Local artist ventures into children’s books

The cover of I Choose You, written by Megan Shiffra and illustrated by CJ Jasenski.

GREENVILLE—CJ Jasenski fell in love with art as a kid.

He started taking professional art lessons from Nancy Fourman, of Greenville, as a second grader.

“Art has always been a part of my life,” he said. “Illustration seemed to be the format that came to the forefront for me, that I liked the most. I’ve been drawing characters, writing stories, and things like that since childhood.”

And since then, he’s never stopped.

While in college, Jasenski, a 1990 GHS graduate, started working with Anne McKinney and My Sister’s Closet, of Greenville, on her pattern books.

“She made primitive dolls,” he said. “She was selling them, and she went to national shows. There was really no internet at that point in time, this was like the mid 90s. She was always going to the markets, and then she would trade these pattern books.”

Jasenski would illustrate the character that McKinney would later use for her dolls, and help her create pattern books out of the illustrations. This would be his first brush with book production.

From there, McKinney helped him get a job at retailer Gooseberry Patch in Delaware, Ohio, where he created illustrations in their cookbooks and catalogs.

“I wanted to move out of this area,” he said. “I got hired as their first full time illustrator. Gooseberry Patch was still in that country market, you know, the late 90s. They sold all kinds of different knick knacks that you could sit around your house, it was all country-themed. They had cookbooks that were extremely successful, to the point where the company closed and they actually sold off that division, and that’s still going. Their main resource for selling those was through Cracker Barrel. They were very popular. I was only there a little over a year and I worked on like eight or 10 books.”

After Gooseberry Patch, Jasenski did a lot of freelance work for different companies, which spawned into his own creative coaching/website design business, RedTail Creative Company.

“I was doing a lot of graphic design stuff, working in Adobe Illustrator,” he said. “I would create a logo and give it to the client. I’d say, ‘Get this up on your website.’ They’d respond, ‘Well, I haven’t talked to my webmaster for like, three years.’ So I started looking for a platform to help these people out, and I found Wix. I’ve been a Wix website designer since 2011. It was to help small and midsize businesses be able to control their own websites, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Meanwhile, the illustrations stayed a part of his life.

“I sit and draw all the time,” he said. “My kids always loved it, but I’ve never really done much with it.”

That was until he took on Megan Shiffra as a client, and assisted her with the production of her children’s book, I Choose You.

He was referred to Shiffra through a client who felt that they’d be a good match. Shiffra was in the beginning stages of writing her book, and also needed an illustrator to help her bring the book to life.

“She was adopted, and she really wanted to tell her story, but she didn’t know much about what the adoption world was like today,” he said. “I took her on as a coaching client to begin with. I said, ‘I don’t think you’re ready for a book yet.’ She kind of had the skeleton written, but through the next six months, then I stepped her through the process of doing a lot of research and figuring out what it was that she wanted to say.”

After he helped her develop the book, they started with character development. Once they got the characters in place, then Shiffra’s story came along. Jasenski started doing sketches for how the layout was going to be, what was going to go on what page, and started creating illustrations to go along with the storyline. 

The coaching and book development each took them about six months separately.

Shiffra self-published her book on Nov. 23, 2022, on Amazon, with Jasenski credited as the illustrator.

While he didn’t write this first book, Jasenski has plans of his own children’s series.

“My daughter was born in 2016,” he said. “I have two sons, one in middle school and one in high school. But when she came along, this book kind of came to me. I’ve been developing that out, it’s actually a series of books. I’m currently working on that.”

He added that the series will include eight books, inspired by his free-spirited daughter Iris. In the series, her name is Iris Moon, and Iris has a magic concoction that she spreads all over. She thinks she’s fixing things, but really, it’s just her intention and love that shines through.

“She’s very outgoing,” Jasenski said of his daughter Iris. “She’s just very dynamic. A little hippie. She’s always got her shoes off. She’s got dirt in her pockets. She’s all over the place, but she’s very, very sweet and she’s very caring. The books are really about  being who you are, but at the same time, still caring at the end of the day, still taking care of other people.”

Unlike with his last project though, his goal is not to self publish, but find a publisher for the project. He currently has one book done, and hopes to start speaking with publishers in the fall with at least three books completed.

“I’m in the process of getting my portfolio together to find an agent, because you can’t get a publisher unless you have an agent,” he said. “That’s really my first step right now. I’m in the midst of all that.”

While he hopes to eventually do stories full time, he’s currently still helping others, as he did with Shiffra, on book production with his business RedTail Creative Company. His current project is a book about Bear’s Mill, and written by Lois Smith.

“I would love to, at some point in time, just write and illustrate children’s books, but that’s one step at a time,” he said. “Throughout my career, I’ve always created things, but they’ve been for other people. Even the book that I did for Megan. I’m ready to be able to express what I want to put out there.”

In addition to book production, RedTail has created the websites for Versailles Poultry Days, The House that Lulu Built (as well as hand rendered the logo and images to match), My Darke County, Darke County, Bear’s Mill, Overholser Farms, The Butcher Block and Smokehouse and Darke County Endowment for the Arts.

For more information on RedTail Creative Company, or Artski Studio, the illustration sector of his work, click here, or go to the Artski Instagram page. To buy I Choose You, click here.