Graphic illustrator Jessica Hische wasn’t sure exactly what kind of artist she wanted to be—until the day she fell in love with typography. Her debut picture book, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave (Penguin Workshop), is a sensitive story in which affirming statements prepare friendly animal characters for new experiences. But what is most distinctive about her work is the way in which the words come to life on the page, as if becoming characters themselves.
Hische, a Pennsylvania native, traces her love for illustration to her childhood experiences of “getting lost” in picture book art. She decided early on that “the only thing I wanted was to be an artist,” and pursued graphic design at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where she was given leeway to explore her options. Hische struggled to determine the best course of study; it was after completing an assignment to “re-illustrate” a children’s book (Hische chose Aesop’s Fables) that she discovered her forte. She calls lettering a “sweet spot between drawing and design—more concerned with solving problems than with being expressionistic,” she says. It was as if something just clicked: “I was fascinated by making images out of text and typography.”
After graduating, Hische worked at Headcase Design in Philadelphia and then at the New York City graphic design studio Louise Fili Ltd. There, she continued to foster her love for lettering, increasingly integrating it into her freelance illustration work. As a graphic designer and lettering artist, her clients have included the New York Times and Wes Anderson.
Hische wrote about the art form she has mastered in her 2015 book for adults, In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector (Chronicle). Since working on the Aesop’s Fables piece, she had also thought about creating a children’s book, but admits that she felt a little out of place writing for kids: “It felt weird to make a children’s book without having children.” Hische also wondered what she might be able to contribute to the already very full children’s book landscape. But after becoming a parent (she now has a son and daughter), she understood the hunger that parents and kids have for an ever-evolving library of stories: “There’s a bottomless need for children’s books,” she says. “I knew I would find an audience.”
Hische began writing Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave when her daughter was a little over a year old. Initially, she envisioned self-publishing the book—she knew a lot of authors who had done so—but “I lost steam without having deadlines,” she says. “I needed someone to yell at me and make me finish it.” Hische already had many publishing contacts through her years of designing book covers, and was represented by Frank Sturges for her illustration work. She signed with literary agent Seth Fishman at the Gernert Company in 2017, who gave her the encouragement she felt she needed.
There was a learning curve for Hische in writing Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. With the exception of her book for adults, she had always approached storytelling as an artist rather than as a writer. She ended up embracing a particular mentality: “I began to think of myself as two different people—artist and author.” As a result, she says, working on the picture book “felt like a collaboration, but with just me; I was able to have a dialogue with myself between art and words.”
Hische initially thought of her daughter as she was planning the book, but over time, she says, “I realized I was making it for my younger self. I was so hard on myself.” Her fear of making mistakes would sometimes keep her from exploring unfamiliar territory. But it seems she’s conquered that fear. Hische has especially enjoyed the new experience of sharing Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave with school groups. She meets many readers who are facing the challenge of learning to write, and when she tells the kids that “I’m paid to draw the alphabet,” the kids feel connected to her. “It rarely happens that an adult is doing something that so directly relates to the work that the kids are doing.”
If there’s one thing Hische hopes readers take away from Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave, it’s that “they are inspired to pursue what interests them, even if they aren’t always the best at it,” she says. “I hope they might feel less intimidated to try something new.”
An earlier version of this story misattributed the publisher of Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave; it is Penguin Workshop.