Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Q + A: Jen Mussari

Q: Do you work as an illustrator full time or do you have a “day” job?

I have a day job and I love it! I work part time in Anthropologie San Francisco with an inspiring team of people. I get to take the things I see everyday as influences to my work, and it's only been great for me. Plus, speaking realistically, it's helped me pay off my student loans just over a year out of school.

Q: What’s your favorite book? Favorite movie?

My favorite book changes like the weather. One minute it's The Phantom Tollbooth, the next it's new modern fiction like Downtown Owl by Klosterman, the next it's classics like Hamlet. Through all of this, however, I've always been an avid coffee-table book collector, and I find myself going back to the huge design books like A Visual History of Typefaces for inspiration. As far as movies, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly will always be my favorite.

Q: Do you have any advice for fighting creative block?

I always feel like creative block is my own fault and end up moping in a cesspool of self pity for a day or two. So I advise against doing that. I'm starting to realize that my creative energy isn't always under my control, and am exploring that. Living in San Francisco is great for this because whenever I find myself unable to work, I take the bus to Golden Gate Park and walk under the eucalyptus until I get to the ocean. By that point I've figured it out. If not, then the library is the very next stop.

Q: What is your ideal project you’d like to work on?

I love collaborating, which is why I'm so excited about Ten Paces! My ideal project is one that brings out the best in a group of diverse talents. I would be so excited to work with other artists, art directors, photographers, etc on a book about collaboration.

Q: What has been your favorite Ten Paces swap so far? If you had to add a theme to the line-up, what would it be?

My favorite swap so far was the pet portraits theme! Everyone's sketch felt really personal, and I was crazy about the Jaqueline McNally sketch I got to finalize. Kyle Fewell created the most dreamy final portrait of my fluffball, Winston. Everyone in the lineup turned out something amazing that week! I'd love to see a week in which we do new takes on old master paintings and drawings. It would be really cool to see a master painting revisited in a sketch, and then revisited again when finalized for Ten Paces.

Q: What is the most inspiring thing about where you live? People, scenery, environment, etc? What’s your favorite thing about your location?

I mentioned earlier, but I live in San Francisco, which has to be the most picturesque city in the universe. It stills boggles my mind that at any moment I can walk a block, then hop on a bus to basically anywhere: rocky California ocean cliffs, ferries in the bay, they even have a bison pen to visit in Golden Gate Park! It's a relatively safe city where less people drive, so it's great for walking.

My favorite thing about this city is how easy it is to live a life that doesn't impact the environment so much. Vegetarian food is everywhere, it's easy to bike or take public transit, the ENTIRE city composts, and I get all of my produce from local farmers for cheaper than it is at the grocery store. Some people give San Franciscans a hard time for living a more environmental lifestyle, but I'm proud to be surrounded by people that make caring about the environment so easy for everyone.

Q: What are you currently working on – a job, a personal piece? Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

I recently released S Magazine, which was a hybrid project at the very core. It was part personal piece/part for getting a promotion at Anthro SF, part photography/part design, part inspired by real people/part invented. I had never really created something like this, but I figure if I'm not getting the kind of magazine work I would like to do, I'll just invent it myself. I would love to keep releasing these digital stories, and have a few ideas in the works already!

Q: Do you think your first illustration jobs came more from promoting yourself or from knowing people and having connections?

My very very first illustrations jobs, which I'm not sure should even count but I did get paid for them, were actually in high school for my late English teacher. He was also a musician and he asked me to create album covers for his releases. The drawings that I came up with are laughably bad, but the experience helped me realize that illustration is a career option and that I should start looking at art schools. Since then, almost all of my jobs have come through personal and professional connections, but I still promote my work in hopes of changing that.

Q: What is your ultimate goal for your illustration career?

My ultimate goal is to be happy with my work, and respected for it.

Q: Can you tell us about a time you failed or a time you should have done something differently? What did you learn from it?

I had a great gig right after school that was followed by a horrible one. I took a job from a low-paying client that was already asking me to draw outside of my style, but I was confident in my ability to finalize the brief. I did plenty of research, and made revision after revision. Nothing was getting a reaction from this client. As my sketches were hacked up and cut-and pasted with other corporate logos I realized nothing I would do would satisfy this client. I know now not to work with someone who does not respect my work in the first place.

Q: What is your favorite thing to draw?


Q: Can you describe a typical day in your life?

I wake up at 5:30 to get ready for work at 7. Get coffee in my half-awake dream state, and meet up with the girls at work to make the store beautiful for the day. Sometimes I will be finished by noon, and I'll go home to check and answer emails. I get my knapsack full of the right pens and pencils and head out to Hayes Valley to sketch out my ideas in the park. They have these picnic tables under an olive tree that are the perfect height for sketching on, I can get my face right in what I'm working on. When I feel like I have my ideas fleshed out, I go home to finalize and scan them.

Check out Jen's web site here!


  1. Ah! An interview with one of my favorite rising stars in illustration! Jenn Mussari is a natural. Her life goals admirable. Her integrity and dedication has gotten her where she is today! And her work is super cool!

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  3. Wow! Jen sounds like a wonderful, inspiring person that I'd love to hang out with. Thanks for sharing her interview with us! -emily b