In Conversation with Jenni Sparks

We chatted with illustrator, designer, map maker, and typography designer Jenni Sparks about her career path, the women who inspire her, and her recent trip to Australia.

Hot Chicks with Big Brains: Hey, Jenni! How was your trip to Australia?

Jenni Sparks: It was great thanks! I’d never been that far away from home so it was really cool to see how life is like the other side of the world. I got to meet lots of really nice people and everyone was really friendly and welcoming. Plus, the whole foodie culture definitely lived up to the hype.

HCwBB: When did you begin drawing maps and what peaked your interest in them?

JS: I started drawing maps back in 2012 when I had just graduated from a degree in illustration and had moved to London. It was actually by chance that I got into map-making—I was commissioned by a startup art print company called Evermade who commissioned me to illustrate a map of London in time for the 2012 Olympics.

They wanted me to create a map that didn’t just focus on the tourist areas and instead really got to know the city—the kind of map that locals would enjoy just as much as visitors.

Since then I’ve illustrated maps of New York, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, and now Sydney (with Melbourne to be finished by the end of the year).

HCwBB: Can you tell us a bit about the work you did before then, and how your career path has changed since?

JS: Map making and my illustration career really go hand-in-hand as I was only a student before I started making them. I’ve always created work that was a little more on the humorous and colourful side of things; I try to have as much fun in illustrating and designing stuff.

However, map-making and researching to this scale added a slightly more academic side to my work, which is something that I really enjoy as I’m very curious and love researching basically everything.

Designing maps allows me to express both my creative and nerdy sides.

HCwBB: How long did it take for you to establish your unique style? What inspired you?

JS: Creating an illustration style is basically the same as getting to know yourself—you can’t rush it and it’s constantly evolving. When I was at art school I remember crying in class because I felt like I didn’t have my style yet, but I think that really ties into your early 20s being a time of exploration and trying out different things until you find some stuff that sticks. Now I feel like my style is definitely more solid. I’m about to turn 30 and I know myself a lot more than I did when I was a student, but it’s definitely something that will change and evolve as I get older and more experienced. In terms of inspiration, it’s a tricky question that I feel is a little redundant as you can literally be inspired by anything—from a street sign, to a play, to some packaging, so it’s very difficult to define.

HCwBB: Speaking of inspiration, who are some of the women who inspire you most and why?

JS: Definitely my mum—she’s a very strong woman who came from a poor background, worked her way up from a cleaner in the company she worked for to the boss and earning decent money. She’s instilled values of hard work and fairness in me—as well as standing up for myself and understanding my worth when it comes to business. She now spends her time helping a charity in Kenya called Educate the Kids, providing education to the poorest children in a village there. I really like Bjork—I just love how as an artist she’s always done her own thing and never compromised on her vision. I also love a DJ called Peggy Gou (I’m really into electronic music)—she’s just a total boss and masters her craft in an industry that can often be heavily male dominated and pretentious.

HCwBB: How do you like to unwind and practice self-care?

JS: I have an anxiety disorder that got properly diagnosed just over a year ago, plus I’m what’s called a “HSP” (Highly Sensitive Person): I tend to pick up on other people’s emotions and think that they are my own. So self-care is pretty essential for me—I go to the gym 2-3 times a week which is the best thing apart from therapy for my anxiety, I go on regular walks to ‘ground’ myself, and I listen to cheesy New Age music and meditate as much as I remember to. Generally music is my way of unwinding, I’m constantly listening to it from the minute I’m awake to when I sleep but I also love going to gigs and going out dancing. With self-care I’ve learned to just listen to my own inner voice more that tells me when I’m feeling down or tired and to act accordingly. Actually, when I look back on things I realise that drawing has always been a big part of my self-care and potentially why I got into it in the first place!


HCwBB: What’s next for you and your career?

JS: I’m currently stressing out finishing the map of Melbourne that I’ve been working on for a few months, and working on a couple of client projects. When that’s finished, I’m literally going to run away for a bit—this year has been NON-STOP work and very stressful, so I want to go travelling by train around Europe. When I was in Australia I kept an illustrated travel journal that I worked on every day which was great fun, so I might do that as I travel around. Once I’ve had a bit of a break I desperately want to work on some personal work and potentially do another larger map next year!


Answers by Jenni Sparks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) via Evermade UK (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

Photographs of Jenni in Sydney by Alicia Dunstan

Questions and Compilation by Emma-Kate Lewis

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