This month, Virtual High School got to take a backstage tour of the work that goes into publishing children’s picture books!

Jocey Asnong, traveller and cat lover extraordinaire, has penned nearly a dozen books for children, including Nuptse and Lhotse in Nepal, Rocky Mountain ABCs, and West Coast 123s. She began making up stories and drawing at a young age, even taking the time to sketch out her mom’s grocery lists! After completing an Honours in Graphic Design diploma and an Honours in Interpretative Illustration diploma from Sheridan College in Ontario, Jocey moved to Alberta to work in a series of different occupations. It was a decade before her first published book hit bookstores. Now working as an author and illustrator from her home in Canmore, Alberta, Jocey also acts as a book rep for a Canadian book distributor.

Have a peek at Jocey’s whimsical art studio while you read all about how this vibrant, creative human is living out her dream career!

What are your current responsibilities within your role?

For creating my children’s books, I often travel to the destination I will be showcasing in the book (Nepal, Iceland, West Coast of Canada, etc.) to research, see, hear, and smell that region, and feel it in my soul. Then, after lots of additional book and internet research, writing, and sketching, I provide my publisher with a manuscript of the story and illustration roughs (line drawings). Once approved, I have to provide all finished illustrations to my publisher in digital format by a certain date. Once all of my illustrations are finished, I am responsible for scanning all of my work for the graphic designer at Rocky Mountain Books.

Why did you choose this line of work?

I have loved books and creating pictures and stories for as long as I can remember. I don’t think of it as choosing a line of work, as it has always been a part of me, but rather figuring out how to build a life around that passion.

Who has been your greatest role model?

My younger brother’s fearlessness, courage, sense of adventure, mischief, and curiosity has always inspired me. I am cautious by nature, but he pushed me when we were little farm kids exploring our 100-acre world to be brave and leap. He is in everything I do, in life and creatively.

What obstacles or challenges have you faced in your role?

There is often an assumption that artists that love what they do will be happy to work for free or for exposure, and it took me a while to learn to avoid or say no to projects or opportunities like this. When you are first setting out, there is pressure as an artist to get work and add to your professional portfolios. It can be very challenging as an emerging artist to find opportunities where you will be properly compensated.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Definitely meeting the children that love my books! They are always excited and sometimes a little shy (at first), but then they start gushing about all of their favourite parts and that’s it—I am a puddle of emotions! So much of my creative process is pouring my quirkiness into my books and hoping that I inspire other quirky kids out there, so meeting these super fans fills my heart.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into this field?

Even if you are exploding with natural talent, I strongly believe in pursuing a post secondary education in the arts to develop those skills more. I recommend finding a program that offers all of the foundational courses in drawing, painting, colour theory, and design fundamentals, with lots of studio time and instruction from professional working artists. Not only does post-secondary polish your talents, it also gives you this toolbox for how to work to meet deadlines and work efficiently (even if you aren’t feeling the creative flow). I still use many of these good work habits that were drilled into me in my college years on every project I do.

Do you have any tips for overcoming self-doubt?

There is this fabulous description of the creative process that goes something like this:
1. This is awesome!
2. This is tricky…
3. This is TERRIBLE.
4. I am terrible.
5. This might be okay.
6. This is awesome!
7. I am awesome.

I move through all of these phases on every project I do. Inevitably, I always land on the worst self-doubt and insecurities right when I need to send in my final illustrations. I second-guess everything I have done. I get through it by remembering this description, reminding myself it’s okay to have self-doubts, trying to let go of the obsession with perfection, and hitting send. When the self-doubt hits during the process, I let my art rest. I leave it for a few weeks, work on other pieces, walk outdoors, and find things that might help pull me out of my slump, like other illustrators’ social media updates or browsing the kids’ section at my local bookstore.

What are you looking forward to in your career this year?

Balance! During the pandemic, on top of my full-time job as a book rep, I also completed two books, over 60 illustrations, and a few other private commissions in 2020. I was creatively exhausted. This year, my publisher and I changed the schedule of my upcoming deadlines, which gives me a much-needed creative refueling break this year and a more manageable balance in my life. Rest and refueling our creative tanks are just as important as producing illustrations and books.