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Toronto-based Illustrator Jeannie Phan on Art, Routine, and Cats Bringing People Together Online

Toronto-based Illustrator Jeannie Phan on Art, Routine, and Cats Bringing People Together Online

One of life's great is watching talented people see success in their life and career doing something they love on their own terms. One of the people I’ve personally had the honor of watching do this is illustrator Jeannie Phan.

I’ve personally known Jeannie since high school and watched her grow her business as a freelance illustrator through college and beyond. When she agreed to create cards for Tendr, it was a moment of true happiness on my part!

As a fan of her illustrations, I was excited to share her work with a wider audience. As a friend, I was also happy to be able to be able to make sure she got paid for her work. Did you know that part of the $3 Tendr fee goes to the artist whose card you selected? It’s true!

Read on to see what a typical day is like for Jeannie, how her cat inspires her and other artists and illustrators she’s loving right now!


CS: How did you become interested in illustration? What made you decide to pursue art?

JP: "When I was in grade school, I remember begging my mom to buy a secondhand book titled 'How to Draw Horses' and I was hooked. I was such an indoor kid, so I spent most of my childhood sinking hours and hours into drawing. I loved cartoons, collected Pokemon cards and emulated my favorite manga artists.

I always thought drawing would be a hobby and was on my way to pursuing Life Sciences but I did a last minute switcheroo when I was picking out universities. I had a 'life is too short, do I really want to spend my life in a lab?' moment, and enrolled at OCAD U [Canada's largest and oldest art & design university].

It was a moment in my life where I wanted to take a risk, as no one in my family pursued the arts. I’ve always been a black sheep anyway.

Four years of art school later, I threw myself into trying to make it as a freelancer because I couldn’t see myself working a 9-to-5. I knew I wanted to work on my own terms and create the art I wanted to create, but be guided and challenged by other people’s ideas. Freelance illustration seemed perfect for me."

CS: What inspires you to create? Who (or what) are your muses?

JP: "My surroundings and the creative people around me. I’m inspired and motivated by my peers and friends. My desire to create art synthesizes acutely to my day-to-day life. I’m not inspired by grand gestures, more the mundane and daily habits as these types of moments take up more of your life. I always feel the need to find some kind of hidden magic surrounding them.

For example when I got into swimming, that inspired a zine. My cat (who is definitely my muse) inspired a series of feline portraits, and my gardening sneaks into my work as background plants in my illustrations."

Jeannie's cat Odin, with a print from her feline portrait series. 

Jeannie's cat Odin, with a print from her feline portrait series. 

CS: What's a typical day like for you when you're drawing/illustrating?

JP: "A big perk of freelancing (that a lot of people say) is that you can just do whatever you want, whenever you want! I used to work intuitively and by mood: drawing at a certain part of the day because I felt like it. But now I found a much-needed routine.

This is usually what happens:

Mornings - I really take my time starting the day and will wake up early just so I can enjoy a long sip of coffee. This is usually when I do most of my emails.

Afternoon - this is when I usually start drawing. I draw in 30 minute increments and take a light break in-between. As little as 5 minutes to stretch and walk around. Rinse and repeat for the entire afternoon.

Night - I usually close up shop at 6pm, but some days I’ll pull a “double-shift” and continue drawing into the night. This only happens now and then as it’s so important to have a rest.

I can’t begin to count how many hours of drawings I’ve done over my lifetime but I’ve learned to really treat my body well, especially as it ages. Eating well and exercising are as important as drawing for me. I don’t believe in “binge drawing” or pulling all nighters. I have a limit of how many hours I will draw a day.

CS: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

JP: "The moment that I felt the most connected to people who view my work is all in thanks to social media. At the peak of my Cat Portrait series, those were the interactions I cherished the most because I would get comments and tags from people who would say the portrait reminded them of their own cat (or a friend’s) and give a little story about them. Reading my comments on Instagram is definitely something I enjoy doing. I love the internet!"

CS: What are you working on right now that you'd like people to know about?

JP: "Right now I’ve been working on a series of illustrations for Canadian Living magazine called 'Oh Canada!' that highlights a province or territory each issue.

The title image from the 'Oh Canada!' series by Jeannie Phan for Canadian Living. 

The title image from the 'Oh Canada!' series by Jeannie Phan for Canadian Living. 

It’s ongoing until we hit them all, but I’ve really enjoyed this series because since it’s a travel guide. I’ve learned so much about cool places to visit all across Canada! I’m not at all well-traveled and really do love it here in Canada, so it’s a goal of mine to do a road trip from West to East coast and also pop in up North.

CS: Which other designers/studios are you loving right now and why?

Ness Lee because her work is so intimate and quirky. She's a good friend of mine and I just absolutely love everything she does!

Jenn Liv, who I also know, does amazing work and has a totally unique style. She's got a sensibility that merges nerdy fantasy with refinement.

Thanks to Jeannie for taking the time to answer our questions!

To buy prints of her work, click here or buy a phone case with her work on it.

For information about Jeannie (or to get in touch with her), visit her website. And don't forget to check out her cards on Tendr!

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