“It’s a challenge and a responsibility.” Madison artist Jerry Jordan finds himself a wanted children’s book illustrator


Madison artist Jerry Jordan is going to be very busy over the next two years. At least.

Currently, Jordan is creating artwork for Dinah Johnson’s “Marching for the Vote: the Story of Ida B Wells and the Women’s March of 2013,” slated for publication in Little, Brown next year. He recently completed the first painting – a 24 by 36 inch work that will eventually span the first two pages of the book.

And he’s already signed on for two other projects: “Unstoppable John,” a biography of Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis by Madison-area author Pat Zietlow Miller, slated for publication by Viking in 2024. , and another project that has yet to be announced.

In all, it will be around 120 paintings, Jordan said.

Illustration projects are part of a career that has recently improved after many years of hard work and patience.

I hesitate to say because the last few years for the whole world (have been) really, really difficult. They have been bad,” he said. “As far as my artistic career goes, these are the best years of my life. I guess people are at home and have decided they want art. My paintings are selling and I get a lot of commissioned work. And then with books it’s pretty cool. It’s a dream come true.

Jordan, who works in a style of contemporary realism in the tradition of Harlem Renaissance influences, said the process was not a close collaboration with the author; on the contrary, once a publisher acquires a manuscript, he chooses the illustrator who he thinks will best accompany the text.

Everything was done by email. I don’t know how it was done before the pandemic, but for me it was through emails,” says Jordan. They will send me a copy of the book. And I’m going to read it and do some quick, quick, and dirty thumbnail sketches and show them that I have a vision of what the artwork should look like. So far they have loved everything.

This way of doing things gives the artist the freedom to do what he wants.

“He wasn’t hanging over my shoulder as I wrote the words,” and doesn’t need an author watching him as he works, Miller said.

Matching the art to the words doesn’t significantly impact his process, Jordan says.

It’s not that different,” he says. “When I read the story, I have a vision in my head of what the character will look like and what they do…it’s still the same creative process.”

Jordan earned an art degree from UW-Whitewater in 1988 with the intention of designing album covers. In recent years he has been featured in a number of gallery exhibitions nationwide and has taken on major commissions including a mural illustrating the history of Black Madison at Madison College Goodman South Campus and an upcoming mural at American Family Insurance’s Spark. Building on East Washington Avenue. He also works full-time as a recruiter and student adviser at the UW-Madison School of Education.

Jordan got into the game of children’s illustration through his wife’s Twitter account. Nyra Jordan is Director of Social Impact Investments at American Family Insurance, where Miller also worked until recently. Several years ago, she tweeted one of Jerry’s paintings, which caught Miller’s eye. Miller retweeted it and her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, took notice.

“I was just sitting down to write an email to my agent saying, ‘hey, you need to check this person’s work, when my agent emailed me and said, ‘Do you know you that person? His art is amazing. We both came to the same place, and I said, ‘yes, I do. And I was about to email you. And now, she represents him and she represents me. And we have this book coming out together, which feels like tons of coincidences,” Miller said, noting that she still hasn’t met Jerry Jordan.

Apparently, Jordan’s reputation has only grown since then; Miller said Viking representatives contacted Paquette to inquire about Jordan even before Paquette launched him.

Jordan said that even in the digital age, people are still buying books — and publishers are still looking for premium artwork.

Illustration artists are in high demand,” he said. “As things stand, my agent is actually waiting for more work. She could get more work for me, but I have to prove myself.

Both Jordan and Miller said they were well aware of what it means to portray such a historical subject.

“I felt a huge responsibility to get it right,” said Miller, a former journalist. “I was really relieved when they signed Jerry, because even without knowing him, just what I know about him, I knew he would have an equal responsibility to get it right. It was very reassuring to know that he was paired with me on this one.

It’s a challenge and a responsibility “to visually tell the stories of historical figures like Wells and Lewis, Jordan said. “I have to step back and remember that a small child is going to read this and I want him to see the painting and get lost in it, to see all the details. It’s a huge responsibility. »

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