Simple yet vivid with small details and bright colors, Jon Lau’s drawings depict multiple animals with anthropomorphic features. His style is clean and cute. Lau makes use of straight lines to create pointed ends for his subjects, straying away from symmetry, and entering a void of dreamlike wonder with his manic attention to detail and brush strokes. This is what children’s books are definitely calling for today.
Lau graduated in 2011 from Art Center College of Design and currently lives in LA. His choice of paint is gouache, and he’s been featured in numerous shows and galleries around the nation. We had the chance to talk with Lau on what illustration means to him and how he executes his style.
Mass Appeal: Who are you?
Jon Lau: I’m Jon Lau, and I’m an illustrator based in Los Angeles.
MA: Why illustration as opposed to any other art medium?
JL: I’m not really sure actually [Laughs]. That sounds horrible. I know I love to paint, and I’ve really related to the way images are made in the context of illustration, but I think I’d love to be able to apply the way I make images to other creative fields as well.
MA: How did you first start drawing?
JL: Starting in middle school, I kept a sketchbook as a hobby; where I kept some very sad-looking fan art of popular anime at the time.
MA: How do you describe your style?
JL: I’d say it’s pretty whimsical and playful, yet also restrained and a little on the quieter side. I’d use “poetic” but that’s more of a personal goal than an objective descriptor.
MA: How do you think you can achieve that description of “poetic”?
JL: Hopefully with establishing a complex, complementary relationship with contrasting elements in the work, the oppositions would create a sense of visual rhythm and harmony, if that didn’t sound too nebulous.
MA: What is your drawing process like?
JL: I usually start off making weirdly specific mud-colored blobs on paper with a large wash brush, which end up being the silhouettes of figures and objects. Then I work in layers to work towards the color and vibrancy I want, the brushes getting tinier and the work hopefully getting more detailed along the way. Theoretically it’d be simple, but I inevitably end up doing a lot of noodling, shifting, and repainting, whatever it takes to get it done.
MA: What are your favorite things to illustrate? I’ve noticed you draw a lot of animals…
JL: I’m always in the mood to paint a fox or a bear, but I try to keep an open mind to painting whatever I find fascinating or interesting in my everyday life. I have a tendency (or preference) to hang out with my work longer than would be necessary, which would be kind of an explanation for why I tend to emphasize a decorative.
MA: It could be a preference, or maybe it’s a self-criticism? Do you think you often hang out on your work to simply perfect it? Are you always satisfied with your product?
JL: A part of it definitely comes from being critical, but I think nowadays I’ve mostly made peace with the neuroticism that can come with doing art full time, but without completely doing away with it. For me, it’s important to be able to exercise near total control over how the work is made. Sad to admit, but even the more raw, idiosyncratic moments come from knowing where they are necessary to prevent it from looking “overcooked.” I’m satisfied more often with the result than not, and I’ve found that you don’t really know if something is a success or failure until you truly see it through to the end. I usually decide pretty early when the effort isn’t worth it.
MA: What are you working on now? What is your ultimate goal with illustration?
JL: Beyond freelance illustration projects, I’m trying to get a good deal of work done for collaborative zines with some of my amazing illustrator friends. I’m also heading to Japan for a month in April for an art residency to focus on a larger body of new personal work! I’d really love to be able to make children’s books in the near future if I ever get good enough, but I would really love to be able to apply my work to any creative format, like an animated short, or video game. Dream big, or something, right?