Jam Dong: Illustrating the Magic of Nature. Interview with 2020 GP Golden Pinwheel Special Mention Winner

Today we would like to introduce Jam Dong, another winner of the 2020 Golden Pinwheel Illustration Competition. Jam was born in Shanghai in 1990 and now lives in Baltimore, USA. Her work, The Secret Life of Caterpillars, stood up from over 2,200 submissions worldwide to win one of the three Golden Pinwheel Special Mentions. This year, her work Poetry of Particles was also selected in the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. As different in style though they may seem, these two sets of works actually take their roots in similar ideas. Throughout her creative process, Jam Dong developed insights on how to cross stylistic boundaries and find the best way to give the right looks to her work.


Q=China Shanghai International Children's Book Fair(CCBF); A= Jam Dong

Q: Jam, can you tell our readers about yourself?

A: Hello, everyone! My name is Jam Dong, and I just obtained my degree in Illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in May. I am now working as a freelance illustrator. I work mostly with children's illustrations and picture books. I have been shortlisted in a number of top art competitions, including the latest two Bologna Illustrators Exhibitions, the Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition, and contests organised by American Illustration, 3x3, the Ijungle, and Creative Quarterly. Besides drawing, I like to create animations and do crafts. Gourmet food and cats make up 80% of the delights in my life, and my biggest wish nowadays is to go to bed early and get up early.

Q: Your work The Secret Life of Caterpillars, which won the Special Mention Award, has a distinctive personal touch. It was presented in a simple but delicate, imaginative and also narrative style. Would you like to share your creative process with us?

A: I am very fond of printmaking techniques like Risograph, for example. So, I have wanted to create illustrations with vivid colours and overprinting effects. I also like nature and animals very much. Once, I noticed that caterpillars are secretive creatures always hiding behind tree leaves, and their colourful bodies seem to be keeping a lot of mysteries. A bit unconsciously, I started making caterpillar pictures using overprinting techniques. At first, they were only fragmented ideas without a clear storyline, but one by one, the pieces gradually came together to tell the story.


Q: You were also shortlisted for the 2021 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. The works selected in Bologna are quite different from the piece you made that owed you the Golden Pinwheel Special Mention. How do you explore and experiment with different styles?

A: Developing a signature style is something that sets me thinking. I like to try different media and creative methods, so I haven’t developed a uniform or recognisable style yet. The work that was shortlisted for Bologna this year is called A poetry of Particles. It was made up entirely of geometric shapes without any hand-drawn elements. This is very different from my other works, but I just thought it was the best way to present the story. Perhaps for me, storytelling always outweighs the question of personal style.

Q: Despite the diversity of your works, we can tell that nature seems to be your biggest source of inspiration. Can you tell us more about what interests you most in the natural world and how they contribute to your production?

A: The charisma of nature is so obvious that no artwork, even by the most imaginative artist, can portray its overflowing beauty out of thin air. The distinctive shapes of animals, their different ways of living, each of them built through a different evolutionary path miraculously and converging into similar structures, the way genes are copied and recombined to create diversity… From macroscopic to microscopic phenomena, everything strikes me and keeps me in awe. Even the story of a tiny grain picked up randomly would be worth telling. Illustrations and picture books offer a way to tell those stories freely and build closer connections with human beings.

Q: Congratulations on your recently obtained degree! Can you give some advice to young illustrators who are interested in studying illustration abroad?

A: Each university and degree has a different orientation. The course they offer could be more or less commercial, experimental, or artistic. My advice would be to search among former students’ works to see if the content of the degree matches your preferences and check out the school's website for programme details. Choosing the right school will also increase your chances of being accepted. It is a two-way choice!


Jam Dong

Q: As a young Chinese artist studying and living abroad, do you feel that the meeting of two different cultures has influenced your creation?

A: In terms of creation, Chinese culture has not really influenced me that much, but it has somewhat shaped my everyday thought process. I don't deliberately apply this to my art. Perhaps that influence is so subtle that I don't notice it myself. But I can feel the pressure and anxiety of being an outsider from an ethnic minority, so I consciously include characters of all colours and genders when I draw. Such diverse perspectives and sensitivity may result from my experience in both Chinese and Western cultures.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My next step is to submit my picture book projects to publishers and, hopefully, get them published. I'd also like to submit editorial illustrations for magazines and newspapers while keeping a habit of going to bed early, getting up early and working out regularly!