Sketchbook Sneak: Sketches of Ward Jenkins

Posted at 12 am on November 9, 2009 by

Posted in: Character Illustration, Pencil Illustration, Pens and Markers, Sketchbooks

With such a long radio-silence with the sketchbook sneak features, I’m happy to re-ignite the series with a bang.

Today we’re peering into the sketchbook of Oregon-based illustrator, animator and director Ward Jenkins. Ward has a unique style, and one that is easily recognizable, with its strong lines and frequent use of fun, stylized characters.

This feature looks a little closer at some of the collections of his initial ideas sketched on paper. Ward has also been kind enough to speak a great deal about his background, tools, favourite working environments and what inspires his work.


How did you get into illustration?

I’ve always drawn throughout my childhood, all the way through high school and after graduation, but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do art-wise as a career. After several (okay, many) years of searching (and doing a few illustration jobs that were so minute and insignificant), I eventually landed a BFA degree in illustration from Georgia State University, in Atlanta (my hometown). However, during my time there, I really got into animation and after graduation, started focusing my efforts on trying to get a job in the animation field around the Atlanta area.

After an internship and working several freelance jobs at a few animation companies in Atlanta, I got a great position at Primal Screen as an animation director, working on broadcast elements and commercials. What I think was unique in working at Primal was the fact that my boss, Douglass Grimmett, had more of a design background and was open to various creative possibilities within each particular job. He allowed me to explore and search for options when it came to character design and environments.

Even though I had a degree in illustration, I learned more from working at Primal than all the years in school. And during my time at Primal, I began to work on my personal art style on the side, drawing and creating various illustrations on my own after hours.

After working at Primal for over 7 years, I had an incredible opportunity to work at a larger animation company in Portland, Oregon. After much deliberation, my wife & I decided to go ahead and move the family across the country, to see where it would take us. Well, it didn’t last long. After only 15 months at Laika House, I was let go, and suddenly found myself on my own.

Thus, I was thrown into the world of freelance and had to find work through the avenues that seemed to be fitting for me: animation and illustration. It was like starting over, to a degree. I had no personal website, no physical portfolio, no real contacts, no identity, save for my blog and Flickr.

Bit by bit, I began to find a presence online, networked through various friends and friends of friends and finally got a decent website up and running, showcasing some of my artwork and animated commercials I’d done throughout the years. It’s been a slow process, but finally I’ve began to see some benefits after being on my own after a year and a half now. It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. Especially in this economy.


What are your tools of choice for your sketch work?

I work primarily with red Col-Erase pencils for light sketch work, and regular 2B (or softer) graphite pencils for the darker lines.

I’ve been getting into mechanical pencils (again, 2B lead) lately because I like to draw on the go and I don’t have to worry about a pencil sharpener. These pencils aren’t anything fancy, just regular ones that I can buy three at a time. For sketchbooks, I enjoy the Moleskines (or something similar) for the smaller, on-the-go size.

I also have a larger sketchbook (11 x 14 inches) for doing sketches and concepts for various paying jobs. Just a normal, Canson sketchbook. Again, nothing fancy.


Which artist inspires your work the most at the moment?

It’s always changing, of course, but right now I’m really inspired by the work of vintage mid-century illustrators Jerry Smath, M. Sasek, Abner Graboff, Jim Flora (always inspired by Flora), Janet LaSalle, and David Weidman.

Contemporary artists who are inspiring me are Marc Boutavant, Frank Chimero, Meg Hunt, Kevin Waldron….there’s more, but I’ll just stop here for now.


How often do you find yourself sketching?

I’d love to say that I sketch every day, but that doesn’t happen. I try to draw in my sketchbook several times a week, if not, then at least once a week.


Where is your favourite sketching location(s)?

I keep my sketchbook (the smaller one especially) with me all the time, in my bag, in the car, etc. in case inspiration strikes. So, I guess you can say that the car is my favorite location. I know, lame, but it’s the truth.

One place I always take my sketchbook is church, where the subjects are the backs of heads of other church members. There’s talk of having an art show in the gallery of our church featuring my sketches drawn during the service. It’ll be a pretty funny exhibit I think.


ⓒ Ward Jenkins, 2009

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently animating the main character for a cereal commercial, which I’m excited about because it’s been a while since I’ve done any animation. I really enjoy animating and have missed it terribly.

I just got the nod to illustrate my second children’s book (my first one was “How To Train With A T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals”, a fun book describing Michael Phelps’ crazy training leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics), so I’m happy to get started on that one soon! It’ll be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring 2011. Stay tuned!

Also, I’ve been trying to work on a promo postcard to send out to various art directors and editors, but it’s been hard to find the time to finish it! I really like what I’ve done on it so far, just waiting for a break from work to finish it up.

This all sounds seriously exciting, Ward, thank you!

MoonApe can be found lurking around Twitter.