Lettering master Jessica Hische on her new book's essential message for both adults and kids

Jessica Hische tells us how Tomorrow I'll Be Brave was inspired by her little one, and how her art connections helped the book to see the light.

The creators we feature on Digital Arts often branch out from art into the book field; names like Anthony Burrill for example have collected their works into tomes following a certain theme, while others like Radim Malinic have put advice to paper in some inspirational paperbacks.

Going into fiction though is an entirely different endeavour, especially for children's lit, but one star name who's taken the plunge is lettering artist Jessica Hische, who this month has released her first kids book with Tomorrow I'll Be Bravea beautiful exercise in lettering and art out now through Penguin.

When Digital Arts last interviewed Jessica in 2015, she had just put out her first book In Progress, an in-depth look at her creative process designing lettering for projects like Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and tasty looking Starbucks ads. She'd also just become a mother.

Three years later, and the artist has now been suitably inspired by her little one to create a bedtime story that aims to gives readers - and listeners - an inspiring message that'll also resound with grown ups. 

"With the children's books that we were reading to our daughter, she would get very bored with things that were for her age really early," Jessica explains to me during a meet-up at this year's Adobe MAX conference in LA.

"It felt like with bedtime books there was this missed opportunity to have this very reflective time where you could talk about the next day and really encourage your kids to do something. And then in terms of introducing a more 'adult-ish'-like concept that's a little 'higher level', I really wanted to talk about self-forgiveness, and about the value of trying."

"The premise of the book is that it's very encouraging, but in the last two pages there's this little stanza that just says, 'Tomorrow I'll be all the things I tried to be today, and if I wasn't one of them, I know that it's okay, but tonight I'm very sleepy, so now it's time to rest. Tomorrow I'll be all these things or at least I'll try my best,'" Jessica recites with perfect clarity.

It's a valuable sentiment, and one that Jessica feels we all need to "combat the inner perfectionism of just trying to achieve great things," as Jessica says.

"But (it's also) just about giving ourselves a pat on the back for actually like trying to achieve anything at all," she continues.

To convey these lessons to children, Tomorrow I'll Be Brave cannily mixes words and illustrations to great effect. Poetic rhymes make sure the message gets across, and drawings from Jessica work on two levels, eye-catching for kids yet inspired in how they convey various abstract concepts.  

"(The book) is very much a poem. There isn't any 'character activity' throughout it, so I knew that the illustrations would need to really carry that.

"For example - what does strong mean? How do I inject as much 'strength' into what I'm portraying in the illustration, and how do I show different examples of how this word applies to a small child? And so that way the words could still stay high level, but the illustration could really have it hit home and show them examples of how to make it practical.

"For strong (above), for example, it's the two characters running along a little hill and (the word) is written like an ant hill underneath, with passageways for the ants. And I was thinking, 'Oh my God, ants can carry like 100 times their weight,' or something like that. That's such a fun little teachable moment in the story."

Jessica worked on the book for two years, along with the recently announced Tomorrow I'll Be Kind, a sequel which will centre around "how to make the lives of other people better. Like how you interact with other people and how you can make yourself better for humanity, not just for yourself," the author reveals.

"The first book is about making yourself better just for your own benefit. All these things that you hope to be in order to just make your life better," she continues, explaining the difference between both books. But the creation of both was no walk in the park.

"I started by working really intensely for three, four months, and I thought that I was going to self-publish it, and I totally lost steam, and I just put it aside for a while, while I was focusing on other things," Jessica confesses."And then it just kept being this thing that was eating at me like, 'How come I'm not working at this? I really need to get this into the world.'"

"So I ended up shopping it around to a bunch of publishers, because I figured that the only stumbling block that I had was that I needed someone to yell at me to finish it," she laughs.

Jessica's previous work designing covers and lettering for books like Dave Eggers's The Circle and reissues of Pride and Prejudice meant she already had good connections with the publishing world, just proving how connections you make as a designer will always be invaluable for future projects and explorations of other creative fields.

"While I worked with a literary agent and he set up some additional meetings, the core of my initial meetings that I set up were all relationships that I already had with clients, so it really felt like I was sharing a project with a friend. It felt like the pressure was off, (and) I just knew that someone was going to bite it. I had no reservation about it."

Penguin ended up taking the bait, with Jessica instantly having a good rapport with the publishing giant.

"Penguin and I had just had this immediate 'click' of a relationship, and because I got that spark from them, because they really showed that they (believed) in this, I immediately hit the ground running and was going to do everything in my power to make sure that this book is successful."

Jessica also had a novel way of market testing the book before publishing, creating her own self-published versions of Tomorow I'll Be Brave and then dishing them out to friends in order to be read to their kids.

"I had one that I kept at my house that I would like try to force my daughter to read with me," she tells me. "And the one that I sort of floated around, I got semi-decent feedback with it but, they're like three year olds. (So) I got a lot more feedback from adults than I did from the kids. 

"But, I had set it out to not necessarily be a book just for children; I wanted it to be sort of like an all ages book, and I saw time and time again when I would show it to adults and especially college students that they would just constantly come back to me and go, 'I feel like I need this book. I don't have any children but I need this book'. And that's super validating, and it made me feel like it would find a home."

Influences on the book include modern children's writers like Jon Klassen; while his minimal and very deadpan Hat trilogy may seem like a surprising source of inspiration, its simplicity marks an obvious connection to Tomorrow I'll Be Brave.

"His illustration is beautiful and simple, and the books are very beautiful, so I found him to be so inspirational but in a way that it didn't apply to how I work and how I would choose to work. That would be me walking against the wind to write a work that way.

"I also love Dragons Love Tacos (by Adam Rubin). The humor in it is so good, and it's something that you can just tell that he's writing as much for adults as for the kids.

"I think both Jon Klassen and Adam Rubin have that in common, where you can tell that it's meant for everybody, and that the kids are going to get something different out of it than the adults are going to get, but that they sort of can play against each other.

"I think that all the best books that we read in our lives," she concludes, "are ones that if we read them at different stages in our lives, they mean different things.

"That's the mark of good fiction - whether it's written for an adult or not, it should be a book that when you read it when you're 22, it means something very different than when you read it when you're 40. And I hope that anything that I make could achieve that level. It's a very lofty aspiration, but it would be super cool that were true."

Tomorrow I'll Be Brave is out now in the UK on ebook, with a hardcover edition due in November.

Comments

Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...