Jordan Awan: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday March 31, 2014

Q: You live in Brooklyn originally from Virginia. As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in NYC?

A: My neighborhood in Brooklyn, Greenpoint, feels like a small town, with a lot of other artists in the area. There’s a really nice sense of community. After eleven years in Brooklyn it really feels like home.

How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

I always liked to draw, probably following my older brother Jashar’s lead from the start; we spent a lot of time drawing in our sketchbooks as kids. Growing up near D.C., our parents would take us to museums all the time, most notably the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn. I always wanted to be an artist, though my love affair specifically with illustration and design didn’t start in earnest until I was a sophomore at Pratt.

What was your first commercial assignment?

It was for Steve Heller, when he was at the Times Book Review. I did it the summer between junior and senior year of college. I don’t think he liked the final very much. My next one was for Brian Rea at the Times Op-Ed page, and thankfully he liked it. 

Above left: For "Illustration Next" by Ana Benaroya, Thames and Hudson 2013; right: for the New York Times.

Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus In the computer?

I do keep a sketchbook. I draw everything by hand, and only really use the computer for finishing pieces – polishing or adding color.

How do you spend the first hour of your work day? What is your favorite time of day for working?

My days are a bit different from most freelance illustrators since I have a desk job. So I sort of pick up minutes here and there to work, or keep it to nights and weekends. Luckily I’ve always preferred working at night.

Did your participating in the AI32 LIVE Cover Project have any spillover into your studio practice? Do you recommend marathon art projects for inspiration or redirection?

I had a lot of fun working on the cover project. It was great to be in the AI offices with so many other talented people, and to see their process. It was also refreshing to just focus on quantity and shut off your critical mind for a bit and just work.

Above: “Income Gap,” for Bloomberg View.

What are some of your favorite places/blogs/websites for inspiration?

I think nothing beats a good bookshelf. I have a book collection at home and one at my office. For me, the web has yet to replace the library or a bookstore for the purposes of research and discovery.  

Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?

I’ve hit a few times where I’ll just draw a total blank. The best way to get through it is to just force your pencil to start moving. Usually after a few minutes doodling I’ll get back on track.

Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?

I just started teaching illustration at Pratt last fall. Helping the students to discover and experiment, and seeing them grow as artists has been hugely rewarding. It’s also a nice change of pace during the week, to step away from the slings and arrows of publishing and just discuss formal technical matters of line, composition, concept, etc.

What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?

I guess that the creative path is never a straight line. Try to stay open to some of the unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Above, left to right: Label for City of Daughters cocktail goods; illustration for TNY Culture Desk; and spot illustration for The New Yorker. All art copyright and courtesy Jordan Awan. 

Jordan Awan is an illustrator and art director based in Brooklyn, New York. A partial list of editorial clients includes McSweeney’s, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bloomberg View, The New Republic, USA Today and The Boston Globe; he has also worked on projects with Herman Miller, Doctors Without Borders, and Puma, and has designed T-shirts for howies and a line of dinnerware for Fishs Eddy. Since 2010 he has worked as an art director for The New Yorker. He has received recognition from The Society of Illustrators and American Illustration. In 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Young Guns 9 by the Art Directors Club. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and fellow illustrator, Morgan Elliott.