My name is Jannie Ho and I'm an illustrator specializing in the children's market. I earned a BFA in illustration at Parsons in New York. Afterwards, I worked as a designer at Nickelodeon and Scholastic, then eventually an associate art director at TIME Magazine for kids. I decided to leave in 2007 to illustrate full-time. Since then I've created art for many children's books, toys, apps and many products, mostly for kids. I'm also known as Chicken Girl here and there!
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
When I was in high school, I didn't know that a career in illustration existed. The closest thing I knew was to become a fashion designer, and that was why I went to Parsons. In the first year at art school, I learned about other majors. I took a fashion class and immediately knew it wasn't for me. But then I took an illustration class and it felt like home. I still remember sitting in the adviser's office having to declare a major. I was pretty torn since I spent so long thinking I was going to be a fashion designer, but I ultimately chose illustration. And thank goodness I did!
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
I've always loved children's book illustrations. My first memories of being in love with the visuals of a book was Richard Scarry's Busy Busy Town. I remember I wanted to live in the world that he created. The theme of a magical anthropomorphic animal world still inspires my work to this day. When I was in art school, I learned about so many illustrators, but what made the strongest impression was J. Otto Seibold's work. His children's books were first published at that time and I was blown away by his style. Mostly because children's books at that time did not have that kind of digital style and I felt it opened the doorway for digital illustrators to work in that industry. Currently, Marc Boutavant is hands down one of my top favorite illustrators. And there are too many more to mention!
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I went to Parsons School of Design in New York. School was fun and valuable but I think being in the real world is where the real training begins. I did not do illustration when I first got out of school. I did however worked as a designer and commissioned illustrations. That gave me very good perspective on the inner workings in the publishing industry and how things worked. A few years after I graduated, I eventually started to work on my illustration portfolio again. I took continuing ed classes at School of Visual Arts while I worked. It took me a long time to get to work as an illustrator full time and I continue to learn new things now. Now with a busy work and family life, I've discovered great e-courses online to help me keep current on what is going on in the industry.
How do you keep it "fresh"?
Lately I've been trying to use new color palettes, new techniques and markings in my art. In the children's publishing industry, same themes and subjects can repeat themselves and the challenge is to make something new and fresh each time. Being conscious about approaching a problem in a different way can help. Also e-courses and learning about about different industries such as licensing, hand lettering, etc. really infuses new energy to my work.
What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on a new series with Nosy Crow that are part activity and part story book for young girls. It is a fun take on paper crafts and stickers. I'm having an amazing time creating a little anthropomorphic animal world for this series, with the main character being a bunny named Violet Rose. The first book will be released in 2015. I'm working on the second book already!
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
My first love will always be children's books, so I'm so proud and grateful for all the books I've gotten a chance to work on all these years. I do love the Tiny Tab board book series I illustrated for Nosy Crow. I started working on them when my daughter was just a few months old. When the first book in the series was finally published, it was great to see my daughter enjoying them! That gave me a very personal connection to the work I've been doing all these years. It gave me more of an understanding of my audience. That was quite special.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
There are still so many dream projects to achieve, such as writing my own picture book, creating an animated series, licensing, and more. I'm always looking for new techniques to add to my current process. Now that I'm mostly work digitally in my work, I would like to mix in some traditional mediums.
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Keep at it! Every little thing you do now will add to your experience and path that will lead to wonderful things down the road. With the internet, there are so many information out there that is easily obtained and learn from. Know that different industries have different rules and ways of working. Personal projects are a great way to keep creative juices flowing AND obtain professional work. I see it time and time again.
What makes an illustration successful?
When the illustration solves the problem but also satisfies the way the illustrator envisioned it. Isn't it the best when it comes out exactly the way you've envisioned it? Or when it goes beyond your expectations. When colors are just in harmony and it creates just the mood you want.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
To keep myself motivated, it is good to be online and see other people's work, but sometimes I find it is better to get away from the internet and turn off all the noise. The internet is a double edge sword. However, meeting up with other illustrators in person always gives me a boost in inspiration. There is an unspoken understanding of each other that is so unique and special. To avoid burn-out, I've learned to sleep! Sleep is so important. I use to stay up very late to finish work but I realized that I can be so much more efficient if I am actually not tired. I know this can not always happen as deadlines loom, but it is a good rule of thumb. I also take vacations when I can. Funny how sometimes being a freelancer, we do work a bit even when we are on vacation, but at least now I'm more conscious about it and try not to. We do need that break to refill our creative well.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
A noodle shop owner? I use to joke that is what I would have become if I stayed in Hong Kong (where I was born.) In all seriousness, I would still like to be in the creative field of sorts. In a different life, I would love to be a professional dancer (jazz, modern, funk).
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
I'm one of those people that become completely lost when TV shows are discussed, since I don't watch alot of TV. But I do watch alot of anime, does that count? I'm looking forward to the second season of Yowamushi Petal. Naruto is always a good fall back anime show to watch too.
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