Illustrating Children’s Books

This post is part of a series in which we interview successful makers on how they built their business. Today we are interviewing illustrator, Jannie Ho.

Jannie Ho is a professional illustrator specializing in the children’s market, with her work appearing in both trade and educational books, magazines, toys, crafts and digital media. Jannie received her BFA in illustration at Parsons The New School of Design in New York. After graduating, she worked as an in-house graphic designer at Nickelodeon, Scholastic and TIME Magazine for Kids. She launched her freelance illustration business in 2006 and never looked back. Her client roster includes Target, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Penguin, American Greetings, Highlights for Children and Old Navy.

We interviewed Jannie about how she started her career in celebration of her upcoming workshop, Illustrating Children’s Books.

When did you discover your love of drawing?
I think I have the same story as many artists; I’ve always loved to draw as a small child.

Did you always know you wanted to be a professional illustrator?
No, I did not know there was such a profession for a very long time. I knew I wanted to do something in the art field. When I was a teenager, I took a fashion design class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. So being a fashion designer was on my mind for a long time because that was all I knew to the creative field, besides being a fine artist.

Are you self-taught or professionally trained?
I went to Parsons School of Design and majored in illustration.

What did you do before you were a full-time illustrator?
Once I graduated art school, I was a graphic artist for a Children’s wear company for a short while before becoming a graphic designer at various children’s publishing houses.

How did you start your illustration career?
I was a graphic designer by day and eventually I wanted to get back to illustration, so by night I was rebuilding my illustration portfolio. I took many continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts. I started sending out postcards and generally learned more about the industry. It also helped that my day job included hiring illustrators. I was able to learn how the process of commissioning illustration truly worked from the other perspective.

What made you decide to focus on children’s illustration?
I’ve always done work that are kid friendly and innocent, so it was a natural fit.

 

How did you find your first clients?
One of my very first illustration clients was an art director that had hired me for graphic design work. I still used traditional mediums then, painting with gouache. It was very exciting! Eventually I landed an art agent who had gotten me my first jobs with my digital work.

What have been your biggest highlights and ‘proud-ofs’ since then?
One of the very first picture books that I illustrated, The Haunted Ghoul Bus, being displayed prominently at Barnes & Noble was a proud moment. I use to walk into Barnes & Noble thinking of the day I would have my work there, so it was a dream come true. I’m also proud that I get to do a variety of work, from illustrating a Target gift card to tableware for Pottery barn Kids.

What inspires your creativity the most?
I enjoy humor, and the funny things that my preschooler daughter says. I write it all down for book ideas!

Can you talk a little bit about your process?
I use to sketch by pencil but now I work straight to digital to make the workflow a little faster. I work in Adobe Illustrator and use the pen tool most of the time and play with vectors. For client work, I create a grayscale file as a sketch. I can then use the same file for color. I’ve also been sketching on the iPad and Procreate app. It’s been fun so far releasing more of a natural feel to my work, so I like it a lot.

Please describe an average day in your life.
My Average day is not that exciting, as I had a young daughter to care for! I work around her schedule, which is always a work-from-home parent’s daily challenge. I always have my coffee in the morning and once I get my daughter off to school, I am very disciplined in getting work done in the short amount of time that I have. I also do sketches and such when waiting for my daughter at after school activities. The iPad has been very handy in that aspect.

What do you hope the not-too-distant future holds for your art career; Do you have any exciting, upcoming plans that you would like to share with us?
Another big milestone is that my debut picture book as an author/Illustrator, BEAR AND CHICKEN (Running Press Kids) will be out next Fall! I hope to write more books as I believe that is the next step in my art career. Ultimately working on projects that I create is much more satisfying and rewarding.

Jannie is teaching a session during our live online workshop, Illustrating Children’s Books. The live workshop starts on January 18th, but everyone who signs up will get lifetime access to the content. See the full schedule and sign up here.

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