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sage-making, part I

Photo of Kimberly reading "Sage Words"

photo by Deb Tracey

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Sage Words. Jet Widick, Kimberly K. Taylor-Pestell and Kristen Alden share their insights on how to manage a meaningful collaboration along with a glimpse into their creative process in this 2-part interview series.


- PART 1 -


Jet, your creative expression through words began long before the concept of Sage Words was fully formed. From where does your inspiration grow?

JET My inspiration comes from nature, lush and fresh air-infused long walks and most of all, good people—the kind of people who, no matter what, have your back, open their homes, hold your hand. My gratitude to these folks is endless.

What was your wish list in terms of art style and character traits when gathering a team of creatives to illustrate words that were extremely personal to you?

JET The most important character traits were a strong work ethic and passion for the project. As for art style, I was always a doodler, so I wanted different fonts. It’s not my specialty, so I explained what I wanted to Kristen, and she felt it—she knew what to do. And most of all, she "got it," and found us Kimberly. This was a match made in heaven. As Kristen says, "Three’s a charm!"

Kristen, after hearing Jet's vision for the book, what were your initial thoughts on how to tackle the project and your ideas for bringing in the visual components?

KRISTEN I thought… wow! Such an exciting, yet HUGE undertaking. I remembered how we used to handle editorial projects within my old MarComm department and came up with the following big picture list:

  • Decide page count and select and copy edit poems for the book

  • Have Jet contact Copyright Office and register poetry

  • Conceptualize tone and overall creative direction

  • Hire a hand lettering artist and illustrator (I knew immediately that I wanted to use Kimberly!)

  • Digitize artwork, design layout, choose color palette and edit book​

We then worked backwards and broke the deliverables down into smaller monthly and weekly action items.

Drawing is instantly accessible, as is Jet’s poetry. I knew that both my fine art and graphic illustration, and typographic style didn’t lend itself to the tone of the book, and that it needed the imperfect, emotive feeling that you can only get from the hand-drawn.

Kimberly, prior to this experience, you did not consider yourself an illustrator. Why is that, and how has that shifted?

KIMBERLY When the offer came, I was new to the visual art world having only discovered the wonders of pen and brush a year and a half prior. My older sister Stephanie is an exceptional artist, which was evident from early childhood, so I naturally saw art as her thing. I took a summer class or two with her at a local studio, but always needed more time than everyone else and never liked following specific rules for techniques being taught. Instead, my identity centered on the performing arts with choreography, theatre and music as my forms of creative expression.

Years after college, I began to take note of the doodles in the margins of my notebooks and the handwritten fonts filling the pages. I discovered that I could make complex, lace-like shapes out of tiny ones. In 2014, I launched Lacelit with a focus on freehand geometrics and watercolor patterns, but drawing objects or people were well outside my experience. The breadth of this project—being challenged by Kristen and believed in by these two wonders—has helped me stretch further and grow to a place where I truly embrace my "little inklings" as illustrations. I've grown quite fond of them, and they've become an integral part of Lacelit's personality.

What was it like to see imagery form around your poems?

JET It was so much more than I could ever dream or imagine. It was like someone guided Kimberly's hand from what was in my mind’s eye... divine intervention, or feeling the poems like I did. I’m not sure how to explain it. Love, passion, truth, soulfulness...

Illustrating and lettering a collection of poetry necessitates a consistent aesthetic across all poems. Were there aspects of the process that were particularly enjoyable or challenging?

KIMBERLY The cohesive style of imagery and lettering came naturally. With the first few poems, I developed several hand-lettered "fonts," some with curves and movement, others with stronger shapes and lines. I then used these for the rest of the collection, matching each poem with the one that seemed to suit the tone and feel of Jet's words best. Kristen did a beautiful job dispersing the lettering styles and color palette throughout the book to hold visual interest with each new page.

Jet is a person of great vision and creativity herself, yet she is extremely respectful of the ideas and creative processes of other artists. She shared ideas for some and left Kristen and me to explore the imagery, encouraging us to offer ideas based on what we saw in the words she had written. She encouraged us to trust our visual instincts and this freed us to explore ideas without limitations or hesitation. Some came to mind immediately, others required more thought. Kristen is an exceptional conceptualist and so many of her ideas pushed me to try things with which I wasn't initially comfortable.

Jade was the most challenging poem for me. It required me to work in a style that was not part of my natural aesthetic. Yet, it prodded me outside my comfort zone to find ways to merge the style with my own until it felt sincere and true. Through Jade, I learned to trust Kristen's direction even more. How beautiful when another artist can see the potential in something you can't see yourself.

KRISTEN I love the conceptual stage of creative projects and found the process to be incredibly easy between the three of us. Jet would tell me the story behind the poem, and I would let Kimberly know of specific imagery or a particular setting that Jet envisioned around it. Some illustrations were entirely conceptualized by Kimberly, where others were my own. Jet is the kind of person who totally trusts the artistic process, and she let Kimberly and me run with our ideas. There were very few concepts that needed revision and the ones that did always gave me a “wow!” moment when we found the one that felt right.

"Pouring your soul into

your work is opening your

heart to the world."

Jet Widick


Enjoy Part II of our interview to learn what made

this project an ideal collaboration for all 3 artists,

as well as the experiences behind creative directing,

and what's on the horizon for Jet, Kimberly and Kristen.


More About Sage Words

Poetry In Motion Series | North Coast Post

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Welcome to the personal blog of of Kimberly Kuniko, a Nikkei American illustrator, collage artist, poet, and host of cozy, virtual guided creative retreats with a new theme each month.

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