Gallery Interview with Visiting Artist Jannie Ho

February 28, 2017

Jannie Ho, also known as Chicken Girl, is a prolific illustrator in the children’s market, illustrating not only narrative picture books and novelty books but also products like stickers, cards, puzzles, and other toys for young children. After receiving her BFA in Illustration from Parsons the New School of Design in New York and working for some time as a graphic designer for Nickelodeon and Scholastic, and as an art director at TIME magazine for kids, Jannie now works full time as an illustrator with clients such as Target, Old Navy, Highlights for Children, Toys R Us, Penguin, and many more! Her first author/illustrator debut picture book, BEAR AND CHICKEN, will be published this fall by Running Press Kids.

Jannie works with digital media to create characters and illustrations full of innocence and charm that appeal to kids and adults alike; her use of shape and color never fail to bring out the joy in each piece she does.

In her recent visit to Montserrat, Jannie Ho participated in Montserrat’s visiting Artist program, giving a public talk about her work, as well as stopping by the classroom to speak with Animation and Illustration seniors.

Jannie also took some time to answer a few questions as part of the Montserrat Galleries Take20 program which fosters communication between visiting artists and the Montserrat community, allowing students the opportunity to speak more in depth with artists. Keely Quirk ’18, a junior illustration student at Montserrat, spoke with Jannie about her work, her process and her inspirations – here’s what she had to say!

KQ: How did you get/choose the nickname Chicken Girl?

JH: I don’t remember when my love of chickens started, probably in my teens. Looking back, I had a chicken alarm clock that clucked when it went off during my childhood, so perhaps subconsciously it had an affect. In college, people started calling me Chicken Girl because I had a lot of chickens in my work. When I was thinking about a website domain name I went with chickengirldesign.com, and the nickname Chicken Girl really stuck online.

KQ: You received your BFA in illustration from Parsons The New School of Design. What kind of work did you do there and how do you think your work has evolved?

JH: I had gone to Parsons hoping to be in fashion design. I learned in my first year I liked illustration better. When I was there, I did not work digitally. My medium was gouache and during that time the internet and doing work on the computer was still a very new thing. I’ve always done work that was innocent. I also enjoyed doing abstract collages as well.

KQ: You mention on your website that you worked as a graphic designer at Nickelodeon and Scholastic after college – do you think that this work influenced your work as an illustrator? How did your process differ when doing this kind of work?

JH: I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work at these two places. I was a designer but the type of design was very illustrative and fun, so my illustration background really came into play. I was also able to commission illustration at these jobs which in turn helped me know about the process “behind the scenes.” Becoming a great designer certainly helped me become a better illustrator. They go hand in hand.

KQ: How does your process differ when work on sequential illustrations for books versus doing stand alone image illustrations such as your ABC illustration or surface design?

JH: Sequential illustrations and surface design are are different industries and I treat them as such. They have different rules to play by. My artwork has a little bit of both and it is wonderful to get to work in both industries, sometimes the line gets a little blurred. One of the first thing is that in book work, there needs to be a unique character and storytelling, where surface design sometimes cater to a mass market and needs to be more appealing for a general audience, at least in the type of projects I get.
KQ: Do you do most of your work digitally? What do you like about working this way?

JH: Yes, it was not always this way. I use to pencil sketch and scan it in, work on top of it /re-draw it in Illustrator. Since then, I do my sketches in gray scale directly in Illustrator, which saves me a step of scanning. Deadlines and turnarounds are so tight that it makes my life easier. Lately, I’ve been using the Procreate app on the iPad Pro with an Apple pencil. I get to work on sketches on the go this way, and it is nice getting more of a hand feel back in my work.

KQ: Who are some artists that have influenced your work – either stylistically or conceptually?

JH: From childhood, one of my favorites was Richard Scarry, who wrote and illustrated Busy, Busy Town. During my art school days, J Otto Siebold blew me away with his style at the time and encouraged me that I could do children’s books too. Now I’ve always been in love with many French illustrators; Marc Boutavant, Delphine Durand. I also love Mary Blair.

KQ: Do you have a favorite book that you have illustrated?

JH: They are like my children, it is hard to pick a favorite! But for now, a book that is very special to me is my first author/illustrator debut picture book, BEAR AND CHICKEN. It is being published by Running Press Kids this Fall.

KQ: Is there a type of work/a specific client/a specific project that you would like to do in the future?

JH: I would like to do more writing of my own books. I also have a secret wish of having my own animated series.

KQ: Where do you look to find inspiration for a piece?

JH: Inspiration comes from my daughter, who is now of the age group that reads picture books. As she gets older, I am hoping I can follow along and work on books for an older audience. I’ve always done very young work, for babies and toddlers.

KQ: Working with so many different clients, what are some things that you have learned about creating a brand/selling yourself in the industry?

JH: Do good work, always meet a deadline. Being an illustrator can be a very solitary industry but the tribe is such a great bunch, go out there and meet people, in person or online. Be involved! See if you can help someone else, start something fun. I’m constantly learning new things.