Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 12, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Honee Jang

Honee Jang (pronounced like “Han-E”) has been a visual storyteller since early childhood. Art has always been her first language and a primary bridge between her and the world, wherever she went. She was born in Massachusetts and raised in South Korea and different parts of America, before settling in New York to study illustration at Pratt Institute and become a picture book designer. As of 2020, she has now started another journey as an illustrator in England with her lovely husband.

Honee has an exceptional love for stories that help kids explore their emotions and surroundings better. She aims to convey the charm of it all under a careful examination of historical, cultural, and social aspects of the world. She is continuing to learn, unlearn, and challenge her creative habits to tell stories of all types.

Honee is represented by Christy Ewers at The CAT Agency. For US and Canada book illustration inquiries, please contact her at christy@catagencyinc.com. For all other inquiries, please email her at hello@honeejang.com.

Here’s Honee Discussing Her Process:

This is a scene from my upcoming debut book, “Reach for the Stars” by Emily Calandrelli. The book is a love letter from a mom to her child as she grows from baby to an adult, and throughout the book, mom shares all her knowledge, experiences, and love with her child. This particular scene shows the mom and the daughter looking at the full moon with a telescope, and the mom tells the child that there are so many wonders in the world, and to dream big for her future.

This is a science-themed book, so I wanted the telescope to be the main focal point of the scene, followed by the characters, then the night sky. At this stage, I collected a lot of references and jotted down any ideas in thumbnails as I went through them. I refined the lines that I am sure of but left the ones I haven’t figured out yet(The background is to be explored here). I tried not to add elaborate details at this stage either, but for this one, I wanted to make sure I had all parts of the telescope right, so you see the more fine rendering here. After I had the composition of the main subjects, I spent a long time getting the facial expressions and the gesture of the characters just right. The mom is a very active character in this book, but for this scene, I wanted her facial expression to be more subdued to highlight the wonder the child feels.

Then I thought about the mood of the scene. It is a night scene, but I wanted to keep it colorful to show the wonder of the story. With that in mind, I brought the sketch to the board of all the spreads as thumbnails and started to make a color script. I wanted this scene to be the pivotal scene of the book, so I used much more saturated and deeper colors while being conscious not to make it muddy. I wanted to connect the previous page and this scene because the characters are set in the same location, although the season is different. That is why the violet and purple of the night sky transition from the previous page to this scene, where they meet with the cobalt blue. I changed the field from green to yellow ochre-deep brown to show the passage of time through the seasonal changes. Then I laid out bright daylight colors on the next spread to heighten the effect of the colors on the current spread.

I blocked in the colors to fill in the blank sheet of the paper by filling the colors as one color shapes. Then I added hints of the background by adding suggested lines and shapes. Then I added the shadows, lines, and the rest of the details.

I reviewed if the shadows and the lights are consistent in their direction, their darkness/brightness, and add other layers if needed.

I reviewed the contrasts and any anatomical inaccuracies and fixed them at this stage, as I added in the fine details.

Before I finish, I compared the scene again with the rest of the spreads in the book. If new colors were introduced as I was coloring, I check if they sit right among the rest of the color scheme, to make the color scheme of the whole book consistent. I condensed and simplified the colors…

…and this is my final result!

ILLUSTRATOR SATURDAY INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR HONEE JANG

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve always drawn my whole life, but I’ve just begun my career as an illustrator in 2020!

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I created a landscape painting for a group gallery show in Brooklyn in 2016. My work wasn’t sold but I hold this piece dearly to my heart to this day.

What made you and your family move from the US to South Korea and then back to the US?

When my dad was a college student, a Korean company scouted him to study abroad and return to work for them. So he came to America, started his family there, and moved back to Korea as promised. Then after 11 years, my family decided to move back to America to have my brother and I grow up in an educationally less constrained environment and for my dad to go back to grad school to take another career path. It could not have been an easy decision but my parents always took a leap when they thought it was necessary.

How long did you live in South Korea?

I lived in Korea for 11 years. That’s only a third of my life, but it seems where I spend my youth is where my identity is rooted.

What made you decide to pursue your BFA in Illustration from Pratt Institute in New York?

I was very lucky to find an art high school in Florida two years after moving to America. I had to constantly adjust to new people and places because my family was moving every year or two, and as an introvert who was still not fluent in English, that was a great challenge. At the time, I was looking for every opportunity to draw because I longed to express what I was feeling, and art became the one thing I was holding onto as my rescue and as my identity. Naturally, over time, I became interested in narrating the unspoken message of not just mine but others as well, and when I saw Shaun Tan’s Red Tree, I was immediately mesmerized. The way he encaptured the emotions with striking imagination, and to know that these “big” feelings can be expressed in such ways was enlightening. That’s when I started to admire the illustrators. I later found out that Shaun had a very similar childhood as an immigrant which made me understand a lot about why I was able to connect with him so instantly.

I didn’t go straight to an art college after high school and wandered at a state university for a couple more years, but the image of Pratt when I was doing a college tour in my senior high school was stuck with me. I was convinced that Pratt was the school that encouraged its students to experiment and explore their art in-depth, whatever medium it may be. After two years of talking with my parents, my dad asked me if I could forget about all the realities, what I’d choose. The first thing that jumped out of my mouth was “I wanted to go to Pratt to study illustration,” and we decided that that’s what I’ll do.

Did you have a favorite class?

I loved all the classes I took. I learned the most in mixed media and senior thesis class, but the most interesting class was the bookbinding class.

What made you decide to want to illustrate children’s books?

I think children’s books have a subtle but distinct influence on both the kids and the grown-ups, at whichever age you open them up. Since young, I was especially drawn to books that spoke to the adults as well as to the children, although I was a child myself, like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, My Nine-year Old Life by Ki-cheol Wie, and about White Elephant(Sorry–this title is a Korean translation and I can’t find the English title) by Christine Nöstlinger. I think I forgot about my fascination until I met Shaun Tan’s Red Tree, and realized the power of picture books in making the readers seen and understood, and that the age at which you meet the book does not matter. This feeling was something I was craving at the time–in addition to wanting to talk, I always searched for a book that represented something I was feeling, so I would look for an author with an Asian last name in hopes of finding a book that explains my immigrant life. Red Tree answered that for me and thought it must be a wonderful thing, to be able to help people feel this much gratitude for something you do as a job.

Did Pratt help you find illustrating work while attending school or after you graduate?

It felt like a strange string of coincidences rather than a direct influence, but yes. Three months after graduation, I was contacted by my former professor that his alumni friend is looking for an assistant at his publisher, so I applied and joined the company. Although what I did was mostly cutting paper, that helped me open my eyes to the world of publishing and encouraged me to apply as a book designer at a children’s book department. After two years, I gathered my courage again to leap from a full-time designer to a “maybe” freelance illustrator. I don’t think I imagined myself to become an illustrator even though that’s what I studied, because it felt so far, and I was doing other side-hustles that seemed were not related to illustration.

Then as I started preparing for my children’s book illustration portfolio and working digitally, I picked up things really fast because of the experiences I’ve had at my school. Pratt had a very fundamental curriculum in the first year(such as Bauhaus teachings in relative color theory and using SketchUp to create digital 3D objects), and everything clicked as I got a little older and was applying across the mediums. I worked strictly in traditional mediums only because I didn’t know how to work digitally, but the transition was made easy when I actually did it because of the knowledge I had for drawing traditionally.

I thought I was supposed to be fully equipped to work once I graduate from an art school, and so when it was nearing my graduation, I was in a panic. It felt like the school was kicking me out when I still had so much to learn. However, I came to realize that school is the place that preps you for the experiences you’ll face, and you learn so much more as you dive into the real industry work.

You are currently living in England. Is that where your husband is from?

Yes, I moved to England to join him after 5 years of a long-distance relationship. The idea of migrating again scared me so much, but we came to an agreement that this will be good for both of us, and I’m happy I did now!

Do you plan on staying in the UK?

I didn’t know I would move to America again and didn’t know I would live in the UK. Who knows what happens next?! I think for some time, yes, but I have no promise what will happen next.

How did you connect with The Cat Agency and how long have you been represented by them?

I met Christy from the Cat Agency as a client at Harper. Every time I talked to her, she always carried this energetic, passionate, and proficient aura as an agent and made my jobs so enjoyable and easy. I saw the love she pours into her artists and her work that made me believe that she would be my dream agent if I were ever to become an artist. I set my goal to create a portfolio and submit it to The Cat Agency at the beginning of 2020, and with constant nudges from my former director, Chelsea Donaldson, and the final kick from my art director of Reach for the Stars, Aram Kim, I submitted my portfolio to Christy last September. Even before I could wrap my head around the whole situation, I became her artist, and we took off from there! It’s been a marvelous time so far and I cannot be any happier!

Is Reach for the Stars by Emily Calandrelli coming out on March 15, 2022, the first picture book you illustrated?

Yes! I can’t wait. Emily and I are counting down the days!

When did you sign the contract with Henry Holt and Co BFYR?

I signed my contract in November 2020.

Did you have to do revisions for the editor and/or art director?

Yes, but they were very minor. Both Julia Sooy, the editor, and Aram Kim, the art director, gave me all the creative freedom and encouraged me to lead the art narrative on my own, which was a great confidence booster as a starting illustrator.

In August you have another book that you illustrated coming out, My Football Family by Andy Holloway. Are the illustrations finished?

Yes! They were finished in December last year.

Was the process with Roaring Brook Press similar to the process with Henry Holt and Co.?

Yes, I had Emily Feinberg as the editor, and I still had Aram as the overlooking art director, with Ashley Caswell as the main designer. We had dynamic teamwork where we exchanged ideas and feedback constantly throughout the process, and it was exciting to see how the narrative became better as we brainstormed together!

Did you have shorter turnaround times when you were doing freelance work at Stonesong Digital?

No, and I think the turnaround time is determined by the type of project I am working on, rather than whether you are a full-time or a freelancer. At Harper, I had more projects that pressured me to optimize the time planning to the last detail, so even though not all of the projects I took on were rushes, there would come a time when I am pressured for time. It also helps greatly that I can now choose to take the projects based on my schedule. So right now, I am learning how to not take too much on my plate.

Did you learn a lot during the time you spent working with Illustrators, agents, and art directors at HarperCollins Children’s Books?

My time at Harper was so valuable and insightful as an illustrator for so many reasons. I was incredibly lucky to have Chelsea Donaldson as my art director, who gave me thorough and well-rounded feedback on design, art direction, communication skills, and her trust to give all creative freedom in design. I also worked with a lot of understanding and kind colleagues and I owe much of my growth to them.

If I didn’t have the experience as a designer, I would have had a much harder time every step of my way as an illustrator–from knowing exactly what I need in my portfolio, when things are needed, to how to talk to the professionals. Most importantly, having been on the other end of the industry helps me understand each profession’s perspectives deeper so I know a little better how to position myself in certain situations. It feels like I have the answer sheet and a guideline on exactly what I need to do.

Do you still work on your portfolio?

Yes, I work on my portfolio whenever I have the time! I’ve been busy for the last few months but I’m excited to go work on them again.

What do you feel helped develop your style?

I am far from comfortably saying that I have a defined style, and am still working to see what certain aesthetics feel the truest to what I want to say. Seeing a varying range of illustrators at Harper was very helpful, but I also wonder if it’s restricting me too, in a way. For example, I know what this one art director feels about certain elements that some artists do, and even though I know that’s not a universal opinion from all art directors or editors, it affects my decision-making. So I would direct my style according to what this art director would like, unconsciously or not. This is one of the habits I’m trying to move away from.

I also tend to refine features, especially characters, too realistically for the sake of accuracy, and I try to be aware of what I put in intentionally and what I am doing out of habit. Ultimately, however, I would like to not think about my “style” and learn to drive my visual narrative based on the message of the story.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a picture book?

That would be lovely! I am currently more interested in listening to other people’s stories, but I do jot down some picture book ideas and expand on my own from time to time.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

It’s been a while, but I did work on one in my college year. Wordless picture books are beautiful and I would consider that to be one of the highest achievements that I can do as an illustrator because that would mean that the art must work as a whole to narrate the full story.

Have you illustrated anything for children’s magazines?

No, but I would love to! I love designing the back matters and supplementary information sections at the back of the books, and children’s magazine does exclusively that. I am currently making an activity kit for Reach for the Stars, and it is only igniting my desire to do more!

Do you sell your artwork online?

I’m thinking about it and would love to one day! But for now, I want to focus on developing my art more.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

I prefer to work with an art director and editor because I enjoy collaborating as a team, and the self-publishing industry and its environment is often over my head. It’s a huge opportunity to work with other publishing people, as all of them share their experience in bookmaking and I always learn something valuable from them. But I’m reading about self-publishing to see if it’s something I can take later in the future. In the end, if the author has experience in self-publishing and I like the subject, I would take the offer.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

That’s so kind, thank you! The fact that I’ll have my debut book out this March still feels unbelievable to me!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I like using my Wacom tablet and Photoshop for client work. I love to work in acrylic for my personal work and I want to see how I can bring it over to my client-based work.

Has that changed over time?

Yes! My only go-to medium was acrylic since my high school years, and now I like watercolors, collages, and anything I could try. I would like to experiment and practice all of them more to incorporate them into my work portfolio.

What type of Graphic Drawing Tablet do you use when illustrating?

I use Wacom’s Cintiq 27 HD Pro. I also have Cintiq 16 (not pro) for portability because I move around constantly. 16 is much smaller but is perfect for helping me not focus too much on the details. I used to draw on iPad and Procreate but I realized over time that it’s more natural for me to work with bigger hand movement, on a bigger screen.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Not specifically–I practice anything that I think I need, but I spend as much time as I am satisfied, which could take hours, days, or weeks.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

I collect an immense amount of references–For a book project, I have separate folders for each spread for easier search. I love awkward gestures the kids take in certain situations, and they are far more natural and believable than what I could imagine and draw. Even when I am drawing imaginative scenes, I take some real objects and landscapes and refer to them as I draw.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes. I was offered a book deal for Reach for the Stars because an art director at Macmillan found me online and referred me to my editor. I didn’t have an agency at the time and all I had was my website and a social platform. Through social media, I also find people with common interests and we keep each other accountable for growing better professionally. Since the pandemic, a lot of workshops, conferences, and courses moved online and I learned so much through there as well. Working remotely also enables me to see my families more often–it’s a blessing to not have to take a break at work to see my loved ones.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I would like to create a nonfiction book that dives into the hard facts and details that challenge me to understand and dissect visually. Creating a wordless picture book, becoming an author-illustrator, and working on kids’ magazines all sound like milestone achievements I would love to take.

What are you working on now?

I am working on my personal pieces, activity kits for Reach for the Stars, and a few small freelance design and illustration jobs.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

It’s been a while since I purchased anything for traditional medium, so I’ll only mention what I recently learned from digital painting!

It helps a lot to learn to digital paint without using blenders, textures, or filters when you are starting to learn. It’s a good idea to invest in brushes, especially if you know what type of lines you are drawn to. Kyle’s brushes are very good(his brushes are now available for all at Adobe Photoshop!), and I find myself coming back to his after trying a few others. I use his gouache brushes the most. I found Schoolism courses to be a great learning course whichever stage you are in because they have an array of classes for each level.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Strategically drawing would be much helpful. It helped me to think about what kind of subjects and books I wanted to work on, and drew as if I was commissioned to draw them. From time to time, I laid out a few of other illustrators’ works that I love and studied what I am drawn to. I asked myself if this is the direction I want to go, or if there is an element I can learn from them. If I felt I knew what I was lacking, I worked on it or found new ways to achieve the effect. I repeat this whenever I feel I don’t know what to work on next.

Honee, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Honee using the following links:

WEBSITE: https://honeejang.com/about

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/HoneeJ_illo

LINKEDIN: https://www.instagram.com/honeej/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Honee-Jang-Illustration

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/honeej/

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/HoneeJ_illo

AGENCY: https://catagencyinc.com/#/honee-jang/

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Great interview! Congratulations on your books!

    Like

  2. Wow, I love your style & universal appeal. Great work, Honee!

    Like

  3. Your work is gorgeous! Loved this interview!

    Like

  4. Such beautiful work, Honee! I really love reading about illustrators and process – I’m so grateful for such valuable information being shared since I’m a newbie to illustration and I’m soaking up everything I can ❤

    Like

  5. Wow. This art is simply gorgeous. I especially love the little girl with the shopping cart. It is so sweet. Thanks for a beautiful post.

    Like

  6. Thank you so much for the chance to have an interview with you, Kathy! I loved answering your thoughtfully curated questions and it was so nice to have a reflection time on my own.

    Like

    • Honee,

      It was my pleasure to show off your illustrations. You are a very talented artist. Keep in touch!

      Kathy

      Like

  7. Such a lovely collection of work! Thanks for sharing with us, Honee!

    Like


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