Interview with Children’s Book Illustrator – Jannie Ho

illustrator Jannie HoBorn in Hong Kong and raised in Philadelphia, Jannie studied at Parsons The New School of Design in New York, earning a BFA in illustration. After working as a graphic designer and an art director at many fun places such as Nickelodeon, Scholastic, and TIME Magazine for Kids, she decided that illustration was her true calling. Jannie now specializes in illustrating for the children’s market, with her work appearing in both trade and educational books, magazines, toys, crafts and digital media.  She currently works and plays in Boston, MA. See what she is up to at her blog.

Q: When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?

A: I became a full-time freelance illustrator in 2007. Before that, I worked as an art director at TIME for kids and designed for various children’s publishing places.

Q: Tell us a bit about the illustrations behind your recently released book, The Great Christmas Crisis. I understand this is the sequel to a book that came out in 2009. Can you tell us about that book, too?

A: Yes, The Great Christmas Crisis is a sequel to The Great Reindeer Rebellion, written by the late Lisa Trumbauer. Lisa also wrote one of the very first picture books I got to illustrate, The Haunted Ghoul Bus, all published by Sterling. Kim Norman wrote The Great Reindeer Rebellion and it was thrilling to bring back the same Santa and the Reindeer for another story.

Q: Do you have another book planned for the series?

A: I hope so! The format is wonderful with heavy stock paper and embossing. It would be nice to explore further with these characters — I feel like they have very distinct personalities after creating them for these 2 books.

Q: Have you worked on any other children’s books?

A: Yes, I’m very blessed to have worked on many books. A recent series that were just released are Funny Faces Pop-up (Dressing Up) books published by Campbell. I also have a fun transportation/construction picture book out called Road Work Ahead, written by Anastasia Suen, published by Viking. All of my books can be found here.

Q: What are you working on now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?

A: I’m currently working on a series of board books with anthropomorphic animals (my favorite!) and I just finished up a pop-up book which is scheduled to come out in 2013.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?

A: I’ve done work for products such as games, gift cards, greeting cards, but almost all are always for children. I like doing work for fun (a must!) but they’ve always had a slight young/naive quality to them. I also like to draw comics and wrote about my life when I moved to Michigan from New York City called If You Lived Here.

Q: When illustrating children’s books do you include a visual storyline not mentioned by the text or include animals or people you know?

A: Yes, that is the best part! For most of my books, I’ve tried to sneak in a chicken here and there. Its sort of a signature of mine now. In street scenes, I’ve named stores after my family members, etc. For example, my mother-in-law loves to bake and I gave her a bakery in Road Work Ahead.

Q: Can you explain your art process?

A: My process has changed over the years. I use to sketch by hand, scan it in, then work on top of it in Adobe Illustrator. Now, I mostly work straight onto the computer in grey-scale as a sketch. It skips a step and makes everything go a little faster, especially on tight deadlines. However, I sometimes find myself sketching part of an illustration by hand and having it as a guide.

For trade books, I like to post my sketches on my wall — and seeing the flow of each spread from one to another.

Here are my sketches on the wall for The Haunted Ghoul Bus. Recently, I also started making little dummies from my sketches so I can see and feel how the page turn is.

http://chickengirldesign.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-process-picture-book-dummies.htmlThis is from Road Work Ahead. I made 2 dummies — they are small just because they are easier to put together. I would make another dummy after a round of revisions. See the rest of the process here.

Q: Do you have a favorite color or palette?

A: I do have certain go-to palettes but I would like to switch it up, so I’m very mindful of my colors now. I love going to colourlovers.com for inspiration.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?

A: My favorite is Adobe Illustrator. It fits in the way I want to work and I can’t go any other way. I use to paint in gouache and honestly I was not the best painter. I think Illustrator gives me more control and they way I want things to turn out and look.

Q: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

A: Mostly from imagination. But I don’t think I can imagine being an illustrator without Google.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: I would still be in the arts one way or another. Is that cheating? I would love to be a dancer, stylist, set designer. I always said if I had a different personality/life, I would love to be a lawyer. Crazy, I know.

Q: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?

A: A lot of online surfing! But honestly, the best is just to walk away from it, and trust the subconscious to take over. Only of course if one is not on a deadline. But I think time away doing other things help tremendously.

Q: What book do you remember from when you were young?

A: My favorite are the Richard Scarry and Berenstain Bears Books. I remember being obsessed with the actual illustrations. The way things were drawn, etc., were very appealing to me. As I got slightly older, I enjoyed the Cam Jansen series. I remember very clearly that a librarian recommended it to me, and after one book, I was hooked.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?

A: I love Marc Boutavant and Delphine Durand, who both happen to be French. I think I really love the French esthetic. I also love Vanessa Brantley-Newton‘s work! Her work is modern retro deliciousness.

Q: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?

I would love to work with Mac Barnett. I’ve heard him on interviews and he is quite a wacky and funny guy.