Despite his impressive international portfolio working on high profile projects with The Guardian, Virgin Media and the Oscars, Jonny Wan is actually a local boy. More specifically, a Sheffield boy. Born and bred in Yorkshire, he is now based in Manchester – that’s when he isn’t commuting around the world to fulfil various commissions.
Undeterred by this jet setting lifestyle and rapidly accelerating career, Jonny is incredibly down to earth. He is friendly, approachable and more than happy to take the time out and answer a few questions for me, a long term fan who has been known to cut Jonny’s illustrations out of a Now Then magazine as a student, and pin them up to blank bedroom wall in a stab at morphing some sense of identity.
Hi Jonny. First of all, thanks for chatting with us. Tell us a bit about yourself. What makes you tick?
I’m a local boy at heart, born and bred in Sheffield and even though I went to university living away in Manchester for ten years I recently moved back and instantly felt right at home despite the huge changes around the city. That’s the charm of Sheffield and I’m very proud to call it my home town. It’s such an exciting place to be in right now creatively and socially with so new little gems popping up alongside the old school favourites. Although not as established as the other big cities, the beauty of it is that the people still have the power to shape Sheffield’s future it as they see fit, and its looking good!
I studied Design & Art Direction at university and graduated in 2008, it took me a couple of years of experimentation and to build up a portfolio but I’ve been working full-time freelance ever since 2010 and have been lucky to have worked with clients all over the world on a variety of exciting projects.
I’m very easily pleased, I prefer the simple things in life, maybe its me getting older but I feel that I’m already blessed to have been able to turn a passion into a living so having good people around me and good places to eat/drink is all I need.
Which project did you have the most fun working on, and why?
I enjoy working on all my projects for a variety of different reasons, Illustration can be used across the creative spectrum and utilised in so many different ways that no two projects are ever the same.
This keeps things interesting not knowing what I’ll be working on from day to day. I think some of my favourite projects have been when I’ve full creative freedom to explore ideas without too much art direction, that way you can put a lot of our own personality within the work and even better when the art director you’re working with is on the same page and is open to exploration.
5 things inspiring you/your work right now?
It sounds cheesy but inspiration for me comes from anywhere at anytime, the key is to be mindful of anything and everything around you. Sometimes I might see a pattern on an item of clothing that strikes me, other times it can be the colour palette of the sky above me, they key is to look at bit deeper and think about how it can be integrated into your illustration work. Aesthetic wise, I always turn to Ancient Egyptian art and Art Deco for research, I find it fascinating how they cover so many areas of design from ceramics to architecture and I find theres an endless supply of inspiration just by looking at the history.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Creative blocks are tricky and everyone gets them from time to time, people have to find their own way of getting through it as what might work for me, might not work for you.
As a general rule though I think its key that when you are going through a block, this is the best time to just keep churning out personal work. Set yourself a brief, think about things that you’ve never done but always wanted to try, the work might turn out horrible, it might not, ultimately though you’re still keeping the creative brain ticking and in time you should break out.
Failing that a creative block can be a sign that you’re just burnt out, in that case just take a break, arrange a little getaway with friends, clean the studio and cleanse your mind by removing yourself completely from work and most importantly don’t get frustrated about it. Remember that everyone needs downtime to recharge and be a bit selfish!
Would you say your work has changed over the years?
My work I feel has definitely changed throughout the years, when I started my work was very detailed, embellished and looking back it was still a very experimental phase of finding my own creative voice.
Now I think my work is more stripped back and graphic, its more honest and purer to who I am and reflects more the kind of work I want to create in the future. This is natural I think, we all want to create the newest thing and be completely original but when in actuality, I feel its more about creating work thats more honest to yourself regardless of what the latest trends are, thats the key to longevity and keeping the passion alive.
Jonny’s work is a union of geometric precision and a ragingly flamboyant colour palette. It’s zesty boldness offers an ultra modern stance to every project and advertising campaign it addresses. Just one glance gives away why Jonny is being commissioned time and after time to perform his vector magic.
What is your dream project?
I’ve always wanted to see my illustrations come to life so maybe something animated.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t working as a full time illustrator?
I think if I wasn’t an illustrator I’d still be doing something that needed a blend of creative flair and technical skill, maybe a barber?
What superpower would you have and why?
Superspeed would definitely be the one, I’d never feel like I had to rush anywhere!
What is the best/worst piece of advice you have ever received from someone within the industry?
The best piece of advice I’ve received is to “just keep it moving” That’s from an illustrator whom I really admire called Adrian Johnson. The industry can be so competitive with new illustrators graduating every year and not enough jobs to go around, in that sense its key that you just carry on focusing on the work you have to do and making sure that you’re always moving forward with your creative exploration.
I’ve been lucky, I’ve never really had any bad advice from anyone, or if I had, ignored it and now cant remember!
As a Sheffield local, do you have a favourite haunt?
There are quite a lot of places I visit but I’d say the staples would be the Steamyard for coffee and doughnuts,Tamper for a post workout breakfast and The Picture House / Broadfield is a nice chilled out place for a quiet drink. That’s keeping it short though, I’d be rambling if I listed everywhere!
If you’re interested in checking out a bit more of Jonny’s work then you can head over to his websitehere.
Interviewed by Becca Linnard at Brag Vintage