Illustrator Profile - Jade Schulz: "Wrestling with identity and belonging is part of my identity"

By Robert Newman   Thursday September 28, 2017

Jade Schulz is a Maryland-based illustrator. She uses a variety of materials, both digital and traditional, to create her engaging, dynamic, graphic work. Schulz’s very cool Video Vixen Alphabet Series, “inspired by the girl dancers in rap videos,” gathered her some extensive blog and social media attention.

Since 2014, I’ve been toggling between villages in Maryland and Connecticut, New York City and spent months in Spain and Turkey. After years of grinding in NYC, starved for greenery and change, I realized a freelancer didn’t need to be tied down to one place.

When I was four, my mom remarried an American soldier and we emigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea. Eventually, my mom also joined the Army and we moved every few years, living in many states as well as Germany and Korea.

Growing up, creating things was solace. It was to fun to draw and make things for my dolls that my parents wouldn’t get me. Children’s book illustrations and cartoons were a constant source of wonder and pleasure. I wished I could be an illustrator but never imagined it could be a grown-up career, especially coming from my immigrant military background. Despite having a short stint as an editorial illustrator for the college paper at the University of Washington, I had a mental block in thinking it was possible to become a full-time illustrator. I then converted to Christianity, transferred to New York University, majored in modern Asian history, and then roamed from one job to another like tumbleweed.

I tried and failed at a graphic T-shirt business at one point and had stints at a costume workshop and theatre production as well as in fashion. Eventually, I became friends with Jason Lee, an illustrator who was making good money and had major magazines and newspapers for clients. He saw my personal drawings and thought I should really give it a try and go to art school. Without Jason’s guidance and encouragement, I would not have made it as a professional illustrator. I went to SVA for undergrad for one year and afterwards attended the SVA MFA Illustration program. Both programs are wonderful and were life changing. I felt like I finally came out of the closet as a creative and that eking out a living by making things is a dream fulfilled.

Prior to working as an illustrator, (in no particular order) here are some things I’ve done: administrative assistant, data entry temp, fry cook, production assistant in the fashion industry, cheesemonger, assistant at a costume workshop, perennial babysitter, translator, ESL teacher, barista, costume manager and production assistant for a theatre, mural painter for Desigual, and occasional graphic designer..

Sometimes, my studio is in a cozy nook in a generous corridor. It has a charming square window that looks into a serene wooded landscape, with the occasional prancing deer. Other times, it is in a guest room, where I sit on the floor and my desk is a bed or a sofa.

I sketch on a Wacom Cintiq or with pencil. I render the illustrations in Photoshop and apply textures from traditional media. I aspire to stay organized, then get lost in all the layers, then compress everything and end up working out the final details in one layer. Sometimes, I’ll do the drawing on paper using all pencil, charcoal pencil, ink and/or watercolor.

I received meaningful exposure with the Video Vixen Alphabet Series. Late December 2015, I played around with the idea of making letters inspired by the girl dancers in rap videos with a medieval/Victorian dropcap treatment. I wanted to give the video vixens their own space, apart from being simply eye candy on hyper-masculine rap videos. I wanted to celebrate women, women of color, the ripe female form as well as pay tribute to the elements of street culture and historical lettering aspects. I initially did a few and tweeted about it to the blogs like and It’s Nice That and they gave me some love by featuring the series.

What was initially going to be a few letters expanded into the entire alphabet with consistency in shape and style.

My earliest memories of delight and inspiration come from children’s books by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and Sunday comics. I loved the stories, words, and humorous drawings. I never tire of anything made by Matisse and Bonnard. Since I could recall, I’ve loved book illustrations, animation, book covers, packaging, fashion and stories. Coming from a background where I don’t fit neatly into a social category, wrestling with identity and belonging is part of my identity. I’ve embraced the disconnects in the artifice of human organization through humor and the subversion and questioning of norms. 

I’m a longtime admirer of the work and work ethic of Christoph Niemann. He is a champion of conveying clear ideas and is not bound to a single medium. While I was a student my process suffered because I was too focused on developing a signature style. But once I allowed the ideas to guide my approach, a process started to develop. I get the impression that Christoph challenges himself to make the work alive, relevant and humorous. He is sensitive to how the world is moving and is constantly experimenting with new technology and media to chronicle his personal observations. Even though he appears to be doing very well, he is constantly hustling and doesn’t take his success for granted.

The absurd, news stories, Pedro Almodóvar, Reddit posts, extreme contrasts, drag culture, standup comedy, patterns, trauma, history, unexpected events, and fiction.  

Probably self-discipline and the occasional bout of loneliness.  

The most memorable job was for The New York Times Op-Ed section. It was my first job for them and I was sweating buckets trying to squeeze out good ideas quickly and then doing the final in a few hours. I was in NYC near the UN building, running errands and I happened to see my email and responded with one minute to spare. I frantically stumbled into a crosstown bus to return to my temp studio, aka my cousin’s apartment. I clumsily sketched on my tiny iPhone sketch app in the one-hour long bumper-to-bumper traffic. With great relief, the sketches and final were submitted in time. It was a really fun and adrenalin-packed job. However, having to stomach the front page with the presidential election results with Trump’s victory definitely left a bittersweet aftertaste. 

Cover of The New Yorker and/or something that paid huge royalties forever.

Most of the art directors have been lovely and I am thankful for each client and job. I am especially grateful to Ben King at Buzzfeed who gives me jobs that are aligned with my sense of humor and campy solutions. These jobs have always been to work on.

There are so many but the ones that surface to mind first, in no particular order are: Goya, Saul Steinberg, Richard Scarry, Tomi Ungerer, Yann Kebbi, Isidro Ferrer, Gerard Dubois, Riccardo Vecchio, Brecht Vanderbroucke, Yokoo Tadanori, Andrea Serio, Riki Blanco, Eleanor Davis, and Mari Kanstad Johnsen.

I admire these artists for their process and the way they are constant and true to how they work and portraying life observations they care about.

Video Vixen Alphabet Series as mentioned above. I also maintain a sketchbook and experiment with different materials. You can find the Video Vixen Alphabet Series on my site and press by and It’s Nice That.

Honestly, my career is too young to require reinventing, but with the constant talk of the diminishing clients in publishing, I look for ways in which my work could be useful for diverse commercial purposes. I’m aware of the big headlines but I think staying current is about figuring out ways to keep yourself fresh by constantly developing process.

Everything except getting naked, I suppose. This includes mailers, social media, competitions, and networking. Social media has been the most effective. My personal projects have also helped in getting my name out there. I like to make goofy gifs and I think my brand of humor and my gifs got me a job for the glasses company Ace and Tate, based in the Netherlands.

My advice is to those who resemble my student self (and sometimes my current self)—lacking in discipline, wallowing in doubt, self-pity, and comparison-itis. Ease into becoming a daily illustration-making machine. You have to develop a relationship with yourself as an artist and with your art and you can’t do that if you don’t spend the time. I feel this is how interesting authentic work is made. Never belittle your process and only draw comparisons between your current and past self. Make regular assessments of your work and how you would like to continue on your journey.  Celebrate even the tiniest victory. This way of thinking has been effective for me and when I get discouraged the process and the discipline keeps me afloat and gets me to the other side. And of course, hustle, be brave and be kind.

See more Jade Schulz illustrations, new work and updates:
Jade Schulz website
Instagram: @jade_schulz
Twitter: @jade_schulz