Jam Dong’s textured illustrations are inspired by science
“My art is all about shapes,” says Jam Dong. “I see them as notes that make up music through color, scale and compositions.” Born in China and now based in the United States, the illustrator’s abstract approach has earned her commissions for The New York Times and Quartz. She also has many accolades to her name, including being a selected illustrator at the 2020 Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
The roots of Dong’s illustration practice date back to her childhood in Shanghai, when she spent most of her time playing and creating with her cousin at her grandparents’ house. “We were always surrounded by pencils, crayons, glue and papers, and we could draw and play all day. None of my family worked in the creative industry, so I think that bright childhood memory may have cultivated my interest in her,” she told CR.
It would be several years before Dong finally decided on illustration as a good career path. Her undergraduate degree covered everything from art to graphic design, and she soon found herself drawn to animation. “I was charmed by animation at the time because when it moves, it’s magic,” she explains.
It was during his MA in Motion Pictures at the University of the Arts London that Dong started trying to insert more illustrations into his animation work and doing self-initiated projects alongside it. She eventually returned to China and began her freelance illustration practice, before moving to the United States to do an MFA illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
“I think illustration appealed to me because what I want most is to tell stories,” explains the illustrator. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a single page or a book, it conveys a complete story and concept. I want my art to be accessible to a wide audience, I want stories to be heard, and I want to build a connection with the world.
Now living and working in Boston, Dong has spent the past year experimenting with his practice. Although she creates her works digitally, she often adds different elements and textures to give them an aesthetic closer to print. More recently, she has also taken inspiration from Polish matchbox labels and tried to replicate their flatter design style.
“What stays the same is the use of shapes and colors, and a humorous perspective on finding those fun, fleeting moments in life. I always try to capture the eureka moment in mundane life and to present a piece of humor in an offbeat way,” explains the illustrator.
Some of Dong’s most striking works are what she describes as “fake medical graphics“. Building on his growing interest in science, the graphics resemble the shape of medical charts, but look a little closer and you’ll realize they’re actually works of fiction. “The outside world never fails to amaze me – it can be as small as the structure of a seed or as large as the entire ecosystem. All of these ideas drive me to develop them into stories,” says- she.
As for what’s next for Dong, she has some ideas about where her career might go. “I find myself struggling between being unconventional and adapting to a larger market,” she says. “I hope I can worry less about others and focus more on myself to find out what really interests me and makes me happy. I want to bring my quirkiness into children’s books and editorial illustrations, and build my little ecosystem in this industry.