the core subject matter Jen's work is absolutely traffic stoppingly brilliant.

How then does a fan of comic illustration and 90’s culture build a highly successful globally recognised career in editorial illustration? Jen took some time out of her schedule to answer our questions. Here’s what she said…

Could you give us 3 tips that you’d say have got you to where you are today?

1. Unrelenting stubbornness. I never give up on goals I set for myself.

2. Being kind to others. You never know when someone you’ve helped will be in a position to return the favor.

3. Work ethic: I-like-to-work. If you don’t like drawing, this is not the career path for you!

Jen Bartel Editorial Illustration

Why did you feel editorial Illustration is best suited to you? What excites you about it?

It’s funny, I actually am still not sure illustration was best suited to me, at least in terms of what the “industry standard” for illustration is.

I’m not the best at creating narrative art or editorial pieces.

Which are the two areas that seem to get the most focus in the industry. After trying to force it for many years, I realized that I’m really more of a designer who happens to be able to draw.

Looking at it that way has really helped me move forward with my work.

Sometimes it’s ok to just make images that look aesthetically pleasing and don’t have any deeper meaning beyond that. 

Jen Bartel Editorial Illustration
Jen Bartel Editorial Illustration


Can you give us an idea of your average day, how you work and how you get your creative ideas and editorial illustration done?

I’ve got a new puppy so my days have kind of been thrown upside down, schedule wise. It’s required a lot of flexibility, but I try my hardest to maintain dedicated time slots.

I like to start my day by answering any urgent emails. But then I’ll do something easy, like inking or coloring something left over from the previous day.

That way I can do it kind of on auto-pilot while my brain wakes up. Then I’ll move into the harder stuff, which, for me, is coming up with ideas and doing sketches. I like to wind down by answering the less urgent emails at night.

How do you attract new work?

I have been very fortunate in that I haven’t really had to cold call any art directors or editors. I think by maintaining a strong social media presence and regularly posting work, I’m able to avoid that for the most part.

But I do occasionally check in with people I’d like to work with again if projects are feeling a little thin that month.
Jen Bartel Editorial Illustration

Can you talk us through the process of how you get inspiration and how you form new ideas?

I’m definitely a planner.

I like to come up with a whole bunch of concepts and slowly work my way through them. So if an idea strikes me I’ll write it down and refer back to my list of ideas later when I’m not feeling as inspired.

I think having a list of options is the best way to prepare for art block!

Once I get started on the actual illustration though, I like to gather as much reference material as I can to really be able to have visual guidelines. Basically everything I do is to make sure that when my brain inevitably fizzles out halfway through. I have a safety net of materials that will allow me to keep going.

How long have you been an Illustrator and would you say it’s your career?

I’ve been doing freelance illustration since I was still in school, but only in this past year have I really felt like it’s become my career.

I quit my day job in November 2015 to go full time freelance, and I haven’t gone back to a day job since. I think that’s enough to define it as a career!
Jen Bartel Editorial Illustration

What’s the best advice would you give to someone starting out in editorial illustration?

Be kind to people. 

You never know when someone you’ve helped will be in a position to return the favour. 

What’s the one thing that really inspires you? And why?

I don’t think I can pick just one thing! Movies, design, photography, fashion, nature, it all plays in.

I just try to cherry pick my favorite things from each of those genres and apply them to my work.


Check out more of Jen's work on her site.



I'm co-founder of Crazy Animal Face, host of the CAF Podcast, and compere of our CAF events. My views are my own.

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