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How did you discover you wanted to be a designer and illustrator? In high school, I attended a journalism summer camp for minority students. Its purpose was to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to journalism, a field where minorities are underrepresented. Staffers from the Seattle Times mentored us and taught us how to report stories, take photographs, and design our own newspaper. I won a scholarship at the end, and more importantly, a female Asian American art director encouraged me to consider a career in design and illustration. I had no other example of a successful Asian woman in design or media—other than watching Connie Chung reporting the news on TV—so it was meaningful for this mentor to give me confidence and practical advice on how to pursue this career. I look back and have tremendous appreciation for that summer program and how students like myself were given a chance to consider a career that might have otherwise felt out of reach.

Do you think that students who are interested in the fields of design and illustration need to go to a traditional art school? I went to college at Boston University (BU). I didn’t know much about the school, but it offered me a full scholarship. I didn’t love BU at first, but I found my way and cobbled journalism and design classes together into my own makeshift “visual journalism” degree.

But my most valuable preparation for a career in design came from the jobs and internships I had while I was in school. I worked as a summer intern at the Seattle Times, then at the Boston Globe the following year. I wrote for the school paper, designed my college yearbook and drew illustrations—$50 a picture, which felt like a lot of money at the time—for the local alternative weekly. I learned how to work on deadline, research photos, hire illustrators and talk to editors. So even though I didn’t go to art school or major in design, I left school with a solid portfolio and a legit resume.
... I love playing and creating things because they bring joy to the people I love.

How did you begin your craft book, Make and Give: Simple and Modern Crafts to Brighten Every Day? My coauthor, Steph Hung, and I first met working at Martha Stewart Living, and we had both recently left the magazine. We attended a dinner party in Brooklyn and had the best time talking with one of the guests sitting across from us. We didn’t talk about work, but about life. After the dinner, she asked to exchange business cards. We were surprised to find out she was a book publisher! A week later, she emailed us saying she had looked at our websites and portfolios, and would we ever consider doing a craft book? Of course we said “Yes,” but we knew nothing about writing a book proposal—there was definitely some Googling of “how to write a book proposal” immediately after. But we figured things out, got a book agent, negotiated a contract and started making our book.

Besides Martha Stewart Living, you’ve also worked at Esquire, and your freelance career includes illustrations for the likes of ESPN The Magazine and design for Bon Appetit. What are some opportunities and challenges of editorial design and illustration? I love the fast pace of editorial work: the quick turnaround, the rush and thrill of having to come up with a brilliant solution before a newspaper or magazine goes to print. And then the payoff for all the anxiety of meeting that deadline: seeing your work in people’s hands soon after.

Another thing that’s unique to editorial work is that you are constantly learning about the content you’re designing, so the job always feels fresh. I love doing research on an assignment—whether it’s the best new restaurants, how to embroider a blanket or a profile on a compelling person—discussing it with editors, and collaborating with photographers and art directors to find a clever way to tell the story. You have to be curious, read and understand the story you’re working on, dissect it, and think about the best way to illustrate it in a way that surprises, delights, informs and clarifies.

What led you to start constructing charming edible faces for Lucky Peach? About two years ago, I started making food faces for my toddler—to get him to eat breakfast—and posted them using the hashtag #milesfoodfaces on Instagram. An art director at Lucky Peach saw them, so an editor there asked if I would want to have a Food Faces column on Lucky Peach’s website.

I love that it’s a project I can do with my son. We find new places to discover fun or unusual eats and make our silly creations side by side at home. Salmon roe, dried Korean anchovies, tarragon soda, and Pop Rocks are just a handful of new things he’s tried on our food adventures.

What is the strangest assignment you’ve ever received? Disney asked me to create portraits of six of its animated characters out of food. It was a dream job because Disney is an awesome client, and I had a nice budget to get all the weird ingredients I needed—Shiso leaves! Romanesco! Rock candy and mochi! I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was being paid to play with food. It was funny to think how crazy I must have looked at the grocery store, standing in front of the bin of green bell peppers for half an hour, turning each one in my hand and obsessing over which one looked the most like a dinosaur head.

From your food sketches to your holiday cards for Paperless Post, food surfaces in much of your work. What about food inspires you? I didn’t think much about this before, but food really is a common theme in my design and illustration work. I’ve art-directed food magazines, worked on restaurant logos, designed cookbooks and fruit-themed textiles for kids, and created illustrations with vegetables and candy. Maybe I’m drawn to food as a theme in my work because it’s something that makes everyone smile. It’s fun. You can’t deny that it brings everyone a bit of joy. Everyone can relate to it, and it’s meant to be shared. It’s the great equalizer. And even beyond that, I am someone who loves to cook and invite people to our home for meals. So in every way, food is meaningful to me because at its core, it’s honest, and it’s a way to share love.

Why are personal projects important to you, and how do they lead to commercial work? Personal projects have led to interesting and fulfilling jobs. I don’t start a personal project with the intent of attracting clients and paid work, but I’ve noticed that it has often happened that way. I’ll share something that I made for fun on Instagram, and art directors sometimes get in touch.

These days, with small children—a kindergartener and a new baby—most of my personal projects are things that I make for and with my kids. These projects are fun and they let me be creative in a different way. They’re a much-needed break from my work, a chance to make something with my hands and with new materials. And they’re a way to spend time with my kids and see things from their eyes. Whether it’s crafting silly favors for my kid’s “Gold Cheetah” themed birthday party, baking a pie that looks like my husband’s face for Father’s Day, or writing and illustrating a book for my nephews, I love playing and creating things because they bring joy to the people I love.

What is a dream project you would love to work on? It’d be a dream come true to work on a children’s book. And I’d love for someone to hire me to paint a food mural.
Erin Jang is the graphic designer and illustrator behind The Indigo Bunting. With a unique style honed as a magazine art director at both Martha Stewart Living and Esquire, Jang’s designs are a modern mix of smart and playful ideas. Her work has included editorial projects for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ, Lucky Peach and Real Simple, as well as design and illustration for clients such as Chronicle Books, Disney, Urban Outfitters, Paperless Post and home furnishing company The Land of Nod. She designed and coauthored the craft book Make and Give: Simple and Modern Crafts to Brighten Every Day and lives in New York City with her husband and two boys. You can follow her work here
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