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Today, Nic talks to Jeanne Styczinski, a children’s book author and illustrator, former kindergarten teacher, and artist-in-residence. Listen as they discuss painted paper illustration, great collaborative artworks for students, and how to look forward to that second career after teaching. Full Episode Transcript Below.
Nic: Art Ed Now is right around the corner. This is an online conference that is developed just for art educators, although I think most educators would really benefit. Art Ed Now is February 1st, 2020 and it is going to be featuring a lot of different presenters from all walks of life and all backgrounds. So no matter what you teach, kindergarten through 12th grade or even adult learners, you’re going to walk away with a plethora of information and ideas to move forward with. Today we’re going to be talking to one of the presenters. Jeanie Styczinski is an author, illustrator and has been an educator for the majority of her life. We’re going to chat with her a little bit about what she’s presenting, but she has so much more to offer. So this is a little bit of a… Oh, a pre-conference we’ll call it. This is Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.
Jeanne, thank you so much for being here today. I am excited to hear about your presentation for Art Ed Now, but before we do that, can you give us a little bit of background about yourself? Where you started and your affiliation with both education and then also illustration?
Jeanne: Well, my name is Jeanie Styczinski and I taught kindergarten for many years and Styczinski was hard for kids to say in my classroom so I became Mrs. Jeanie. I started my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin Stout and actually I began in apparel design and then moved to interior design, graphic design, architecture, and finally landed where I loved in early childhood education. After teaching kindergarten for many years, I went back and got my master’s degree again from the University of Wisconsin Stout and I taught for the Menominee school district for years and absolutely loved teaching, loved my classroom, loved the kids. I really ran a very hands-on classroom and I considered myself really a best practice teacher. I really did a lot of workshops, conferences. I tried to be current with the trends that were out there. So that’s where I’m at right now. I mean that’s my background.
Nic: And then so you said that you’ve worked… Did I understand that right? 32 years in the classroom?
Jeanne: I did, yes. All for the Menominee school district, but Menominee had… Well now we’re down to five elementary schools, but several different schools. So I did move around because I do love change. But yeah, all of those years were in kindergarten.
Nic: Wow. Wow. Good for you.
Jeanne: I know. It’s a long time.
Nic: That’s amazing. Did you officially retire from that setting and then move into your new… I don’t know if it’s… Do you consider it a job? What you’re doing right now?
Jeanne: Yeah. I do. Actually about five years before I retired, I knew that I was probably going to retire because I had 32 years in and I really knew that there were so many other things that I wanted to do in my life. And so I retired, but five years before I retired started looking at illustration and started really researching it because I absolutely love children’s picture books. And it was on my bucket list to at least write one.
Nic: Yeah. And have you accomplished that?
Jeanne: I have. Well, and 2012 is when I started. And it was when my kids had moved onto college and I was an empty nester. I had a little bit more time. Before that… Teaching is just so encompassing. You know that. To try to do something else and give it your all was… It would be really hard, especially with raising a family. So I waited for my children to be out of the house and just started dabbling in illustration.
Nic: That makes me just happy to hear because I think that there’s a lot of art educators out there or educators in general that are happy doing what they’re doing and doing it with passion, but also have quite a few other wants and dreams out there. And you’re just proving that point that there is a time for all of your passions and you can find balance within your life rather than all at one time. So that’s an important message. Thank you for sharing that.
Jeanne: Yeah. I think that is important for people to know.
Nic: Yep. And you have been published by now, haven’t you?
Jeanne: Yeah. I’ll just tell you a little bit about that illustration piece that I started back in 2012. I did do a lot of research because I absolutely loved children’s picture books. When I was a kindergarten teacher I really went to a lot of… I don’t know… Reading conferences to meet authors or illustrators and just really studying their work helped me find my way. But it was really a lot of research in knowing what to do with making the book.
Nic: Absolutely. I can imagine. But you had the opportunity to talk to people that were working in the practice currently, right?
Jeanne: That is correct. And then I decided with all my research that I would actually self-publish. Because I never knew that in the industry… The industry was at a point where they weren’t really acquiring a lot of new books. And if you wanted to get yourself out there, you really had to do some work on your own. And self-publishing was one of those things. As you self-publish, you get to know the industry, you get to know how books are marketed, and it just polishes you up to be acquired hopefully by a bigger publishing company.
Nic: Interesting. Okay. So you’ve I’m sure have learned a lot on the way as on the job training a little bit, isn’t it?
Jeanne: Yeah, it really is. So like I said, I started in 2012. My first book was published in 2014. So you can see it takes a while to get in that groove of the industry. Even if you’re self-publishing. And my first book Mama, How Does the Wind Start to Blow? It’s called a counting story that will blow you away. It’s about a mom’s love. That was on my bucket list. So that was my first one I really wanted to do. And a teacher friend suggested that I would send it out to a book award for independent publishers and it was called the Moonbeam’s Children Award. And ended up getting gold, which really inspired me and encouraged me to continue writing.
So my second book is Papa, Why Does the Sun Shine? And the story that will brighten your day. And it’s about a dad’s love. Because I wasn’t really sure how I got that first award that I felt like just doing the same type of book and doing it again, like you tell kids in your classroom, practice, practice, practice. I thought that I just needed to practice again. And a dad’s love is just as important as a mom’s love. So my first two end up being really great baby shower gift books because they are about a mom and a dad’s love.
Nic: Yeah, that makes sense. And just to confirm, you’re both author and illustrator on these books that you’re speaking about?
Jeanne: Yes, I am. Yeah.
Nic: Oh wow. That is amazing. And so you have the two published?
Jeanne: I actually have three published. I have a third one that came out in 2017, Who Will Be My Friend? It’s a sweet narrative nonfiction about friendship and diversity, which is with woodland… It’s woodland birds and a little firefly. So it’s a really sweet little book too. So those are the three that I have currently published. I’m working right now and just finished a book about a little bee. It’s called Little Bee on the Farm. And a bigger publisher, believe it or not, is looking at it. So I’m really excited and crossing my fingers that they will maybe acquire it.
Nic: Wow. Congratulations.
Jeanne: Yeah. It’s fun. I have to tell you what it’s about because it’s really a current topic. It’s about bees of course. It’s about a little bee who’s looking for pollen and she flies to the farm and meets all these different farm animals and finds out what product they make. And then she finds her garden where her pollen is that is waiting for her. And then she flies back to the hive and makes her product, honey, with her sisters. And I have four sisters, so of course the book is dedicated to my sisters.
Nic: Yes. I too have three sisters, so I love that.
Jeanne: Yeah. I say they are busy like bees, so that makes sense.
Nic: Yes. Oh, that’s sweet. That is a sweet story. I’m excited for you to experience yet another leg of publishing, doing self-publishing and then moving into something else. That’s pretty exciting.
Jeanne: Yeah. And really that’s what the research told me, is that if you continue and you hone in on your style, that sooner or later people will notice.
Nic: Did you find that hard? Was it hard to find a style or did you know a style when you got started? Did you have something in mind?
Jeanne: You know what? I really didn’t. Once I had some stories written and the manuscripts polished, I was really trying to do some research on, “Will I do acrylic? Will I do pencil?” I just really didn’t know. But I knew because I didn’t have a extensive art background, my background is more design and graphic design, interior design, all of those design classes. And actually I’ve been back to Stout even since I had my masters and have taken some design classes. My books tend to look more graphic design light. And so I knew from me color and shape were my thing that I just absolutely love and I felt like I was good at. I didn’t know if I would really be able to draw out a scene and continue that look throughout the whole book. But I knew that I could do some collaging and I could make that work for me.
Nic: Okay. And that brings us into, well, the reason I’m speaking with you today. Is you are going to be one of the presenters at Art Ed Now here on February 1st correct?
Jeanne: That is correct, yeah.
Nic: And you’re going to be talking about your books? Or what are you speaking about?
Jeanne: Well actually for the art ed conference, I’m going to be demonstrating my process of painting papers. And I know that sounds really… There’s a lot of different processes out there for painting papers, but I paint on recycled newspaper with acrylic paint and I use recyclable objects to texture and to make prints actually on the papers.
Nic: That’s really exciting. So you’re going to bring us through that whole process and we’ll get a better feel for your style, I’m sure.
Jeanne: Yeah. Yeah, you will. My process is, like I said, different than the other processes that I’ve seen in the past. So I think that’s why people are so interested in it. I think it’s maybe the way I layer my paint and maybe use the gadgets, my recyclable gadgets, for printing that really makes my papers look so unique.
Nic: Oh, interesting. I can’t wait to see it. I’ll be there for Art Ed Now as well. And it’s one of my favorite things that really does feed me because we just learn so much in that one day. So I’m happy to hear that you’re going to be a part of it because I think that’s something AOE really prides itself on, is that they bring in not only art educators in a traditional sense, but your background is kindergarten. Your current job is book illustration and writing. And that’s something unique to us. However, I do know that you go in and visit classrooms as well. Can we move into that a little bit and talk about your artist in residence situations that you partake in?
Jeanne: Yeah. If you would’ve asked me five years ago that I would actually be doing any of this, I would just say, “No way.” But yes, my school visits have evolved. I think they first started, I would go in and I would talk to students about being an author and illustrator and I would maybe do a writing activity with different small groups. And now it’s really just evolved into so much more. I still though sometimes talk about being an author and illustrator, but I rarely do any writing activities with kids anymore. It really has gone more to the art and illustration, art in residency in that way. And teaching students the process of painting my papers… And then every artist in residency obviously is different.
But a lot of times I either paint with them or I collage with them. And some schools I get to do both. And it might be something as just doing a collage of… A small piece where they’re just matting it and taking it home. Or a bigger piece where it’s more of a community piece where everybody gets to do one piece of it and we put it all together and they hang it on their wall.
Nic: Sure. In your collage style?
Jeanne: Yes, in my collage style. And then the other thing that I’ve done with schools is I’ve actually… Their school has made a book. I’ve only done two. Managua did Our Animal Adventure. So when I was in Managua at one of my artist in residencies, Kelly Christianson, which is another awesome art teacher out there, I was there for the week but she had half of her kids print and make the papers and she had half of them make animals. And it was more a reference book, which was really great.
At the beginning of the book I gave credit for the kids who did the printing. They got to pick their favorite print and had a two by two print of that paper in the book to acknowledge them as the paper makers. And the students that made the animals, I had their name in the back of the book. Really the book itself, I didn’t have any names by the animals because I just had the animal names I [inaudible 00:16:26] and Kelly felt it was important for the kids to just really enjoy the book and not really know whether it was a kindergartener or a fifth grader that made the different animals. It went really well.
Nic: So you printed them out or-
Jeanne: No. I had them printed… Because when you print a book, a hard cover usually is printed in a bigger quantity. So it was a library bound soft cover book and then the students were able to purchase it at price.
Jeanne: Yeah. It was really very cool. And I’m actually working with Connie Graham out of western Wisconsin and she is doing… I was just there for a week a week ago. And so the book is still just in process of being put together. She wanted to do a book on kindness and I actually turned her down last year because I was like, “I don’t know how 450 kids can do a book on kindness.” Took me awhile to wrap my brain around it. But we were able to figure it out and hopefully in about a month their book will be out also.
Nic: Oh my gosh. So now are these books… And I’m just curious. Are you only selling them within the school or do other people have the opportunity to purchase them?
Jeanne: No. So far I’ve just done them within the school. So I go in and then when the book is done, they have the rights to that book and what they want to do with it. Where Kelly Christianson really just wanted the animal book… Just really wanted her kids to just do a book. With Connie Graham at Weston, her book is on kindness and the grant funds that she received from the Wausau… I’m trying to think. Wausau Foundation. And was put together because of some shooting that happened in Wausau two, three years ago. And really, I don’t know what they’ll do with their book. They may end up selling it-
Nic: Probably in the community, maybe.
Jeanne: At different stores or whatever in Wausau because their book is much more involved. And there’s a storyline to it also, which makes it more sellable than maybe the other Our Adventure book. So yeah. That’s been very cool.
Nic: Well, if that isn’t enough in your life, right? I know that people will be able to join us on Art Ed Now and get to see you and see your face, but if they are coming to the National NAEA Conference, they can actually meet you in person, correct?
Jeanne: That is correct. I have just recently started a collaboration with Nasco and I will be in the Nasco booth showing… Demonstrating I should say. Demonstrating my process of how I make paper.
Nic: And just the opportunity to meet Jeanie would be… I had the opportunity several years ago and I’m sure as listeners you’re hearing her energy, her positive energy, but man just standing next to her, she just glows this wonderful personality. So be sure to stop by Nasco if you’re coming to Minnesota and joining the NAEA conference as well. And not to mention Nasco is pretty amazing as well. So-
Jeanne: And can I just… Can I share with you just how that came about? It actually… It was very simple. I was out at a school and Kris Bakke from Nasco was out at a school, at the school that I was at, Adams-Friendship. And I was having trouble with my paint and she had suggested that I would maybe use the Nasco paint. But to be honest, I didn’t really like their colors. And so I said, “I just don’t know if it’s going to work for me.” But they sent me some paint and I started mixing some of their paint to get the colors that I wanted. Now they have actually also a chart, a mixing chart, with the formulas so that anybody that… Use their paint to mix different colors. And I think once our teachers start mixing colors, I mean you don’t really need my formulas because you guys are such just artists and you love the colors that you love also.
Nic: Well, I think that’s a human need or want. I don’t know. When I teach color mixing in my classroom, I have every single student engage. They love it. So that’s great that that’s part of your process. And then that you were able to work with Nasco and make that part of their practice or what they’re promoting.
Jeanne: I’m really thinking that art teachers will find this very valuable because they won’t have to go out and collect all of those different things that they would need to make my papers. Buy a kit and everything’s going to be there. Because teachers are so busy.
Nic: Right. So that’s going to be possibly a freebie at their booth? Or a purchase maybe?
Jeanne: Sooner or later it’ll be a purchase thing, but the lesson plan, I said once you see the process… And people don’t really need to know… They don’t really need a lesson plan. They’ll know how to do it and how to put it together. It’s more the convenience of being able just to say, “I’ll get the kit and I won’t have to then go look for the paint, look for the texture tools, look for the books, look…” Because all of that will be together in one place.
Nic: Be there. Oh, that’s great. Hey, before we wrap up, can you just hit on a little bit… I’m sure that there’s going to be people in our conversation you had mentioned about illustration and maybe pursuing being an author. Can you tell our listeners how you really dove into that and how maybe they can as well?
Jeanne: I contacted an author out of Minnesota and he gave me these suggestions if you are wanting to be an author, illustrator. He said really know children’s literature and belong to an organization called the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which I call SCBWI. And it’s a nonprofit professional organization that if you are seriously thinking about writing or illustrating a children’s book, they will help you with that process. They helped me so much. And every state has a chapter. And so if you want to check out their website, it’s just scbwi.org and I am the northwest rep for illustration for SCBWI. So you have any questions at all you can always just reach out to me also and I can get… If you’re not from Wisconsin, I can get you in touch with somebody from the state where you live or just help you get the information.
Nic: Well, my goodness. You continue to give and give and give. I mean, you’re giving with Nasco and artist in residency and writing books for generations to come and then you’re also designating your time to help other illustrators out there. You’re amazing.
Jeanne: There is only so many hours in a day and sometimes I do tend to overextend, but I think as a teacher… I have met so many amazing teachers. I think teachers in general, that is just their makeup. They do just give and give and give. And so I think I maybe just continue to give just like I did in my classroom.
Nic: Well Jeanie, I can’t thank you enough for visiting with us today.
Jeanne: Well Nic, thank you so much. This is my first podcast and I was very nervous, but when you put the image in my head of, “Just think of just having a conversation with a friend,” you just put me such at ease. So thank you so much Nic.
Nic: Yeah, thanks. And speaking of Art Ed Now conference, it’s time to sign up. In fact, tomorrow, January 31st, is the last day to sign up. The Art of Education University has put together an amazing lineup, including myself and Jeanne. There is a great featured presenter. Her name is CJ Hendry and she’s a contemporary artist who creates hyper-realistic colored pencil drawings. I started following her on Instagram and love her work. There’s another 20 incredible presenters for that day. This is PD built for you for a whole day. Just built for you. Check out the details for yourself at www.ArtEdNow.com. Best of all, I have a code for you to save $20. So if you type in AEN2020, ArtEdNow2020, you will receive $20 off from your registration. Hope to see you at the conference and I’ll talk to you next time for Everyday Art Room.