We’ve been huge Jane Mount admirers for a real long time, and it doesn’t help that the artist keeps rolling out new projects, objects and artworks to keep us oohing and ahhing. The magic takes place in her Hawaiian headquarters, and inquiring minds (hi) wanted to see behind the curtain. Mount had time to sneak an In the Studio interview into her busy sched, and our nosy payoff is next level. Turns out her “studio” is actually a red cabinet on wheels that’s stocked with all the art supplies she’s wont to reach for—a testament to her belief that you don’t need a fancy studio space to keep your creative juices flowing (more on that in her Q+A). The compact cabinet that could is hunkered down in her home in what she calls a “little hippie/surf town” in Maui. Idyllic much?
A self-professed book person, Mount’s perhaps best known for her Ideal Bookshelf series, which emerged from a space limitation and a necessity to get creative with her subject matter. This is an artist who embraces a challenge, welcomes hard work, and isn’t afraid to throw her whole heart into something. In fact, she’ll be the first to say she’s “extremely earnest and dorky about everything”, and can we just add that we love that about her? Her enthusiasm and authenticity is part of what so enamored our founder when they met way back when (Mount’s been a 20x200 artist since the early days).
But back to the books: Mount’s been painting them for a decade. Her Ideal Bookshelf illustrations aren’t just brilliant, colorful ways to commemorate some seriously terrific tome collections—each of the artworks in the series doubles as a carefully curated reading list (and we’re always down for expert book suggestions). She’s also gone on to create an eminently collectable assortment of enamel Book Pins and author two books. Her second book, Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany, is forthcoming next Tuesday 9/11 via Chronicle Books. We caught Mount IRL at Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic (co-owned by Literary Gallery contributor Emma Fusco-Straub) to kick off her book tour with a bevy of other cool bookish folks like 20x200 artist Jason Polan and She Designs Books’ Nicole Caputo. Check out our Insta highlights for some snaps from the evening, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Bibliophile for ya’self when it drops on the 11th. Pro tip: it’ll make a perfect present for any book lover in your life.
Where's your studio?
In my house, in a little hippie/surf town called Haiku, on the north shore of Maui, in Hawaii.
What's your favorite tool in the studio?
I have a big red metal cabinet on wheels with lots of patina that I got at the amazing (now gone) Billy's Antiques at Houston & Elizabeth Street in NYC many, many years ago. It's exactly the right height for me to stand at and paint, and my husband Darko built me a pull-out tray inside for all my gouache tubes. The rest of the cabinet is filled with all my other other supplies for any kind of project I want to do, so basically my entire studio is wherever that red cabinet is. It's heavy and was a pain to move from NYC to California and now to Hawaii, but so completely worth it.
What do you wear when working in the studio?
A t-shirt and grubby shorts because I absolutely cannot refrain from wiping brushes on them. I would love to wear a cool painting coverall or something ( I love jumpsuits!), but it's too hot here for that.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
I listen to a lot of audiobooks, especially when I'm painting books. Recently I've listened to Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo, and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Those last two were both narrated by Adjoa Andoh; I pretty much love any book that she reads.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Currently my studio is just downstairs in our rental house, near the kitchen and living area, so when it's time to paint I really have to mentally make the jump from one area to another; in my head I'm going to my studio. I fill my water cups, put on headphones, and POOF! Studio-time.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
In general, I'm extremely earnest and dorky about everything, and I tend to work A LOT. When I'm painting pictures of books, because I have been doing it for about ten years now (!), it is really very straightforward and meditative. I go in, I paint what I see (I work from mockups of the book spines that I make in Photoshop beforehand), and just lose myself in the doing of it. When I make other work that's just for me, it's a much looser, spontaneous, and more intense experience, and happens in bursts when I get some extra time.
There's no mistaking the fact that books are a big part of your world, though you draw all sorts of subjects. Tell us a bit about how your Bookshelf series came to be. What is it about books that's such a rich creative resource for you?
I had a studio in NYC where I painted large figurative work, but then the landlord sold the building. Darko and I had just bought a tiny apartment in Manhattan, and so I had to re-learn to draw small at the dining room table. I was overwhelmed by the change and kind of blocked, but the table was right next to our built-in bookshelves (I am forever buying way too many books, duh), so I thought I'd just try painting some spines to get going and make the paper no longer white. A friend of Darko's came over and was like, "What are those?? I'll buy all four of them right now!" I had never had someone react that viscerally to anything I'd painted before, so I knew there was something special there I should explore. At first I painted people's books from their shelves like a dinner-party voyeur, but then realized it was actually much more interesting if I asked them which books were their favorites, the ones that made them who they are today.
Your new book, Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany, is a treasure trove for anybody literary-leaning. What went into the process of pulling together all these brilliantly illustrated bookish goodies behind one cover? Do you think your next big project will be book-related too, or are there other topics you're itching to explore?
Bibliophile was the hardest thing I've ever done! I tend to come up with an idea, and then try not to think too hard about everything it will entail, just jump right in and figure out fast how not to sink. This is great because it keeps me challenging myself and always growing, but there was a period about halfway through all the research, writing, book-picking, and drawing that I really thought I might not make it. It was so much more work than I anticipated, especially because I had not been writing much in recent years, so that took me longer than I had originally scheduled in. In the end, all the hundreds of illustrations seemed like the easy part.
As for the next project, who knows? I will always love books, but it was really fun and challenging to draw all kinds of rooms, animals, and bookish people for Bibliophile, so I'd be thrilled to take on something new. I'm a firm believer in the idea that you should next do whatever potential project scares you most.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
I hug on my cats Emmer (a big orange and white dude) and Kasha (a cute and scrawny 20-year-old grey tabby).
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how did you get there?
When I was five I told my parents I was going to be an artist, but after that I took a couple detours, first studying anthropology in college, then cofounding a very early social media platform during the first internet boom. I still always painted in my spare time (and even tried to go to art school for a bit but disliked it and the whole "art world" scene, mainly because I'm truly awful at schmoozing) and eventually, when I had saved enough money to take some time off, I painted much more. That led to the Ideal Bookshelf project, which has now (after a lot of hustling and grabbing opportunities and hard work) become successful enough to pay all the bills. I'm thrilled to be able to draw every day for work, and I'm much better at it as a result, and better able to create all the other things I want to try as well.
How do you get over creative blocks?
In the short term, I go for a hike or go to the beach and just get out of my head for a bit. Longer term I try to avoid them by traveling and getting inspiration from seeing new things in new places, and we've really tried to build a life in which we can go somewhere for a while every year. Darko and I both really love Berlin, and often spend several months at a time there. I create a little makeshift studio in the apartment we sublet, and it is so inspiring to be in such a vibrant city, where creative people can still afford to live and do their thing.
What do you like best about 20x200?
I very, very strongly believe in "art for everyone," that we should all be able to afford to have things nearby that we can look to for inspiration, new perspectives, happy feelings, challenging ideas, or whatever we need at the time, and I really appreciate that 20x200 makes that possible for many people.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Don't worry about not having a separate studio in a totally different location. I mean, it's wonderful if you've got it, but don't let not having it keep you from working. Just delineate a space within your home with a different wall color, or a big red cabinet, or just a funny hat you always put on right before you work, and then get to it. It's all about being earnest and really putting everything you can into it, and doing the work long enough and hard enough to see results, not about making the perfect space (which, in my experience, can then be somewhat overwhelming to work in).
The 411 on Jane Mount
Jane Mount makes things for people who love books (and illustrates some other stuff here and there). She was born in Atlanta and formed in Manhattan, loves Berlin and now lives in Maui, with her Swiss husband and two cats. In My Ideal Bookshelf (published by Little, Brown in 2012), she illustrated the favorite books of over 100 famous creatives.