© Jenny Kroik
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“Just a Dream”: An Interview with Illustrator Jenny Kroik

We chatted with the artist and illustrator behind our spring catalog cover

The Met Store’s spring 2021 catalog is full of unexpected delights—and that includes the cover. A nod to spring at The Met Cloisters, this season’s cover features an original illustration by Jenny Kroik, a New York City–based illustrator, painter, and art instructor. Her work has appeared on the cover of The New Yorker and in such prominent publications as The Washington Post and The LA Times, among others. An avid visitor to The Met, Jenny frequently depicts vignettes from the Museum’s galleries on her popular Instagram account.

We enjoyed getting to know Jenny, and we hope you will, too! Read on for our interview with this fascinating illustrator and artist.

Jenny in front of Franz Kline’s Black, White, and Gray. © Jenny Kroik

How did you decide to become an artist?

Drawing is something I’ve been doing since I was very young. My family consistently encouraged me to pursue art seriously, and I got to take art classes since I was very young. It was something I was very passionate about and could spend hours doing. I always knew I wanted to be a visual artist; I especially loved painting and drawing and telling stories with pictures.

You’re currently working on the cover of The Met Store’s spring catalog. Can you tell us a bit about it?  

I was really excited to be invited to work on this project! I love painting people in museums, and to get to do this for The Met is just a dream. The lovely ladies in charge of the project came up with the idea of a woman having lunch at the courtyard of the Cloisters, using some beautiful objects from The Met Store to set up her table. This was like painting a lovely fantasy!

I live not far from The Met Cloisters, and the courtyards there are one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. They are magical at every time of year. It’s winter now, and I enjoyed conjuring up the memory of that gorgeous garden in spring, with all the intense flowers and fragrant herbs!

A behind-the-scenes look of our catalog cover in progress. © Jenny Kroik

You’ve illustrated covers for top publications like The New Yorker. Do you find that cover art illustration is different from other types of illustrations?  

I think the challenge of cover art is to tell a very compelling visual story that makes someone want to pick up the magazine or catalog and look inside. It’s interesting to come up with an image like that! It’s a balance of making something simple enough so it reads well from afar or tiny on someone’s phone, and at the same time, complex enough so it keeps your interest once you look closer. I think I like cover art because it’s supported by less text, so there’s room for more subtle storytelling. Also, you’re on the front, so you get all the attention, haha! 😊

How does being based in New York City influence your art?  

This city has so much visual information to offer! I love painting people, mostly from life, and so what place is better than NYC? I lived in a small town for 8 years where I did my Master’s (then stayed there to teach), and after a while I felt like I already painted everyone there!

NYC also has a wonderful community of artists and other creative people. I met so many amazing artists, and it really helps to build that network of supportive friends.

“Jimmy” © Jenny Kroik

You’ve captured many “Met” moments on your Instagram account. Do you visit The Met Fifth Avenue and/or The Met Cloisters often?

I visited all The Met locations so many times since moving here in 2016 that I started to feel very much at home there. It is such a great resource for all sorts of artistic inspiration! I attended a few events there also, like artists talks, and an event organized by The Met for art educators in 2018 that was really helpful. (I also teach art.)

It’s also interesting to visit the Museum with different people, to get a totally different take on the art. Sometimes, I’ll go with my friend who is an art historian, and she tells me a lot of super interesting facts about the art I never knew. Other times, I go with other artists or scientists, and they all have a different take on artworks I’ve seen before, and I get to experience them anew.

A peek at Jenny’s sketches of the American Wing. © Jenny Kroik

What’s your favorite space or gallery in the Museum and why?

It’s really hard to choose! So many beautiful galleries. I really do love the courtyard of the Cloisters, especially in winter. I also love the American Wing at The Met Fifth Avenue. I spent a lot of time sketching there with various artist friends. I have a pleasant memory of one time when there was an intense rainstorm, and it felt so nice being inside with all the art while the rain hit the skylight. I love how every time I visit the Museum, I find myself in a new favorite spot, and there’s so much to explore. I love it all!

Have you ever shopped at The Met Store? If so, do you have a favorite item? 

Yes! This is a spot where my sister and I often end up at the end of our many visits to The Met. I love the exhibition catalogues and artists books. I have purchased a few of those, and I sometimes send them as gifts to my friends who love The Met but can’t come to NYC often.

My house has quite a few Met Store items. I have a very nice tote bag I love. 

I also enjoy looking at the puzzles and the stationery. The Cloisters shop has a lot of interesting books on herbs and medieval art that I enjoy. So many fun things!

Jenny’s sketch of the Trie Café at The Met Cloisters. © Jenny Kroik

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

Keep making art!! Do it every day, even something small, like mixing colors or pinning a photograph that inspires you. Everything is part of the process! 

And don’t compare yourself to other artists, everyone has their own path. For me, it was important to create a sustainable art practice, so I took a long time to get back to illustration after college (10 years!). It was important for me to learn to manage my anxiety before starting to deal with the uncertainty and stress that comes with the job of the artist. Self-care is SO important! Be kind to yourself!

I once read that the painter Michaël Borremans started wearing a suit to his studio to paint, and that helped his practice. Stories like this inspired me to make my studio space (a small table in the corner of my apartment) more interesting. I got a fancy chair from my in-laws’ storage, and I surround myself with objects that make me feel inspired. Also, don’t forget to have fun and experiment with new tools and styles!

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?  

I have a few fun illustrations in progress, and a few personal projects I am excited about.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic I started to paint people around the world who would send me the books they are reading and their reading spaces. Working on this helped me feel connected to people around the world, as we were all experiencing something difficult together, and it was a way to honor and bring a little joy to someone across the globe. I might get back to it sometime soon, maybe expand it.

And, of course, I gotta make more paintings of people at The Met in 2021! For sure. 😊

“Met gold” © Jenny Kroik

You can view the final cover of The Met Store’s spring 2021 catalog on our website.

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