Prolific artist and illustrator Janet Lee's current project, in collaboration with our friends at Silence in the Library Publishing, is an illustrated edition of Pride & Prejudice. We caught up with Lee and asked her a few questions about her influences, the way she works, and her process for creating images from canonical texts.
With a classic work like Pride & Prejudice, that has so much material to choose from, how do you choose which moments from the book to illustrate?
Thankfully, I have prior experience illustrating two other Austen novels which were adapted for Marvel, and Pride & Prejudice is my favorite book. It's helpful to know a text by heart when choosing which parts to highlight.
My biggest problem has been scaling back. With unlimited time and resources, I would probably draw every scene in the book, which of course takes away from Miss Austen's amazing prose. So I tried to be methodical. First, I made a chronological list of what I felt were the most significant events in Pride & Prejudice. With some careful editing, I only had ten scenes more than were needed for this edition. I then, went through the list and marked the scenes I wanted to illustrate in color, and made a second pass to select scenes that would be drawn in black and white. I tried to distribute everything evenly, and now I have some additional scenes if we overfund and I get to draw more.
Is this project different from the things you normally work on? How did you come to be part of it?
Illustrated Pride & Prejudice is very different from my usual illustration work. Rather than drawing sequential, comics pages, I'm creating more classic, still pictures which highlight the original text. It's a different way to approach the art. In comics illustration, I fill the narrative role in our storytelling; the art "describes" the scene, the characters, the atmosphere. However when illustrating moments from a prose novel, the pictures are more of an additive, a filigree. They aren't necessary to the story, yet they exist to enhance our enjoyment of it. It seems like a small difference, but it's a significant change in how one approaches the task.
I became involved last summer at San Diego Comic Con. I met Janine and Ron from SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY PUBLISHING while I was in Artists Alley. We talked about my previous work and our mutual interest in creating a new take on Pride & Prejudice. I'm not sure what caused our paths to cross, but it was kismet.
What's your workspace like? How/when do you work?
I work out of my studio, which is a small (often messy) room in my Nashville home. Until just a few years ago, I was a corporate manager with an artistic hobby that was growing out of control. I loved my "real" job, but it wasn't fulfilling creatively, so at first started selling artwork through galleries for fun and with the goal of paying for my art supplies. Before I knew it, I was asked to illustrate books. So my studio is an odd mix of art supplies and drawing tools. I still work in physical media, and I love constructing images as sort of original collages of my own drawings. So, pens, glue, scissors, and a bunch of snippets of paper.
Who are your influences?
My degree is in British Literature. I stopped formally studying art in middle school. So, my influences are extremely broad. In fact, I'm a pretty firm believer that everything we see, experience, and love will inform our art. Some of my influences are, in no particular order: Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll, Frank Baum and William Wallace Denslow, Arthur Rackham and the Red Rose Girls, Rachmaninoff and The Violent Femmes, Alan Moore, The Bronte Sisters, Pan's Labyrinth, Craig Thompson, Juanjo Guarnido, Joe Hill, Stephen King and Frank Herbert, David Weisner and Shaun Tan.