The Journey of Illustrating a Children’s Book – feat. Jena Holliday of Spoonful of Faith

March 22, 2022

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Have you been dreaming of creating a children’s book? If so, you’re in for a treat with today’s episode! Jena Holiday, creator and owner of Spoonful of Faith illustration and design studio is coming on the show today to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what went into publishing her debut author-illustrated book, A Spoonful of Faith, which releases with HarperCollins in Winter 2022. 

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More about Jena: 

Jena Holliday is a full-time artist, writer, entrepreneur and storyteller. She is the creator and owner of Spoonful of Faith illustration and design studio. With just a bit of faith, she walked away from her mainstream marketing job to embrace her passion for art. What started as a hobby eventually evolved into a full-time commitment of spreading kindness and hope through her artwork and words. That commitment blossomed into a blog and shop, aptly named Spoonful of Faith, and has thus become not only a successful business but a cultural beacon.


Jena has received great recognition from her local community. She has received two artist grant awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2019 and 2021, as well as an award from the Minnesota Regional Arts Council in 2019 to further her career in art and storytelling. She wants her journey and her illustrations to motivate others, especially women, to face fear and find their voice in this world.

Jena’s debut author-illustrated book, A Spoonful of Faith, releases with HarperCollins in Winter 2022. She and her husband Adrian love finding laughs in the everyday and are grateful parents to their two children.

Tell us a bit about your life journey and how you’ve ended up here! For example, did you get a degree for art, etc?

[3:56] I went to school for marketing. I just thought marketing was the most creative side of business. And so I was like, well, when I was younger and like middle school, I was actually kind of discouraged by one of my art teachers to not pursue art because she said, “well, I don’t think that you’ll make money doing art.

Maybe you should go into business and then maybe you can do something creatively there. And yeah. So I just kind of like started down that path of going into marketing instead, cuz I was like, well it’s fun and just more creative things on that side of business. So. After I graduated college, I went actually into merchandising.

So I have a very interesting background. So before I actually even got my first marketing job, I worked. And merchandising and buying for a skincare skincare and, and beauty products. Okay. So I had a lot of background in selling the company that I worked for as an online and TV, like shopping channel.

And so, like, it was crazy because a lot of the stuff that I, I learned about like selling on TV in like a very quick way, um, translated over into like digital marketing and that kinda stuff. So. I worked in merchandising for a while. Then I moved over into digital marketing and did a lot more with digital advertising and, and Facebook ads and social media ads and that kinda stuff.

And I was good at it and it came and it, I mean, it paid the bills and it pays good money.  um, it did, it really did  but I just came to a place where I really wasn’t. Fulfilled in it. Um, and I don’t know that all of your work has to be fulfilling, but it was to a point where I had all these other desires or things I wanted to do.

Um, and I just felt like I really like a pull, like a pull to, to start kind of testing the waters and those things. Oh, let’s see. 2014. I had my daughter, I got pregnant the year before. And when I. When I found out that I was pregnant, um, I kind of had a huge shift in my life, um, just with my like personal walk of faith.

And then also with like becoming a mom, like I was like, oh my gosh, like, this is crazy. My whole life, you know, flip, upside down changed in so many different ways, but. At that point, I kind of adopted this idea that I couldn’t really walk forward and tell my daughter that she could be anything and like to dream big and like go after whatever, if I wasn’t doing those things myself.

So mm-hmm, , um, I challenged myself to kind of start walking in that direction.  and I started to share my work and I actually had a lot of friends that were moms that wanted to buy illustrations and pictures from me. People would ask me to draw their kids and like their families and all that.

So I actually started a lot of my illustration work by doing commissions and some portraits. And then I got into kind of like a. Burnout there  uh, yep. Like, not that wasn’t fulfilling either. I’m like, oh my gosh, like, I’m doing what I like to do, but, you know, initially the idea was like, make money and then it started to change and say, you know, I’m like, yeah, I wanna do what I wanna do.

Um, or what I love to do, but it’s not really just all about it. It has to be something that I’m actually passionate about creating and, and putting into the world. So at first, it was a side hustle and a side hobby, and I was still working that marketing job. Um, but then about two years into it, there was enough promise I would say, or potential that, uh, and I was pregnant with my set.

So I was pregnant then with my son. And I was about to call on maternity leave. And I was like, I think this is it. I think this is the time to like take the jump. And everyone was like, girl, why  like, you’re about to have another baby. Do you understand? Like, this is not the time, you know? And I was just like, but I’m already gonna be off of work.

So like, maybe I can, you know, you know, not thinking about time clearly, but. Just like, you know, I’m like, well, if it works, if things keep flowing, then I, I don’t know that I’ll come back. And so I did, I did it, and I won’t say that I didn’t have any income because I was married at the time. And my husband, we were, we lived on his income, so  it was tough for the first, like two years and then. There was a lot of groundwork that had to be done. Right. And so, yeah, things just began to flourish after that. 

And, um, initially I started spoonful of faith as just a blog and a way to share the illustrations that I was creating.And then it kind of turned into this, this other thing, this design studio and, and, um, has been so much more. So that’s my story of how it all began. 

Over time, how have you defined your style? Has this come from time and what feels the most true to you?

[17:04] I think it’s weird to say that you find your style because I think it’s your voice. I think it’s your personality.I think it’s your original ideas and thoughts and how you express them through your work. So I think at first, when you’re starting out, when anything new, you try to listen to everyone cuz you wanna do everything perfectly and you wanna make sure that you did it. Right.  and it’s like, well, what is right?

And  you just start to pick up other people’s influences, but I think it’s really important to really it’s okay to use others as inspiration even to study how other people work, because there’s really great things you can get out of that. But I also think it’s really important to like to turn off everything and start to pull things from within you. So for example, I think this is really good practice to do that. I took this like illustrating children’s book classes a couple years ago, and we would have to do these prompts like making. Things. So it was just very random, like, we want you to illustrate hats on Monday.

Okay. So naturally you just go to do a hat that you’ve always seen or drawn, but you’re supposed to make like, fill the page with all different types of hats. And so you would, I mean, we would go and like, look at like, you know, start looking at pictures of hats and things and have to draw it in your own way.

And so the more that I started doing that I really liked that because it helped me to kind of get out of my head of like, I can’t draw this. Like, you know, like I can’t draw dogs or I can’t draw, you know, like flowers or whatever. And instead, start to just draw it in my own way. And then the more I do it, I kind of start to see my take or style or approach to it.So I really think that when you start to see someone’s style evolve, it’s because they’re starting to really trust what they have to offer and bring to that idea. 

The name “spoonful of faith” is clearly important to you since it is your business name as well as your book name! Tell us how you chose that. 

[27:20]  I think the name is kind of like a nickname for me, honestly, because I started this whole.  journey, um, with a leap of faith.The name Spoonful of faith actually kind of fell into my heart.

And I believe that it was through my own relationship with God, but I think. Like, it really just felt in my heart one day and it wouldn’t leave. And I was like, I told my mom and my sisters, like, I don’t know. I think like, I wanna name, like, I wanna start my, I, I had been drawing at that time. I had just started illustrating and I wasn’t really sharing it with anyone outside of like my family, because I don’t know.

It felt scary and new. And also I was like, I don’t know if I’m good. You know? I was like, yeah, yeah. I didn’t know if I wanted it’s deeply personal. Yeah. Starting to be new it’s. Yeah. So I shared the name with my mom and my sister. And they were like, oh my gosh, it’s so cute. We love it. You, you should do it.

And, and just kind of stuck. It never, it was always a reminder to me to have faith and to just keep going and, um, that you need a lot of it just need a little bit. For the next day, right? Yeah. Like for the next day. And so that’s kind of how I lived, um, you know, those first couple years of doing illustration.

Yeah. Um, and it’s just really turned into like a Testament to like who I am and like what I stand for. And so I think that’s how it translated into what it is today and also the name of, uh, my children’s book that’s coming out.

I understand you’re publishing your first book. Did you make the decision to self publish or use a publisher? 

[30:40]  I’m excited. So I’m publishing my book with Harper Collins,which is a huge publisher.And they actually reached out to me and. Had asked if I ever thought of publishing a book. And so then I’m like, well, yeah, let’s do it. . So in this, in my case, it was a little different than a normal route to publishing, but now I am actually. I have like a book agent and I’m like working on a proposal for another book.

And so a couple of things when I first started, illustrating like in the first couple years, I actually connected with a small local publishing house that helps people, that self-publish books. Um, and we did a lot of work together. I did a lot of book covers for them and I illustrated some children’s books with them.

And so. I definitely think that there’s like, just especially nowadays with the power of, uh, social media and like the internet, like self-publishing, there’s so, so many ways that you can have a very successful book self-publishing and I’ve seen it. In my case, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to self-publish my book.

It was just that I didn’t know that I wanted to do children’s books. Um, mm-hmm  I really wasn’t sure. I had done a lot of work for other people and I was just kind of like that. I don’t know when you do a lot of work in one area, sometimes it’s just hard to see yourself in that area, cuz you’re just like, it’s just always work.

So, um, it actually kind of took me stepping away from working with a lot of publishing projects for me to even really start to like to draw and do that other, you know, children’s books and even for myself. So, um, once I started working with Harper Collins, On my book and started like, okay, what would this book look like?

And like, what, you know, how could we make this happen? I started kind of dreaming again and, and, and playing again with the idea of it. And as I worked through that book, I started to get excited about creating children’s books. So now I’m kind of like, oh, I would love to do a series I would love, but at first I didn’t really want to, so I think like, That’s why I never thought of self-publishing because I didn’t, I wasn’t really interested in, in book publishing for myself.

How much time went into creating the children’s book? What does that journey look like behind the scenes?

[38:28] I don’t know if I could break it down. I mean, we’ve been working on this book for two years. Okay. Um, all right. Yeah. So, and we. We finished the artwork last year. And that was like, I put, like, I literally had to have pushed the deadline back a couple times just because mm-hmm , you know, it was like, we were finishing this in the midst of COVID. I was just like, I can’t work right now. You I’m mentally not. Yeah. So that was also a toll on, you know, just getting it done, but. Yeah, two years in the making, there are obviously fast track books that come out. Like they sign somebody and it’s out in six months. Generally the book’s already written and there’s a lot of stuff already done. For the Illustration piece it usually takes a year or so just because of the amount of artwork that has to be done and created for it. 

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