Jeannie Phan is an illustration graduate from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Quill & Quire, Reader’s Digest and Canadian Family Magazine. Her minimalistic and whimsical style is easily diversified; it can be mature or youthful, serious or playful, all depending on the way Phan presents the subject she is depicting. Her art may be her career, but she is artistic in her hobbies, too; her frequently updated photoblog documents the care and keeping of her succulents, and her photography is just as eye-catching as her illustrative art.
MadlyJuicy: How did you get started illustrating for magazines? Did you go to them or did they come to you?
Jeannie: I’ve definitely been lucky to work with some of the nicest people at really great publications! It was always a goal of mine to get into magazines because I love the tangible nature of having things in print and the challenge of effectively communicating someone else’s message. I almost always reach out to publications I want to work with although I have had a few come to me either by finding my work online, or by word-of-mouth.
MJ: Before your illustrating career began, however, you were a student at OCAD. How did it help you prepare for working as a full-time illustrator?
J: I actually really loved it there and had some great professors such as Gary Taxali and Jacqui Oakley. It’s really the individual teachers you pick classes with and the advice you filter that make it a worthwhile experience. Being at OCADU was also my first time being around so many like-minded people and that alone really adds fuel to the fire. As for preparing to work as a full-time illustrator, the business class that was part of the program taught by Katherine Adams definitely helped. So did one-on-one talks with professors. They taught us about promotion, online presence, artistic growth; a little bit of everything. I get people asking me all the time how to get work, and I honestly just tell them I just followed what they taught us in school. I didn’t stumble across any secret formula.
MJ: Now let’s talk about your style! How would you describe your own artistic aesthetic?
J: My style has definitely become much more minimalistic than when I started, which used to be a lot more decorative. I would say my aesthetic is colourful, borrows from traditional mark making, and simple with particular attention to detail. I rely mostly on shape to communicate with line just to enhance.
MJ: You work a lot with digital art programs. Have you ever done any professional traditional work, or do you save all of that messy stuff for when you have a personal project to complete?
J: By professional, do you mean selling paintings or doing murals? I would say I’ve done neither as jobs, but I definitely do paint! I reserve much of my painting for personal projects because they never really rely on a strict timeline.
I used to do my work entirely traditionally during the first year I started off illustrating but switched to digital because it was much more flexible and efficient. Plus, there are amazing digital brushes available that are very convincingly similar to traditional tools!
MJ: How would you describe your own personal style, i.e. fashion, lifestyle, etc.? Does your personal taste ever appear in your work?
J: My personal style is mostly minimalistic. I’m someone who hates clutter and that translates to a lifestyle both in physical spaces and mind space. I like for things I choose to stand out, and anything unnecessary to recede. That’s why my studio is mostly white and my clothes fairly basic. I like having a clean canvas. That need for minimalists definitely appears in my work. I think, “Is this detail necessary?” and usually it’s not, so I erase, crop in, do whatever I need to make the work cleaner and more effective. I don’t like overworking things, and I don’t like overthinking things.
MJ: Tell us about your succulent photoblog! Are you big on gardening? Is it difficult to raise plants as a hobby in a big city like Toronto?
J: I started growing succulents because I desperately needed a hobby! When your hobby (drawing) becomes your career, you quickly realize you need to replace it with something that is completely removed. I created my Studio Succulents photoblog to document my growing collection but also just because I really like to photograph objects. Raising indoor houseplants really isn’t that difficult in the city, specifically succulents because they are so low-maintenance. Toronto has really been bit with the craze as you see them a lot in stores. I’ve attempted what I can of urban farming or balcony gardens in my small home with decent success but it’s definitely a learning curve!
MJ: Do you have any upcoming gallery shows/feature in magazines and/or other webzines that our readers might be interested in seeing?
J: I’ll actually be contributing to an upcoming issue of The Walrus! The illustrations are quite personal with a lot of stories attached to them so I’m super excited to unveil them in the upcoming months. I’m also in the process of working on my new zine, which of course, will be garden related.
MJ: Lastly, if you could have your artwork featured in any famous gallery anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
J: To be honest, being in a big famous gallery isn’t a goal of mine, instead I would like to be in galleries that suit my work. I’d love to participate in a Light Grey Art Lab show at some point in the future.
Jeannie’s work is available for viewing on her website (www.jeanniephan.com) and prints of her art, fabrics, and original zines will be for sale later this year on her Etsy (www.etsy.com/ca/shop/jeanniephan). Finally, be sure to say hello to her succulents, featured on her Tumblr photoblog (studiosucculents.tumblr.com)!