Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is John Hendrix, I'm an author and illustrator of books for young people. I'm also a teacher. Professor of art and Chair of the MFA Illustration and Visual Culture program at Washington University in St. Louis.
What led you to this profession or why did you choose it?
I think I was always an illustrator. Even in my earliest memories of drawing, art making involved drawing pictures for stories. But it wasn't until I went to KU that I really began to "see" illustration as a disciplinary activity. Illustration faculty member Barry Fitzgerald made us all Society of Illustrators Annual 38, and it was like a Rosetta Stone. Along with his mentorship, I was able to see that 'illustration' was the category for the work I had always wanted to make.
What does a typical day look like at your job?
Ha! There is rarely a typical day for illustrators. But my week is wonderfully asymmetrical. I spend some days at school teaching students how to write and illustrate visual ideas and stories. The other parts of the week I'm in my studio in my attic. Working on sketches, or writing or final art, or sometimes all three in one day!
What is a favorite project you have worked on and why?
Not sure I can pick a favorite, but I'm very proud of my graphic novel about the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who rebelled against the Third Reich, called "The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler." It took me five years and involved a ton of research, reading, and travel. It was so ambitious there were moments I didn't think I was going to be able to make it work.
What advice would you give your college self?
Now as a person who spends lots of time with college students, I see myself in the young people I work with: rampant impatience. I was just the same. If you had told me in school, it would be 10 years until I published my first book after college, I would have said, "What happened to me? Did I have some kind of decade long coma?" I wanted drawing to be easy, and fast. I wanted the path ahead to be clear, defined, and laid out on a platter. I expected success to happen within five years of graduation, because that is a "LONG time." But careers take many many years, decades to grow into. Be patient, make your work as good as it can be, and connect as much of the making of your work to enjoyment as possible. I now tell students, you are beginning what is a 50-year process of making drawings, take your time.
What makes you proud to be a KU Alumni?
I loved my time at KU and think of the campus and Lawrence very fondly. I miss much about the building and the walk I had to class each day. In fact, when I return to visit, even the smells and sensations of the Art & Design building remind me of what possibility felt like as an 18-year-old. The BFA program at KU was the perfect mix of design, illustration and art to prepare me for a career as not just an artist, but author and teacher. I'm indebted to my faculty, who changed the trajectory of my life forever: Barry Fitzgerald, Christine North, Dick Varney, Jon Swindell, Roger Shimomura to name just a few.
Learn more about John at johnhendrix.com.