Share on facebook
Share on twitter

Share this post!

Last Modified: November 23, 2021
Studio Secrets: Jesse Horne featured
Studio Secrets: Jesse Horne

You’ll rarely catch Jesse Horne without her sketchbook and art kit. Best known for her plein air paintings and travel sketches, Jesse has a talent for capturing her surroundings in vibrant colour and rich detail. You can watch her explain her plein air gouache-painting process in a fantastic YouTube video tutorial here. Book cover image for Alberta Blue

Originally from Calgary, Jesse’s first children’s book Alberta Blue gave her the opportunity to showcase the wild beauty found in Alberta, from the Rocky Mountains to the prairies, before her recent big move to The Netherlands.

Alberta Blue is a board book and has just released from Carstairs-based publisher Red Barn Books. The text is based on a lullaby by Southern Alberta band The Travelling Mabels and is tribute to the natural beauty of our province:

“Out on the range, an old cowboy
sings a song to his herd.
While stars, hung on velvet,
twinkle with every word.

Let me sing you a picture,
and I know that it’s true.
There’s nothing as wondrous
as Alberta blue.”

We got a special sneak peek inside Jesse’s Calgary studio to see just where and how she made the gorgeous images for this true Alberta book project.

Photos from Jesse Horne's art studio.
Snapshots from Jesse Horne’s home art studio in Calgary.

Where do you create your artwork? Is there anything unique about your studio space that makes it work for you in particular?

I create most of my artwork at my home studio—I have a large drafting table that gives me a lot of room to spread out all of my paints and process work, so I can see everything all at once. I also love to paint on site when given the opportunity, so I have a portable painting kit I bring out with me as well.

Spread from Alberta Blue
Spread from Alberta Blue provided courtesy of Red Barn Books.

You’re primarily known as a plein air landscape painter, and Alberta Blue is your first children’s book. How does your approach change when creating artwork for children?

Creating art for children, especially when it’s landscape focused, really makes me concentrate on the simple shapes and colours that already exist in nature. I think for many artists, when painting a landscape, we can feel easily overwhelmed, so there is already an aspect of trying to simplify and create a visual hierarchy. When painting landscapes for a younger audience, I found myself simplifying shapes and colours even more, sometimes to the point of abstraction, to create a visually interesting piece, while still retaining the meaning of the landscapes pictured. 

Jesse Horne's on-site plein air set-up
Jesse Horne’s on-site plein air set-up.

What materials did you use for Alberta Blue? Why did you choose to work with them? 

I painted the illustrations for Alberta Blue in gouache, which is my favourite medium to use. I love gouache because of its portability—you can reactivate it with water, meaning it’s great to paint on site with—as well as its versatility—it can be used in a thin wash, much like watercolour paints, but also thicker and opaque, so mistakes can just be painted right over. It’s a great medium for a graphic project, like the landscapes in Alberta Blue

Do you use computers and digital tools in your art process? Why, or why not?

Most of my work is done traditionally, but I always scan and edit my colours, as well as bring the image into Photoshop to fix any small mistakes that are simply easier to retouch digitally. The paintings on Alberta Blue were also larger than what would fit in the bed of a scanner, so I digitally stitched them together once scanned to make a single image. I work much faster with traditional mediums, and I really appreciate the texture that it brings to my work. Texture can be done well digitally of course, but there’s something tactile I love about painting on paper that I haven’t yet been able to replicate for myself on a digital screen. 

Photo of Jesse Horne working on a spread from Alberta Blue.
Jesse Horne works on a spread from Alberta Blue.

Can you take us through your process for creating one page or spread for Alberta Blue, step by step? 

Digital process for the illustrations from Alberta Blue
Digital process for the illustrations from Alberta Blue.

Each spread started as a thumbnail, or very small sketch. From the approved sketch, I worked on colour comps, which I tend to do digitally, as it’s quick and easy to edit colours. We wanted to make sure that there was a lot of visual interest in the book overall, and that we didn’t just stick to the same colour of blue for each spread, so as a team we worked on a colour palette and refined the sketches and colours until we got something everyone was happy with. This usually takes a few rounds, but in the end the artwork is always stronger for it. Especially on a larger project like this, it’s nice to have other peoples’ eyes to see where you might be repeating certain compositions too frequently, or perhaps need to try some more variation. Once the colours and compositions were final, I sketched the images on large watercolour paper, and painted using gouache. After the paintings were completed, I scanned the images and sent them in for their final edits in the book! 

Which part of your art process is your favourite to do?

My favourite part of the process is when I get to go in my with my paints—I can be kind of impatient to rush to that bit, so it is really helpful for me to work with a team going through various compositions and colours; oftentimes with my own personal work I will expedite the planning process, even though with a stronger framework the final piece is going to look and feel much more complete. Once I break out my tubes of paint I really get into the zone, and it’s easy to lose hours finishing up a piece. 

How did you become the illustrator for this project? What advice do you have for artists who want to break into the book publishing industry?

Like many jobs, I think networking is so important. I met Ayesha and Lia from Red Barn Books at my AUArts graduation portfolio show—we spoke and exchanged business cards, and a few months later I reached out by email to let them know I was taking on new clients. Ayesha had a few jobs for me here and there, which built our relationship, and she also became more familiar with my work, so when this project came along, she knew that I would be really interested—she’d been following my plein air paintings on Instagram for quite a while by that point so she knew my work fairly well by then. It can be a tough industry to break into, but be open to opportunities: none of the work I did for Ayesha initially was directly related to illustrating books, but she knew I had an interest, and I knew she had published in the past, so when something came up it fit just right. I would also say don’t be afraid to contact publishing houses and let them know you’re available; send in your portfolio and let them know your interest, but don’t be too pushy about it. 

Spread from Alberta Blue.
Spread from Alberta Blue provided courtesy of Red Barn Books.

Studio Secrets is a column that gives art-enthusiastic readers a sneak peek into the studio spaces and processes of Alberta’s phenomenal book illustrators, artists, and photographers.

The images in this post were provided courtesy of Jesse Horne, unless otherwise captioned.


Alberta Blue: A prairie sky lullaby

Pat Hatherly (CA)

Published: Oct 20, 2021 by Red Barn Books
ISBN: 9781989915028