Interview with Jonny Wan
11 October 2023
Jonny Wan, a Sheffield-born illustrator, started with humble beginnings sketching on the very parchment that once enfolded piping hot, golden-brown parcels of his family's cherished takeaway fare. Today, his success as an illustrator has landed him an impressive clientele including Ford, Audi, Kiehls, Microsoft, Aperol, and more. Saturated with the opulent allure of Art Deco aesthetics and steeped in the rich tapestry of his Far Eastern heritage, his artistic repertoire unveils the use of bold graphics, intricate patterns, and meticulous craftsmanship which merge like a harmonious symphony.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey. Why was illustration such a good fit?
I was born in the steel city of Sheffield, England, to immigrant parents from Hong Kong in the 70s. Like many from their community who came to the UK, they opened a takeaway. I remember having a lot of free time, always doodling on chip paper!
My love for drawing was inspired by the visual culture around me: 90s cartoons, comics, and video game covers. Drawing always felt like a vehicle to forge a deeper connection to the things that I loved. My parents always encouraged my creativity, taking me to museums and art lessons.
I pursued a degree in Design & Art Direction in Manchester, where my rebellious streak found its place. I think that’s why illustration is such a good fit because when the right artists and clients connect, it's more of a collaborative process rather than a list of things you have to draw. Ideas from both sides come into play and hopefully, through a process of alchemy and conversation, both parties can come away with something creatively fulfilling.
How often do you pick up a pencil?
When it comes to experimentation, thumbnail roughs, and recording quick visual thoughts, nothing beats pencil and loose sheets of paper for me. Something about the drafting process just feels so good done analogue. Technology like the iPad and drawing apps have certainly made things more streamlined with endless possibilities available to the creative but I still think the tactile nature of feeling pencil to paper, especially at the ideation stage still reigns supreme. So for me, very often!
To whom do you owe your creativity, are you from an artistic family or the odd one out?
The closest link I can think of is my father, he’s a chef and always loved his cooking. I have fond memories of him endlessly experimenting with all sorts of ingredients and flavours. Whereas most of the community stuck to cooking the cuisine that reminded them of home, my father was interested in everything from Lancashire hotpots to baking. There was joy in creating for him and I believe wholeheartedly that some of that fascination has rubbed off on me albeit in a completely different industry!
In your own words, what type of illustration is a Jonny Wan illustration?
Aesthetically I like to think it’s always changing depending on my curiosities and the results of my personal experimentation. There are constant themes that I always go back to because it resonates with me so much. Very graphic forms, minimalism and hints of abstraction always play a role in my illustrations based on my love for all things Art Deco.
Do you feel that your cultural background has enriched your creative style?
My heritage has certainly given me a broader pool of references to take inspiration from, there’s such a breath of creativity from the Far East stretching back thousands of years, encompassing disciplines from across the creative spectrum. Sometimes it can be overwhelming but always provides a profound source of joy and fascination.
What are you doing when you are not sitting in the chair, pen to hand or hand to a computer mouse?
Given that illustration can be such a sedentary and isolated profession, my free time is spent as active as possible and with as many people as possible! I love training and always played sports so that’s something that shifts my focus away from illustration for a while. Spending time with close friends and family is something I’ve always cherished, be it short trips abroad or grabbing a coffee, I’m always ready and willing.
What is your current workspace like and if you could relocate your studio to anywhere in the world where would you choose?
Before the pandemic, I shared a studio space with a few friends and loved the community that was cultivated in a studio environment. Now I work mainly from home, if I could relocate to anywhere in the world it would be Hong Kong. I’ve always been a city person and love the hustle and bustle of people going from A to B.
Feeling inspired? Foray into the depths of Jonny's portfolio now!