Illustrator Profile - Jensine Eckwall: "I've always been inspired by music and words"

By Robert Newman   Thursday February 15, 2018

Jensine Eckwall is a Brooklyn-based illustrator whose work has graced the covers of eight books and one full-length picture book. She also recently finished illustrating a book for adults that has an upcoming release date. That's impressive work, considering that Eckwall has only been working as an illustrator since 2013. With a background creating short comics and zines, she says that “Breaking into books has let the narrative quality of my work shine far more than most editorial assignments.” Eckwall’s illustrations have a smart, narrative style; she creates them with a combination of Photoshop, ink, watercolor, and gouache.

I live in Brooklyn, NY, USA, and have been working as an illustrator since 2013.

My family moved frequently when I was growing up, so my environment changed/was uprooted pretty regularly.  

I studied Illustration at SVA.  

I worked at the Society of Illustrators as an administrator and operator of the museum shop, for a year and a half. I still work with them on a volunteer basis as part of the New Visions Committee.  

I also worked as a shop monitor at Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop for two years, and as an artist's assistant to Brian Adam Douglas during the summers when I was at school.   

Currently I live with two animators (Krystal Downs and Alex Krokus, who together make up Doggo Studios) and a cartoonist (Josiah Files) in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn.  

I work in a studio space that I bike or take the bus to. I share it with five other artists (illustrators, cartoonists, and a performer), all former SVA students. I love having a dedicated workspace outside the house, and was lucky to find an affordable space with a great group of people. You might know my studio mate Tyler Boss from his currently serialized comic, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank. I like group environments that are’t necessarily social, where everyone respects each other’s space. I have a desk for my computer and Cintiq monitor, and a drafting table for painting.  


Most of the time, I sketch in Photoshop. If I’m working on a bigger assignment like a book cover, I’ll make a digital color study as well. I print out the digital sketch and lightbox it onto Arches hot press watercolor paper with mechanical pencil. Then, depending on the piece, I work with ink, watercolor, and gouache. Everything ends up being scanned and cleaned up back in Photoshop. I like Schminke and Holbein brand paints. I have a small Epson scanner, so I usually scan in parts and piece it back together with the Photomerge tool.  

I was very lucky to get my first book assignment from Katrina Damkoehler at Knopf. It was a cover, map, and chapter headings for a middle grade novel called The Goblin’s Puzzle, by Andrew S. Chilton. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in books, but working for the middle grade market really helped carve out a direction for me. I love the characters, fantastical settings, and high drama of these books (often without the self-seriousness YA readers desire). I was very privileged to be trusted with this assignment, and Katrina was great to work with (and has continued to be great, on the covers for Beautiful Blue World and Threads of Blue). It meant a lot that she registered what I was “going for” in my work. Breaking into books has let the narrative quality of my work shine far more than most editorial assignments. Since then, I’ve done eight book covers and one full-length picture book, and have finished illustrating a book for adults (through Orbit Books) that should receive a release date soon.  


I’ve had some really wonderful teachers over the years.  I definitely wouldn't be where I am without Yuko ShimizuBruce WaldmanMarcos ChinFrances Jetter, and Amy Wilson at SVA.
Something they all had in common was showing me, as a student, how to look at and love art books. I can remember, clear as day, the first time a professor I admired had me flip through the works of Henry DargerJoel-Peter Witkin or The Symbolist Movement.

I got into art-making through comics, and being tangential to the indie comics scene has been significant to me and my development. So, cartooning in general exists as an influence.  

Anyone who knows me knows I’m always going on about “tone” and “theme.” So anything with tonal emotional resonance gets me. If I had to guess, seeing this exhibition by artist Dario Robleto in high school, when I worked as a volunteer docent at a local museum, was the first time that clicked for me.  


I think that’s musician Neko Case. My admiration for her began when I first heard her album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. The starkness and beauty of the imagery and narratives in the songs like, blew my mind.  She’s built an incredible career and body of work over the past 20 years, and watching her develop as an artist, with such clarity of vision at every stage, is very inspiring. I also admire her convictions and willingness to stand up for her beliefs. 

I’ve always been inspired by music and words. Certain phrases or lyrics will get stuck in my head, and the way they get turned around over and over is often my most significant source of imagery. So, I’m always listening to music as passive inspiration.

Lately, I’ve been really interested in art history, especially medieval art. There’s something about the graphic quality and personality in medieval illuminations that I love more than anything. I also like thinking about how some of these images, that are so old, would fit right into a contemporary illustration.

I also like watching movies, and film analysis on YouTube. This helps me put words to why something in a narrative does or doesn’t work. I’ve been trying to get in all the action and sci-fi classics I never saw as I kid. Robocop and Starship Troopers still have something to offer us today.  


Focusing, for sure. Breaking down a deadline, or worse, a personal project, into manageable sections and using my time well, has always been a bit difficult.  

I worked on an advertising project, which is unusual for me. It was definitely a memorable experience. working on a lushly illustrated startup guide and user manual for a personal frozen yogurt machine called WIM (the product isn't out yet). I had a great time working in-house, which meant I got to watch the chefs at work and look at all the prototypes and CAD equipment.  

Right now, I’d love to design the visuals for either a clothing line or a music video.  


I particularly enjoy working with Tundra (editor Sam Swenson and art director Terri Nimmo). I have worked with them on Almost a Full Moon, written by Hawksley Workman, and The Painting, The Ghost Road, and The Swallow, by Charis Cotter. They’re a very giving and kind publisher. and it’s clear how much they care about making beautiful and inspired books for young people. I’m biased because I got to work on ghost stories with them, but they really are so nice!  

I admire Eleanor Davis so much for the honestly in her comics and the work she does in her community. I also like Nicolas Delort, who’s doing something really his own, and I enjoy reading his thoughts about art history on Twitter. Right now, I’m enjoying Bjenny Monteros four-panel comics. He’s exploring something interesting about illness and romantic love, but beyond that the comics are very charming.  


I like making short comics, and as of now mostly only get the chance to do them for anthologies. I’ve taken a bit of a break from constructing my own minicomics, but it’s something I enjoy. I collaborated with my friend Alex Krokus to make an animated short out of one of my comics, called The Nightmare. I’d like to do more work in surface design, and recently taught myself how to make repeating patterns. I’m also printing up some wearable goods to sell for charity.  

Last year I made a series of paintings for myself (I guess that makes them art?) called Remember Who Loves You. I’m currently working on a second part to the series that’s way more involved—hopefully around 15 paintings that will eventually be printed up into a book.  

I also love teaching! I’ve had the opportunity to guest lecture/critique at several colleges, and it would be great to get the chance to do it more often. You can see which schools I’ve been to here.

I’ve only been working for four years, but I make it a point to always be critical and stay on top of aesthetics and try not to fall too deeply into trends. I do think that diversifying my work life would be good for me in general though, and in the future would like to art direct or teach on a part-time basis.  


I send out postcards and emails updating prospective and past clients on new work every so often. When I was just starting out, I sent them about three times a year. Right now, I don’t need to send out promos quite as much, but I still do if there’s a client in particular I’d like to work for. I maintain presences on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and try to stay involved in industry events and conventions. I also submit to American Illustration and Society of Illustrators every year. It’s hard to say which angle of promotion leads to which jobs (I should ask more often!) but I know that, in totality, it helps and has helped.  

Look at work outside of contemporary illustration. It’s important to engage with many forms of art and narrative, and to cultivate your interests.

Become close with your peers/fellow students whose work you admire; having a network of friends who challenge each other in healthy ways is powerful in this industry!

Of course, it’s important to think about where your work fits, but don’t limit the work you make to what you assume will get you jobs. 

In my experience so far, we need to optimize the opportunities and time we get to really focus on developing our craft. As life goes on, responsibilities only increase. In general, make the most interesting and special work you can!

See more Jensine Eckwall illustrations, new work, and updates:
Jensine Eckwall website
Twitter: @WhoIsJensine
Instagram: @whoisjensine


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