Drawing Stories with Elly Jahnz: 5 Minute Illustrator Interview

Drawing Stories with Elly Jahnz: 5 Minute Illustrator Interview

Meet Elly Jahnz

Elly Jahnz is an illustrator based in the coastal town of Falmouth, Cornwall. Her work is bright and bold, with a focus on the natural world and strong characters.

After graduating from University College Falmouth (Now Falmouth University) with a 2:1 in Illustration in 2009, Elly worked for fashion brand Seasalt for seven years as an in-house illustrator & graphic designer. Responsible for designing and developing all their packaging and providing illustrations for products, she got used to dealing with a global supply chain and tight deadlines. In 2016 after a brief stint on a farm in rural Japan, Elly Jahnz went freelance. She now works for clients across the world from her studio in Falmouth.

She loves non-fiction illustration and has illustrated several nature almanacs for children and has started to dip her toes into the world of adult non-fiction.

What do you love about your career?

I love the freedom that comes with illustrating. Being able to set my schedule and take on projects that inspire me is very important. It can be challenging at times, but my job is endlessly varied, which is very satisfying. I also like the collaborative nature of the work – it’s great working with art directors to bring an illustration to life. 

Where do you go, or what do you do to find inspiration?

I find most of my inspiration out and about, observing things. Taking a walk on the coast path or sitting in a garden gives me a chance to let my mind wander and work through whatever work issue while also providing loads of references for my work. I love sitting in the middle of a busy place, watching and sketching people passing by. Otherwise, inspiration comes from books, vintage art and old crafts.

Who or what is your biggest artistic influence?

So many! I try to take inspiration from various sources rather than focus on any person or movement. Different people and art movements have inspired me at different times. I always come back to things like vintage poster design, mid-century crafts and various bits of printed ephemera, though. 

When is your favourite time of day to create?

I’m probably most productive either mid-morning or mid-afternoon into the early evening. There’s a sweet spot between being too hungry to think straight and too full to focus that I try and occupy, so usually, I’m at my best around an hour or so before any major meal…

You’ve worked for an eclectic array of clients, including The National Trust, Bombay Sapphire and The London Transport Museum, to name a few. What is your favourite piece in your portfolio, and why?

I probably consistently like the last piece I did the most, but my shortlisted submission for the London Transport Museum & AOI’s Poster Prize for Illustration in 2019 is still a firm favourite. It sparked a bit of a turning point in how I approach drawing figures and scenes and is something I’ve been trying to build on since. 

How do you overcome a creative block? 

I try and take a break and go for a walk or do some exercise. Anything to shake my brain out of whatever rut it’s in. Sometimes, deadlines don’t allow for the luxury of time, so in that case, it’s all about trusting the process. If I’m finding idea generation hard, it’s time to sketch, sketch and sketch. If I have trouble colouring or drawing, I create a separate version of the piece and try something radically different or strip elements away to ensure only the important things remain in the image. I guess that’s the artistic equivalent of hitting it with a hammer until it works, but it often gets results. Oh, and I drink a lot of tea throughout.

Not only are you a published illustrator you also run character creation workshops. Of all your achievements, of which are you most proud? 

It’s always nice when you get recognition for the work you’ve done. I love it when someone tells me they’ve read one of my illustrated books. Honestly, I’m most proud when I know I’ve done the best job I can and the client is happy with the result. I try and take pride in the work I do. I did get to talk on Radio 4 Extra once about the Nature Almanac I illustrated for Nosy Crow, which was pretty cool too. 

In life, what guides you?

Trying to be as decent a human as I can be, I suppose. Also, to do as many interesting things as possible and trying not to kill the plants in my garden. 

You are an experienced freelance illustrator; what advice would you give to someone starting a career as an illustrator?

Enjoy the process as much as you can, and always keep trying to build your portfolio. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to people to promote your work or chat and make connections. 

Can you tell us what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished a few big projects, so I’m taking a little time to work on a few things for my portfolio. A book I illustrated (Wildlings: How to Raise your Family in Nature, by Steve Backshall and Helen Glover, published by Two Roads) is out at the start of July, so I’m eagerly anticipating seeing that (dare I say it) out in the wild. (Sorry). I’d love to work on some cookery book projects and do some book jacket work, so I’m looking to build my portfolio in that direction a bit too.

Drawing Stories – Illustrator Interviews

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