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1281 interviews since 2009

A picture of Jana Kinsman

Jana Kinsman

Illustrator, beekeeper

in beekeeper, illustrator, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Jana Kinsman! Freelance illustrator; the creator of Doodlebooth, an in-person portraiture service; creator of Bike a Bee, a beekeeping initiative that provides beehives to community gardens and urban farms in Chicago; and 1/5 of Quite Strong, an all-female design collaborative. This is Where I Work with a lot of rad people.

What hardware do you use?

For design and illustration work, I use a 11" MacBook Air. I bought it because it's tiny and light. I do not do any illustration work on the computer; all of my drawings are hand-drawn and scanned at high resolution. For in-office scanning, I use an Epson Perfection v600. For portable scanning when I am doodling folks at events, I use an HP Scanjet Professional 1000. I love both scanners uncontrollably. For backing up work, I use a G-Drive Mini. The headphones I listen to jams on are usually iPod headphones I found on the ground. My dad got me a nice pair of Sennheisers for Christmas, which I leave at my desk. I drink water out of a 1/2 liter Ball jar, and take photos and tweet about general dickery on my iPhone 4S.

I use 0.3 Staedtler Pigment Liners almost exclusively, replacing them when the tip gets flat because of the weird way I hold my pens. I hate to throw them away, so I have a huge collection of flat-tipped pens with the labels scratched through, so I can tell them apart from the fresh ones. For brush and ink work, I use Pelikan india ink and a size 0 Kolinsky Sable brush. I draw on cover-stock Paper Source paper (in White or Soft White) because I got used to it at some point, and I do my brush work on various watercolor papers -- I still haven't found one that I like 100%. I use mechanical pencils for sketching, and a Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser for erasifying. For ink and water reservoirs, I use bottle caps that we collect at our office.

My most important hardware is a collection of roughly 300,000 live bees.

I keep Minnesota Hygienic bees, developed by Marla Spivak, one of my personal heroes. I order my beekeeping equipment through Mann-Lake, a cooperatively owned beekeeping supplier in Minnesota. I keep bees in Langstroth hives because my hives are located far apart; I carry everything by bicycle and trailer, and Langstroth hives are ultra-modular. I use 10-frame supers and use only medium supers (aka "Illinois supers"; REPRESENT) since keeping one size makes the whole process even simpler. I use plastic foundation in my frames; it's sturdier and can take a beating in the honey extractor. I prefer alexander veils and generally work on hives without gloves, unless I am doing a lot of work on a hive and they seem pissy. I wear a light blue button-down and light colored jeans or cutoffs, since bees interpret dark colors as predators like bears. I use a Dadant smoker and a generic hive tool that I inherited from another beekeeper friend. I extract honey in a 4-frame extractor that I share with the Chicago Honey Co-Op, and bottle it in 4, 8, and 12 oz canning-style jars.

I use a Bikes At Work 32" trailer that I hitch to my 1974 Peugeot PX-10, which I bought offa Craigslist and lovingly built into a beautiful touring bike. It features a Stronglight randonneuring crankset and a vintage Brooks Professional S saddle, among other little nerdy bike parts. At one point it was all French and period-appropriate, but I upgraded a lot of its parts. I use an old Jim Blackburn rack with a custom smoker holster made by Levi Borrenson, and carry junk in orange Ortlieb Panniers.

I keep actual field notes in Field Notes.

And what software?

I work in Adobe CS3 because I don't know any better, and most of my image processing and layout work requires little time. Instagram makes my beekeeping and all of the stuff I pick up off the ground look good. I use Gmail and Google Drive as organizational tools, but I still use a Moleskine weekly planner. I play Hundreds and Osmos to relieve anxiety.

Quite Strong and I use Basecamp for all of our collaboration and communication, though we frequently lament the loss of Google Wave, the most perfect collaboration tool created. YEAH, WHAT.

As fuel for my bee smoker, I use newspaper or used paper bags to start, then a couple of 4x4-ish pieces of coffee bag burlap from my bicycle-business friend Grinderman Coffee. Once the fire is going strong, I throw in wood chips, which are usually plentiful at community gardens. To dampen the fire and prevent embers from flying out, I loosely pack the lid with grass, though I have been known to pack it with mint so the bees can enjoy a lovely minty smoke. All that and a loving and peaceful vibe is the only bee-related software I use.

What would be your dream setup?

I would love to get a piece of land in the city, sandwiched between Elston Avenue and the Chicago River. I'd grow a ton of milkweed to sustain a lot of monarch butterflies, and let the lot fill up with nectar-rich plants like white and yellow sweet clover, dutch clover, and dandelions. I'd keep beehives there and teach classes as often as I could. I'd love to keep more bees in public places like schools and churches, to encourage curiosity and an understanding of natural systems. I'd be a not-for-profit and throw big parties with lots of free beer to raise money for more hives -- and hiring a part-time helper.

The setup I have for my illustration freelance work is already a dream. I work with many amazing friends, and have a fish tank with a baby fish right next to me every day.