Friday, March 13, 2015

Interview with illustrator JANNIE HO

My interviews with artists who have been in my SVA class continues with Jannie Ho. When she was in class over ten years ago (I've been teaching for quite a while!) she already had a very distinctive style with a big assortment of adorable, playful animals in all her illustrations. Jannie's first book was "The Penguins' Perfect Picnic" published by Innovative Kids in 2007. Since then she has been very prolific and busy: she has illustrated over 20 books! I'm hearing more and more from illustrators about getting good work outside the world of "The Big Five" mainstream American publishers. Jannie is having a lot of success with her English publisher - read on!

You have illustrated a number of books in a series with Nosy Crow. Just out is: Cutie Pie Looks for the Easter Bunny. Can you tell us about Nosy Crow and the series?
Nosy Crow is an independent publisher based in the UK. The series, Tiny Tabs, are a set of board books with pull tabs; when pulled, characters are revealed in die cuts within the spreads. Each book feature an anthropomorphic animal character and the stories are mostly search and find themed.

How did this series get started for you?
I was first contacted by Nosy Crow back in 2012. They mentioned that they had found my work via Twitter! I was starting to get some work in the UK and making some contacts there. They wanted someone that could handle the complicated templates as this book was very particular with the pull tabs. It was also to be based on anthropomorphic animals and that was my specialty!

What were the stages of working on this particular book?
"Cutie Pie Looks for the Easter Bunny" is the 6th book in the series, so things went much more smoothly than the others since I knew what to expect. We usually decide what the main animal character is going to be first. For this particular book, it was Easter themed - so a chick was a good and obvious choice. I first come up with the character design and draw a bunch of different options including the clothing. There are few rounds of that before I dive into the cover and spreads. The layout of where the die cuts are in the spreads are very specific, so I have to take that into consideration as I work on the art.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?
My favorite part was coming up with the various animal characters. Seeing this book as part of the series and how its world continues to grow excites me very much.

And the most difficult part?

The cover is the hardest. Since it is a series, I have to be mindful in terms of keeping the same look yet also make it different. The tabs in this book are quite tricky. The colors of the tabs need to correspond well on each spread, but also work together on the cover. Now that I've done a few of these books, I've learned to quickly sketch the cover in color first so I know what I'm working with.

Where do you live and what is your studio like?
I currently live in Boston, MA. My studio is just a corner in my apartment, as we are in a temporary space. I also have a young daughter so it is important to have the flexibility to work from home.
What are your art materials?

I mostly work all digitally now. As clients' deadlines are usually so short, I started sketching straight to the computer (I had pencil sketched before and scanned in my sketches.) Adobe Illustrator is what I use 95% of the time.

What were you like as a child? Did you always draw and paint?
I've always loved to draw. Create. I use to make toys out of cardboard. I use to (and still do) look at children's books and just admire the illustrations. My favorite from childhood is Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town. I loved all the little details and a world that was made up of anthropomorphic animal characters.

How did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator of children's books?
I didn't know a career in illustration existed. I took a fashion design course in high school and that was the closest thing in the creative field I knew. The teacher had told me that Parsons School of Design was the best school for fashion, and that is where I went. But when I got there, I realized fashion was not for me. Then I took an illustration course and that made me so much happier, it felt like home. Most of the work I did was very kid based, so it was natural that I went into the direction of children's books.

And I know people are very curious about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us how you got started?
After art school, I needed a job, so I started working as a graphic designer. I was very lucky to get to work at such great publishers like Nickelodeon and Scholastic. During this time, I never forgot about being an illustrator, but I felt I needed to hone my craft and work on my portfolio some more. I started taking continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts (and one of the classes being yours, Monica!) and continued to make small steps toward my goal. I was sending promo postcards to publishers but started to aim at getting an agent as well. I got a response from an agent, Mela over at MB Artists (who is still my agent to this day!) She took a chance on me and gave me my start. I did not have much illustration job experience under my belt then. But I was working as a graphic designer who commissioned illustrations so I knew what publishers expected out of me.

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?

Most certainly. The rejections will never stop, I don't think? Projects that I know I was in the running for that I did not get. Dry spells that are inevitable as a freelancer. But being rejected means I'm in the game, and that is a whole lot better than sitting on the side lines.

What are some of your other projects in the works?
I'm partnering with Nosy Crow again but working on something a little different. It is another series- called "Violet Rose". It is a mix of story, activity and sticker book featuring a violet bunny and her friends. There will be press out pieces too-to make paper crafts like paper houses, greeting cards. Alot of crafty fun!

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Keep drawing and keep showing your work. Know your process, refine your style. Have a voice that is unique. Always be professional with clients and in social media. There are endless resources out there on the internet, so never stop learning!

For more about Jannie and her books,
check out her website at

1 comment:

Annina said...

I loved reading this post in particular because it gave me a lot of hope. Your questions are great. Delighted to learn that Jannie got a great contact through Twitter when Nosy Crow noticed her work. That is inspiring--plus all the other things she has done.