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Illustrator interview: Jade They

One of Jade's illustrations for 'Making Waves' (DG issue #9)

Jade They is the printmaker behind some of DG’s most beautiful illustrations. We asked her to give us an insight into her work and to explain why it’s worth taking time over design.

“So far I have illustrated five different stories for DG. The slow, methodical and meticulous nature of printmaking seems well suited to slow journalism: it gives you an opportunity to create something considered, where speed and convenience are not the main objectives.

Traditional printmaking also gives illustration a sense of authenticity and adds weight, which is useful, especially when dealing with serious subject matter. Digital processes have their merit and they play an important role in my work, but if I rely on them too much, my images just end up flatter and less substantial.

My favourite DG story to work on was the ‘Making Waves’ piece, a story about how the people of Oman had opened discussion and vented frustrations with their government through a call-in radio programme. In the illustration the people are raising their fists as a symbol of their unity, as the radio tower sends out waves in the form of an Omani pattern behind them.

I wanted to create a political theme with some traditional Omani symbolism, and it was really interesting researching all the traditional Omani patterns – they have a very distinctive and beautiful way of using these to adorn buildings and objects. I loved the way it came out in the lino print.  The pattern I used was inspired by a delicate design carved in metal onto a medallion from the 1800s.

Lino follows in the tradition of woodcut. It’s a process that has been around since the early 1900s, and it was traditionally used as a way to create cheap reproductions for limited editions of prints and publications. It was seen as woodcut’s less respectable counterpart, and was often associated with the political views of the working class.

Being half Chinese I have drawn a lot of inspiration from 20th century Chinese social realist prints as well as from European Expressionist printmaking. It’s a technique that has also seen a resurgence in recent years in illustration, but is still relatively niche.

When working with linocut, I first develop a rough of the image, mainly using charcoal and ink drawings.

Some early sketches for  a 'Dead Man Walking',  DG issue 14

Some early sketches for ‘Dead Man Walking’ (DG issue 14)

Once I’m happy with the image, I separate each colour into a different layer, draw out each image onto a separate piece of Lino, and cut out the white space. I then roll each Lino with ink and print each layer on a printing press to create the full image, making sure each layer is aligned correctly.

Rolling the lino with ink before printing

Rolling the lino images with ink before printing

Creating illustrations for 'Patrolling the Beat', DG issue 8

Creating illustrations for ‘Patrolling the Beat’, our story about a ban on dancing in Japanese clubs

The finished product: Jade's  illustration for our story about a ban on dancing in Japanese clubs

The finished product: ‘Patrolling the Beat’, DG issue 8

I then scan in the image and make some minor corrections in Photoshop if i have to, but I try to keep as much to the original print as possible. Sometimes the imperfections of a print will be what gives an illustration character and come alive for me.

One of Jade's illustrations for 'Dead Man Running', DG issue 14

One of Jade’s illustrations for ‘Dead Man Running’ (DG issue 14)

I have always enjoyed the methodical nature of printmaking, and I think that there is a magic to the process that adds something unique and unexpected along the way. Images change and take on a new personality as they go through the process.

There’s something very satisfying about the ‘realness’ of a thick layer of ink on a piece of paper. In a world full of computer screens and Photoshopped perfection, it can be quite a relief for the eyes to see something handmade that took time to create and which is full of human quirks and imperfections.”

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