So it goes with Mill Valley native and longtime local artist Kristin Jakob, who is a featured artist at the 62nd Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, set for Sept. 15-16 in Old Mill Park. Jakob’s gorgeous botanical illustrations (above) will be enlarged on banners encircling the “fairy ring” of the redwood grove, taking over that portion of the park much like fellow Mill Valley native Steve Coleman’s set design work did in 2017.
Jakob says she had a pencil in her hand “as soon as I could hold one” and was entranced by Marin’s extraordinary natural history. She mostly drew animals until her neighbor Virginia Stone, who was active in the Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), took her under her wing. Stone took Jakob on field trips and sparked her deep interest in plants, so much so that Jakob has mostly only drawn plants in the decades that have followed.
“It’s very rare that I’d draw an animal, and when I have, it’s usually a disaster,”she says.
Essentially self-taught, Jakob honed her pen and ink technique illustrating a book on poisonous plants of the world (Poison Plants, 1977 Houghton-Mifflin) while her parents were stationed for two years near Paris, then further expanded her technique to include watercolor while she attended London’s Royal College of Art, where she received an M.A. in 1981.
Oh, and that aforementioned detail detour?
“In England, I met and later married Psychedelic Furs rhythm guitarist Roger Morris,” Jakob says. “They did two U.S. tours with the Talking Heads, and on the second, he ran off with a beautician in Los Angeles.”
“We filed for a very simple divorce but I’m not sure if was truly legitimate – so I think i’m divorced but who knows,” she adds with a laugh.
Didn’t see that one coming, right?
Jakob works almost exclusively from live specimens, starting with a sketch, then a detailed pencil rendering on hot-press, acid-free paper. She then applies watercolor, first with small areas of wash, and later with rather dry paint applied with tiny brushes to gradually build up color, depth and detail.
Jakob’s first published illustrations appeared in the CNPS Marin newsletters and in the state organization’s quarterly journal Fremontia, and two of her largest subsequent commissions, a large “Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada” poster (1985) and a set of four posters/placemats depicting California grasses (2004) were published by CNPS.
She has self-published an ever-expanding line of cards and fine art prints, which drew the attention of Smith & Hawken co-founder Paul Hawken, beginning a long relationship with the Mill Valley-spawned gardening business. Jakob’s work graced the cover of a few Smith & Hawken catalogs in addition to her line of prints and greeting cards, and her work drew so much acclaim that she was honored with a Milley Award in 2013.
Jakob also worked part-time at both Smith & Hawken’s nursery in Berkeley and the store in Mill Valley. Those years grew Jakob’s love for gardening beyond her illustration work, so much so that she’s operated her own garden consultation business for years, and she works part-time at Green Jeans Garden Supply in Strawberry.
Jakob says she was flattered when MVFAF Artist Liaison Erma Murphy reached out to be a featured artist. She hadn’t considered entering before because of the festivals prohibition on selling mechanical productions – “ and I never had enough originals to fill a show,” she says.
When the statewide California Native Plant Society stepped up to sponsor the MVFAF exhibit, it all came together, Jakob says.
“I loved the setting of Steve’s showcase last year,” she says of Coleman, who she’s known since they were kids. “We’ve been friends since I moved back from England. He doesn’t drive so sometimes I take him to the movies. This is going to be really fun.”
“The Festival Committee knows that what makes this festival so special is not only the unique location in a Redwood Grove, but its ties to the artistic heritage of the town,” Murphy says. “Many of the old timers are coming back now and we are making sure to put attention to the artists right in our backyard. Kristin is so delightful and knowledgeable – she’s a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge.”