Interview with John Jude Palencar

John's Website

Q:When you first started out in the industry what mistakes did you make?

I don't know if these were legitimate mistakes - I signed contracts that I should have not signed or at least should have altered them in some way.
My thinking was - that this was a building block in my career... "to get my foot in the door" so to speak.

In some cases I worked for a lesser fee than I was worth.
Other times ... That I didn't try to push my ideas more, rather than accept what they ( the client) were proposing.

Hindsight can be a deadly thing for both your present and future career - it can be a mind-trap. You have to move on and work to the next step. Think of it as evolving adaptation to your present career situation.

My professional career started out when I was nineteen years old. I had already been selling paintings since I was fifteen. I freelanced for both regional and national clients while I attended art school.

However this early work was a bit commercial for my taste, although there were a few good editorial assignments sprinkled in there during that time. I continued to build my portfolio for the NY book market and received my first assignment from Bantam Books when I was a senior at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio.
They saw my paintings at the Society of Illustrators Student Competiton.
Eventually two clients became four, then six and I've continued to freelance to the present.

Q: When working with a client, how difficult is it to keep a sense of yourself in the piece of work?

Currently I have a lot of freedom, so clients come to me for my visual approach.

You have to develop a signature style.

The one thing that bothers me is repeating myself too much.
After working years in the biz and creating hundreds of covers and other images, there is a tendency for clients to request similar concepts or approaches that you have created for past book covers.

I'm also guilty of becoming too complacent in regard to inventing new motifs or creative new approaches etc...
So I have consciously or unconsciously created similar looking book covers.
Every once in a while I have to to slap myself around creatively so that I don't "borrow" from past covers. In certain cases, some novels are not imaginative and are cliche's in and of themselves.

So it is hard to extend an original visual statement into something extraordinary when the writing and plot is average or sub-par.

Every once in a while I'll have a nice refreshing visual breakthrough with a good novel, art director, editor or publisher.

That makes this business worthwhile.

Good writing equals good visuals, it's that simple.

Q: How important is narrative in your work?

Not all that important.

In fact I really dislike work that is overly narrative.
My least successful pieces have been narrative in nature.
In my more succesful work and what I strive for is symbol and archetype.

Narrative for me is just visual storytelling and does not have the mystery or visual power that a symbolic or even allegorical approach has.

The "Hitchcock" approach is what I call it; not knowing what's turning the doorknob or what the shadow moving is in the thin slice of light at the bottom of the door.

To me the unknown is more intriguing than the known.
The narrative approach tells the viewer what they are seeing, where as the symbolic approach suggests interpretation, interaction and meaning on a personal experiential level.

I'd rather create questions in my work than answers.
Both narrative and symbolic paths are valid, but for me, I'll choose the enigmatic road.

Q: Top three tips?

Create with quality.

Create with passion.

Create with mystery.

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