The day I made my Tumblr page was the day I discovered this fresh, new artist, Jennifer Hom. I was scrolling through the list of, what I assumed were illustrator blogs since I really had no idea what I was doing, and I stopped on the image called "Armor." The link led me to Jennifer's blog, which was full of her illustrations, designs, paintings, sketches, preparatory work, research, ideas, etc. I was amazed at her skill, both traditionally and digitally. So when my illustration class was given the Interview an Illustrator assignment, she was the first person I contacted. She was very eager to share her experiences and advice, and I appreciate it immensely. Our interview went as follows:
1. Growing up, what was the biggest influence in your life that inspired you to become an artist? What subjects, experiences, themes, etc. have you carried with you and brought into your artwork?
My biggest influence was my parents. My dad is a commercial artist (he worked on story boards for commercials) so I probably inherited the artistic inclination from him. My mom, however, was a huge driving force in that she was extremely supportive and actually funded my schooling (for which I am forever in debt). Regarding themes, the only thing I find myself still drawing are women (kind of a typical subject though). There is a joke around my office that I love to draw unicorns-- but the last one I drew was back in 2010. I'm not sure if that one is making a strong comeback. The work in my adult life (post-graduation) is typically about relationships...namely their negative or ambiguous qualities. Other people's relationships are also fun (King Henry VIII).
Something that I don't like to admit is that I was pushed back into art (at age 13) by an addiction to anime (Gundam Wing). I'm not proud to have drawn my fair share of fan art, but I will stand by it as something that inspired me for years.
2. I've read and viewed the processes you went through for some of your work, which are very helpful and entertaining. What, in your opinion, is your favorite part of the process? The research phase, the creation phase, the final product, or the process as a whole? Which part do you like the least? And why?
There is a famous quote from an artist that I love. The interviewer asked if the artist enjoys drawing, the artist replied, "I don't enjoy drawing, I enjoy having drawn." Forgive me for not remembering the artist's name, but I often feel similarly. I tend to love the research phase-- b/c that is when the magic of inspiration hits you and feel invincible. You only start to realize your limits when you start drawing-- despite this, I love and hate all phases of drawing. Planning phases (sketches, color keys) are the most liberating and most frustrating. Sometime you hit it out of the park right away, and sometimes you forget everything you've learned about color and composition. The rendering stage can be either meditative or extremely tedious.
3. How have your childhood experiences influenced the art that you create now? How have they influenced your methodology?
Perhaps the biggest influence that my childhood had on my art is that I create art at all. I grew up on suburban Long Island and, as the only Chinese girl within a 4 town radius, I had few friends. With lots of time on my hands, I had little else to do but draw. Other than that, I'd hope I don't let any other childhood experiences influence my methods, I would not have learned much in art school if I did.
4. As an undergraduate, which classes/teachers were the most beneficial and why?
Foundations drawing/sculpture/painting classes are always staples of an art education of course, but there were a lot of "other" classes that were very valuable. Art history and the history of apparel are things I still refer to when creating and understanding art. Another course called "the portfolio" was crucial in helping me understand the professionalism required to be a successful artist. In it, the students had to learn how to promote her/himself with business cards, post cards, portfolios, websites, etc. My most influential professor, however, was Shanth Enjeti, who taught a character design course. He guided me through the creation of my portfolio and actually help me decide on where to work after graduation. His influence was critical in pushing me to work tirelessly for a solid portfolio.
5. As an artist, what was the best advice you've ever been given?
Perhaps not advice, but something my drawing professor, Lenny Long, told me definitely stuck. On our first day of class he said, "Ten percent of you will have a career in the arts. The rest of you will fail." This was a good fear tactic in that it scared me into working my butt off. Maybe I've always felt that I have something to prove-- b/c I wanted to show him that I was in the 10%.
6. What was life like as an illustrator after graduating? What obstacles/opportunities were you faced with when you no longer lived in that school environment? And what advice/suggestions do you have for current undergraduates seeking a career in illustration?
I get maybe 100% more sleep now that I've graduated. Rhode Island School of Design bombards you with the worst possible working hours/assignments so the real world is actually a lot easier. The biggest challenge I encountered post-graduation was not having studio mates or simply not living in a creative haven. Working at Google, I'm surrounded by a lot of technical people, but not many artists. Having someone just a few feet away for creative advice/camaraderie was the best part of school.
My advice for those seeking a career in illustration is never stop. Never stop drawing, posting work online, applying for jobs, talking to other artists, etc. As an artist, your work needs to be seen. Rejection is tough and inevitable, but good for you, so don't let it get in the way. It will guide you. Professionalism is also critical. I've always believed that success is the combination of talent, preparation, and luck. You can account for two of the three, so make business cards, write a great resume, design a clean online portfolio, and apply everywhere.
Moreover, experience says a lot when you're looking for a job. I don't believe in working for free, but internships are important and speak loudly to potential employers.
7. What type of clients do you usually work for, and who have you worked for? What was/is that experience like?
My experience lies in full-time jobs for companies (rather than freelance). I had an internship with DreamWorks SKG as a design intern in consumer products, and now work full-time as a doodler for Google. My job at Google is something I never anticipated. I work with a lot of engineers and sometimes executives to launch projects like the birthday of Freddie Mercury and Little Nemo in Slumberland. Much of the challenge is in project management and collaboration. Figuring out how to communicate with non-creatives and adapting to their timelines was difficult (I learned the hard way on my first interactive doodle) but the skills paid off for more ambitious projects.
8. I noticed that you work both digitally and traditionally. What training did you undergo for both methods of creating art? Did you start off traditionally first, or digital, and what was the transition from one to the other like?
All of my training has been in traditional media (often times classical-- Venetian painting, gilding, egg tempera, etc). I picked up digital by chance when I was a teenager who loved the internet. My digital work took a back seat to traditional media for three and half years while I was in school. It was only in the last few months of RISD that I decided to go back to digital (considering I wanted to be a visual development artist). What I found was that it is MUCH easier to learn everything traditionally first-- color, composition, value, line, form. Digital is limiting, it puts you in a grid and forces you to select colors from a swatch. Traditional media lets you build your work from scratch so that you understand how to mix a color, how to design a composition. You also can't "undo," so you learn from your mistakes. This makes me sounds like a hater of digital media, but I'm just a strong believer of traditional training. The bottom line is that you can't do anything in art if you don't learn how to see-- and seeing has nothing to do with "digital frills." Learn on paper/canvas so there's nothing else to distract from the basics.
To learn more about Jennifer Hom and her work, visit http://jenniferhom.com/.