Jianni Du

Jianni Du

Represented by Good Illustration
Jianni Du Interview

Jianni Du

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

Drawing has always been my favourite hobby since childhood. Growing up, however, I took a different pathway of study and work, but my passion for art remained deep in my heart. Sometimes, I regret I didn’t go to art school, but on the other hand, work and life have also given me joy and fulfilment. One day, a little voice inside told me I should pursue what I truly love for the rest of my life. I realised that drawing would be the only thing that could sustain my passion. But I still need courage to kick it off. One night I read the book “The Moon and Sixpence” where the protagonist gives up his bank job and goes on a journey of drawing. This gave me instant motivation and I started researching how I could become an illustrator. That’s how my journey began.

How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?

I read a lot of fairy tales in childhood and liked to draw and make hand crafts works after school. I think childhood experiences have influenced me a lot. Through illustration, I feel I can always be the little girl exploring the innocent and simple world. Illustration for me is a way to express myself.

Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

I undertook a 6-month online course of drawing with Photoshop and Adobe Illustration, followed by a picture book illustration course.

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

I currently live in Melbourne, Australia, however I grew up in northern China. The different cultural experiences have enabled me to better understand the similarities and diversity between the two countries.

Was creativity part of your childhood?

I remember in my childhood making a water village with chicken eggshell, duck eggshell and quail eggshell. I also made cute animals with cotton, wool, beads and buttons.

Have you always loved to draw?

Yes, the love bud has always been there since childhood. But I only resumed it about two years ago.

Which books from your own childhood really stand out?

“One Thousand and One Nights”, “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and “Andersen’s Fairy Tales” are my favourite books from my childhood. I have read each book many times! The most impactful story was “The Little Match Girl”. I felt very sorry for her and can never forget the last image showing she was going to die, but then she saw her sweet grandma through the faint match light.

What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?

My first commission was an editorial job introduced to me by my teacher during the training course. It was an illustration for a children magazine involving a little witch who fights with her aunts and flies on her broomstick with other children after school.

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Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

When I think about it, there are so many things I need to take care of in order to complete the final artwork. I will go through a few points that I feel are some of the most important when it comes to making a good piece of art. First of first, it’s the structure i.e. layout of the entire piece, it has to look comfortable and balanced upon first glance. Secondly and also very importantly, I would say the colour match, especially for a flat style illustration, which is my favourite at the moment. I think I have a relatively sensitive eye for colours. I always take a fair amount of time to adjust colours, even for tiny differences. Sometimes I need to tell myself, oh, that’s enough. Sometimes, I can’t always get my favourite colours. But that’s ok. It’s always about trying. Lastly, it’s about the character design. A character that will attract an audience’s eyes at first sight. ”Yes, that’s it!” If the reader comes out with this feeling, it means the illustration and text are working harmoniously together to tell the story. I always try to add some little sweet details in the illustration, either techniques or little stuff or expressions or colours, something that’s a little bit mysterious to add interest to the book.

What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?

Photoshop and a Wacom tablet, they are the main tools I use to create my artwork. I have also been trying to get more familiar with procreate.

Tell us about the creation of your favourite character from one of your books.

Milo and Mino are a couple of my favourite characters from a recent picture book I illustrated. “Mino&Milo en de Pietenrace”. In the story, Milo carries Mino on his back in a running race. So I designed Milo as tall and slim, while Mino is short. A big contrast between them will stand out from the crowd. The colours of their costumes also contrast with one another and stand out from other petes. Different skin colours and genders embrace the diverse culture.

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Which project has been most instrumental in developing your personal style?

When I undertook the picture book illustration course, we were asked to create a piece of work after each module. At that time, I didn’t feel as accustomed to drawing animals, so I focused on practising illustrating that subject matter. I put them in fairy tales and thought about what a child might do in the scene. I drew a series of animal illustrations and that style has also become my favourite and ‘my voice’. I appreciate that period of time, as it’s when I started to first develop my own personal style. So the secret is about drawing. Just draw. Try not to think about it too much.

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Have you ever thought about trying out a different technique or a different style?

Yes, I often fall in love with many other different styles of art, and feel motivated to try it out in my own style. At the moment I’m most interested in collage illustration. I think collaging different materials and patterns together makes very interesting art.

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What do you do in your spare time?

When I’m not at my drawing table, I like to take care of my flowers and trees in the garden, have a coffee with friends, walk around colourful cute shops, go out into nature (mountains and beaches). A trip away from home always refresh me, make me energetic and restores my courage and passion for life and work.

What would you say is a distinguishing feature of your artwork?

I would say the colours and cuteness are the two main features of my artwork.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?

Draw, draw, draw. Keep drawing. If you’re undertaking a course, please keep asking questions and revising your artwork again and again until you’ve perfected it. Then continue with a new piece of artwork. And please remember to draw a series of artworks that will make your illustration style stand out and have its own voice.

Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?

When I design characters and draw sketches, I keep myself in a quiet and focused environment, so that I can think with no distraction. After I have completed my first colour spread, I play Jay Chou’s songs as background music for the rest of the spreads. His songs have a very relaxing and pleasant melody that doesn’t distract me – it feels like water flowing through my colouring process. 

What makes a good children’s book?

I think if illustration and text work harmoniously together to tell the story, it’s a good children’s book. No matter what styles are used, if the audience can understand what story is being told straight away, then that’s a good illustration.

Which project are you most proud of?

So far I’m most proud of the recent picture book I illustrated, “Mino&Milo en de Pietenrace”. It’s going to be published in Poland this November. This is the first book where I got to design every page, including endpapers and the cover. I’m so looking forward to seeing the final book!

How important is it for you to be part of a creative community of people?

For a freelancer illustrator, it’s very important for me to be part of a creative community. If we can communicate on a daily basis, get together for some events, have a coffee and sketch together, that’s great. It’s not only about exchanging ideas and stories, and sharing joys, but also very important for mental health. 

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?

I might still be doing my accountant job in a corporate environment, or I may have taken an interior design course. Something related to drawing always interests me most.

How do you overcome a creative block?

Sometimes, it’s really stressful under time pressure when you’re trying to come up with a unique design. I will brainstorm online, speak to an illustration friend, think and try.

Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?

I had a rabbit. Her name was Peanut, given  to us by her first foster mum. I continued taking care of her when she was 1.5 years old. She was with us for more than 3 years. She was very naughty, but clever.

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