Coloring Outside the Lines

When St. Louis Park resident Jenny Kisner was a little girl, she was into floor plans — designing them, drawing them, making notes and changes on existing ones —so much that her mom even bought her a stack of floor plan books for Christmas one year. Kisner never questioned what she’d do for a career: Architecture was her passion.

Fast-forward to today, and Kisner did indeed become an architect, but her creativity has also flourished in other areas. She is the artist behind a coloring book published last year and she also sings in a choir.

Kisner says that for her, architecture and art each have their own time and place. Her coloring pages are covered in flowing, organic shapes, often focusing on flowers, leaves and swirls. Her style tends toward curves, with nary a straight line in sight. “My hand likes to do round things,” she says.

Kisner has always been a doodler, and got herself a coloring book for the first time about a year and a half ago—around the same time she decided to take a break from architecture after 10 years in the field. When her dad had some health issues last summer (he has since recovered), it made Kisner realize that she wanted a shift in her own life. “I was kind of burnt out on the situation I was in and needed to be my own boss for a while and do something more creative.”

After coloring her way through that book, which had a style similar to her own doodling, she decided to try making her own. She started by printing out pages of her work for friends and family to color, and then she opened an Etsy shop offering downloadable coloring pages. That’s when an editor found her drawings, and emailed Kisner “out of the blue” asking if she wanted to do a coloring book. This had always been a dream of hers, but she’d had no idea how to make it happen. “I’m still pinching myself in amazement,” she says with a smile.

Some of those friends who encouraged her doodles were her fellow choir members in the VocalEssence Chorus, an award-winning group of 90 Twin Cities residents. Kisner sang in choirs all the way from second grade through college, and really missed it when she took a few years off. When she saw a VocalEssence performance six years ago, she knew she wanted to start singing again. So she auditioned, made it in, and quickly started making new friends and memories.

“I call Tuesday nights my therapy sessions, because if I go in in a bad mood, I always come out in a good mood,” she says. Not only that, she loves the performances. “The coolest was probably singing backup for the Rolling Stones last June, and this past June we sang with Andrea Bocelli.”

Brandee Polson is one of Kisner’s choir friends who has enjoyed coloring the illustrations. “Jenny is a very talented artist,” Polson says. “Her drawings—all done by hand—are intricate, beautiful designs.”

Another VocalEssence friend, Laura Tanner, says she first saw Kisner’s drawings about a year before the book was published when Kisner brought some pages to choir practice as gifts. “I’ve also seen special drawings she’s done for friends and her new nephew. Just incredible! It’s even inspired me to talk with her about a custom doodle project for my home,” says Tanner.

Custom drawing projects are another facet of Kisner’s work. Some of these have included wedding gifts highlighting something special to the couple, nursery hangings with quotes or the baby’s name, and drawings people have had turned into phone cases. She’s toyed with the idea of greeting cards, but that project was temporarily shelved when the coloring book came along. She’d planned to sell them in black and white, and people would color before sending them or let the recipient have the fun. And one customer is even considering a tattoo based on one of Kisner’s illustrations.

What’s behind her drawing process? Kisner says she doesn’t sit down to draw with a theme in mind unless she’s working on a custom project. She just starts doodling, and “sometimes it turns into flowers, sometimes it turns into hearts, sometimes it goes in the trash.” She finishes about one out of every four drawings that she starts; some she’ll come back to, and some she never will. “That’s the beauty of paper and Sharpies,” she laughs. “They’re not expensive. I have so many Sharpies, I should buy stock in the company.”

Skinny Sharpies and cardstock are her main tools; her more complex full-page drawings can take around eight hours. Doesn’t her and cramp up from all that drawing? “I definitely feel the impact of it,” Kisner says. She goes to the chiropractor once a week, and says he can tell when she’s been drawing a lot.

After finishing an illustration, she scans it into her computer, and boosts the contrast. Although most everything is freehand, she sometimes uses a compass to rough in some circles from there.

Even in the short time she’s been doing these illustrations, her style has evolved. She’s working recently on 6-by-6-inch artist tiles, creating what she calls micro-doodles—very tiny drawings. These started out as “palate cleansers,” breaks between working on larger pages. Kisner’s not sure what they’ll turn into, but she just keeps adding to her portfolio, which is a hefty three-ring binder full of all her original drawings. Each drawing has a name, too, but those aren’t included in the book—just in her computer and in her brain.

This singer and illustrator isn’t done with architecture yet, though. “I have the itch to get back into architecture, and my passion will always be there,” she says. For now, her artistic creations can be found at the website here, and her book, Doodles and Noodles, is available on Amazon.  

To find a copy of your own go to Amazon.com and enter Doodles and Noodles by Jenny Kisner.