Originally from the Outer Banks (a little island off the coast of North Carolina), Jess Lowcher bought a one-way plane ticket to New Zealand looking for adventure when she was just 22, and never looked back. Once afraid of the ocean, she now comfortably rides the big surf down under. Jess is a children’s book illustrator and co-founder of sister-duo, Tribe of Daughters. Together they write, illustrate, and self-publish books that inspire young girls all over the world to be adventurous and brave.
How did you get into the world of children’s books?
I’ve only recently become involved with the children’s book world. Prior to illustrating, I had been doing wedding photography when my sister came to me for illustration help with her children’s book idea. Taking on that challenge gave me a whole new sense of direction and purpose. To prepare, I took an hour-long private watercolor class which taught me the basics on materials and a few techniques, and from there it was a lot of playing, failing, and persistence. Before our book, “Queenie Wahine, Little Surfer Girl”, I had no training in art other than some classes I’d taken in high school and would never have considered myself someone who could draw!
What is your preparation and process for illustrating?
The process begins with a completed draft of the story from my sister, the author. Once I have this I begin storyboarding. I typically start this process by trolling through Instagram for photos and save them to a vision board for inspiration. From there, I’ll take the draft and break it up into a rough idea of pages and write ideas for the illustrations of each spread. Once I’ve got these written out, it’s a bit of hopscotching back and forth between inspiration images, watching art videos on YouTube, and sketching. I tend to do a few different sketches of each spread until I feel comfortable enough to start working on watercolor paper. Usually, I’ll have some scrap piece of watercolor paper lying around and that’s what I’ll use to test out the looks and colors I want to give to the characters.
When I’m feeling stuck (which is frequent) I find that watching YouTube tutorial videos on the medium I’m working with, exercise, or going for a quick surf help to inspire some new ideas. My best work comes when I’m in a mindset of play which means not taking the work I’m trying to do too seriously and allowing myself the freedom to experiment and paint loosely.
How has your passion for the ocean and surfing influenced your work?
Surfing has influenced my professional life in so many ways, from my artistic style to one of the driving factors behind why I chose a lifestyle based career path, one which gives me more control over my day than the traditional job. Surfing is probably the only part of my week in which my mind isn’t trying to accomplish 3 or 4 things at once because it forces me to be focused in the moment. It is a wonderful reset button from work and doubles as exercise and meditation.
What does an average day look like for you?
One thing I think is VERY important to understand when you choose a career that involves freelancing and owning your own small business is that the fun part (making art) is only about 1/3 of your time. The other 2/3 is spent understanding the fundamentals of running a business, trying to attract customers or clients, networking and marketing yourself and your work, and just HUSTLING.
My days really vary since being a freelance illustrator and co-founder Tribe of Daughters requires manning a lot of different roles. I usually get up around 6am and start the day with exercise and painting. There’s something kind of magical about painting early in the morning when everyone else is asleep. Then I’ll tackle some of the more challenging items on my to-do list, since this is when I feel most mentally productive (usually reaching out to potential retailers, drafting up collaboration opportunities, and strategizing how to grow our following and brand presence.) In the afternoon, I’ll revisit painting, attend small business workshops, and spend some time with family. The time right before bed I call my “learning hours” which I spend reading or watching videos on how to grow my knowledge and foundation in business or painting techniques. I’ll write my to-do list for the next day and read over my goals. My “dreams list” (I actually call them my stoke nuggets!) is my navigation tool. When there’s a million and one things to do, it can be really easy to get lost in the mess of craziness… this list is what I use to provide myself with direction and it helps to pull myself out of the off-task rabbit holes I sometimes find myself in.
Growing up, did you have a favorite children’s book? Do you have influences that inspire your work?
Growing up I loved to read, especially fantasy books! The more fairies and magic the better! One of my favorite books growing up (other than Harry Potter) was the Inkheart series. It’s a story about a girl who, when she reads aloud, has a power to bring characters from the book into the real world and vice versa. Dreaming up these whimsical worlds from the books I read and creating an alternate reality has always been a huge influencer in my work.
What is your favorite, and most difficult part about your job?
Oh, that’s tough! When I paint, I always hit a point in the painting when I think I’ve completely ruined it and get worried that it won’t come together. Well, it’s just after this point, when I’ve come “out the other side” of the painting and can visualize how it will turn out which gives me a lot of joy.
The most difficult part is definitely trying to figure out the bookkeeping, taxes, and general finance areas of the business. It’s pretty vital to have a basic understanding of these areas and it’s something that doesn’t come very easy to me.
Do you use social media to showcase your work and advertise your company?
YES!! I primarily use Instagram (@tribeofdaughters and @jesslowcher) to showcase my work and advertise Queenie Wahine and our brand, Tribe of Daughters. Between Instagram and reaching out to bigger brands for features is what has made the most impact in generating sales for our business.
How important is networking to your field of work? How does one get published?
Networking is huge in any line of work. I’m pretty introverted and really struggle at those networking events where you go and chat to total strangers, it’s too much pressure! So, I like to approach networking more organically and from a genuine place of trying to make new friends. My nature is to be a bit closed off so I try to be mindful of being open and friendly when I’m out running errands, at an exercise class, or getting coffee. Whenever I do end up striking a conversation with someone new I always bring up Tribe of Daughters and our brand’s mission.
We are self-published, which means we don’t rely on a big publishing house to do all of our printing, distributing, and marketing. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone but it’s what works for us and the direction we want to take our brand. Normally, as an illustrator you wouldn’t have to worry about the publishing part (unless you were creating your own book) as you would typically be hired or contracted out by the publishing agency or author (if self-publishing). In my case, it’s a bit different since my sister and I cofounded and created our books together.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
I would tell her this: trust in yourself and stop being so afraid of putting yourself out there! You are so much more capable and resilient than you give yourself credit for. It’s ok that you don’t know exactly what you want to do, but you need to stop waiting around for opportunities to fall in your lap and start initiating those opportunities for yourself – like not being so scared of reaching out to those whose work and success you admire.
What does it mean to you to Find Your Grind?
I think “finding your grind” means being persistent and brave enough to follow your inner voice until you’ve found a career which brings that same fulfilment on a daily level. The work I do every day is so gratifying, even the hard, not-so-fun stuff, and that is confirmation to me that I’ve found my grind. Your happiness and fulfilment with what you do will lead you to wealth, not the other way around.
If you’d like to learn more about the children’s books Jess has been working on, you can check them out here at tribeofdaughters.com.