The Refreshing work of Jeannie Phan

Kirsten McCreaARTIST INTERVIEWS

Portrait of Toronto Artist Jeannie Phan

Jeannie Phan is a Toronto-based artist whose recognizable flat-colour illustrations with printerly textures harken back to a vintage editorial style. In addition to working with clients like The New York Times, Vogue, Smithsonian, and Cottage Life, she is a master gardener who shares green-thumbed tips from her bright, plant-filled home studio (see more: @studioplants).

She is also our next artist! Subscribe to Papirmass by April 30th to receive a surprise print from Jeannie, and get to know her better in the interview below.


Tell us about the artwork featured in Papirmass (not pictured).

As someone who likes to explore the natural offerings of Ontario, the wildlife and lakeside have always held a special place in my heart. Cottaging has been my mini-vacation out of the busy city, and during those days I love to admire the stark birch trees, native foliage and crisp waters. This piece summarizes some of the activities that play out on Ontario land, and the friends you may see along the way.

The artwork of Toronto Artist Jeanie Phan

What’s your studio like?

Plants. Plants. Plants! Plants are an integral part of my personal and work life, so I like to be surrounded by greenery when I work. They inspire and calm me. Apart from that, since I’m a digital artist, my equipment needs are simple. I work with a desktop iMac, drawing tablet, and a trusty notebook that I’m unafraid to wreck. I’m a bit of an organization freak, so the studio has to be tidy at the start of every day. I call it “resetting my space” which also allows me to clear my brain and function well. I’ve got a drawing desk behind me (which I often use to encourage friends to work alongside me), and an archive of past work is tucked away in the closet. I like to keep a few milestone projects out because it’s nice to see what I’ve accomplished. I tend to get tunnel-visioned onto the “next big thing” so having something that reminds me of what I’ve already done, keeps me motivated.

The plant-filled studio of Toronto illustrator Jeannie Phan, founder of the @studioplants Instagram

What do you love about your studio?

The windows. The windows are small enough to let bright light in, but not so much that it overpowers me when I work. Because we’re by a major highway, I stare at cars as they enter and leave downtown. It’s like watching the veins of Toronto pumping life into and out of the city.

How do you get into your creative zone?

When I’m coming up with ideas, I only listen to music without lyrics or sit in total silence. When I’m just rendering, podcasts keep me sane and feeling not so alone. So, the atmosphere of sound really does synthesize with me while I work. During moments of stress or creative ruts, I’ll retreat to my garden where I’ll do small gardening tasks (pruning, watering, maybe a little chatter to the plants) to clear my head.

Artwork by Toronto Artist Jeannie Phan

What is your typical day like?

After years of fantasizing, I have finally become a “morning person”! So my day usually starts early with a hot cup of coffee (no matter the season), which I enjoy in silence either watching the trains pass through my windows, or on the rooftop in my garden. After that cup o’ Joe is finished, I hit the workroom in my work/live studio. Mornings are spent emailing and organizing; then I’ll get most of my drawing done in the afternoon and into the evening. If I’m lucky I’ll have night’s off to Netflix and pass out on the couch, but often, as freelancers do, I end up working on something or another.

The Studio of Toronto Artist Jeannie Phan

What’s changed since you began?

My practice has changed in that it no longer completely overtakes my life. When I began, I was working near constantly and heavily neglected my personal life. Of course, typical things have changed too, like: my style has evolved, and the projects I work on have diversified (I thank the internet for that!) but the most significant has been finding a work/life balance. As a person with any other job does, I now take time off during the week, see friends, and have hobbies.

If your work could help transform culture, what would you change?

I’d like to encourage people to slow down and enjoy the day-to-day. I like to show this through my personal work, but it’s also something I try to practice myself, only semi-successfully, though. I’m definitely trying to practice what I preach.

Toronto based illustrator Jeannie Phan's art preview for Toronto-based creative business Papirmass

What’s the best thing about being an artist?

Introspection is constant. We artists have a sensitive way in which we view the world, and I think there’s a lot of richness that comes with that. While we can’t help but share our perspective,  it takes a lot of questioning, curiosity, and “getting to know yourself”, to develop an artistic practice.

What’s the worst thing about being an artist?

It’s too easy to be discontent with one’s own work.

Got any good life advice?

No risk, no reward.


Jeannie Phan is our May 2018 artist.
See more at www.jeanniephan.com