Shan Jiang on keeping work fresh and leaving I Love Dust

As the original senior creative of I love dust, Shan Jiang’s style has become synonymous with the fashionable design agency. His enviable client list is only surpassed by the evolving talent of his illustration work.

As a new partner in the new East London based design agency ‘Shotopop’ Shan shows no sign of slowing down.

Last issue Shan created the fantastic illustration for our cover, and as well as interviewing him for our ‘What made me’ article, We also managed to get an exclusive interview with him on leaving ILD, illustration tips and keeping personal work fresh. 

Shan's illustration for our Art in Motion cover

DA. You still do a lot of personal work, how do you differentiate between your personnel and commercial work?

SJ. The personal work gives space to develop new styles, which people might like and want to use for something else. When you keep doing commercial work; you get briefs, you get clients, you have feedback, and you have to follow it. I really respect the feedback. Clients know a lot of things, they know the market, they know what they want, what they do is really good for the thing they want to promote, and that’s the reason why they find us, but - they always need to use things they’ve already seen, because they need to send us a reference, so we can do so­­mething similar. People always need to be safe.

The thing is if you keep doing this, then eventually no one will hire you because the style gets old, and everything is copied.

You have to be really original. I think it’s better to create a style rather than follow a style, so really that’s why I keep doing personal work.

So when people find my personal work and say can you do something like this, it feels really good because I get a chance to do the things I wouldn’t normally be able to do.

Shan's jaw dropping illustration originally started life as a personal illustration, later evolving into one of our favourite Digital Arts covers. 

The concept and topic of commercial work frequently focuses on one product which makes things really commercial, if you’re not focusing on the product your focusing on the story or narrative, or something personal, so at some point there’s an opportunity to join them together.

Personal work affords me a time and space, to progress my work to keep original. I can lead clients to the work and say, maybe we can do it this way, I can suggest a way that I can do it instead of the client showing me a reference to copy.


DA You’ve been practicing as a professional illustrator for many years – Do you have any tips on keeping client work editable?

SJ. In this industry you need to find a way to keep your work easily changeable, every designer has their own way, sometimes I work on other peoples psd files, I find they have their own way too, keeping everything moveable.

I try to keep everything on different layers, I draw more than what I need, for eg if something is behind things I draw it, even if you don’t see it, that way if they don’t want these people here, then I can move them.

I always draw a bigger size than what I need, for example if someone asks me to do a cover, I’ll draw it A3, so if they turn round and say, can you make a poster, I’ll say- ‘it’s ready!” You spend a similar amount of time, just do a little bit more and you can save yourself a huge amount of time in the future.


DA. Yes we can normally tell the difference between people who do things for the first time and contributors who simply say, no I can’t move it, it’s fixed.

SJ. Well there are other ways around it too- sometimes we ask for more budget, because, if I move that, there’s nothing behind it, I need to do extra work which costs me another day, this is the business way. I’m not really the person who talks for the budget, but I’ve heard a lot and learned the way to get more budget, so it’s not entirely a bad thing if they’ve got budget to do it.

A lot of American clients ask, ‘can you add an inch bleed’, which is 5cm added to the height and width, so 10 cm to the overall illustration. Sometimes I draw a little bit more than what I need which makes things really useful.


DA. Did you study Illustration In Shanghai?

SJ. My major was in graphic design, I designed the last ‘Friends with you’ website, and a lot of things for music websites, but graphic design is really hard to define now. There are lots of crossover jobs, now we see a lot of animation and design merging together. It’s all mixed. I studied as a graphic designer at Shanghai University. Then I got my second degree in Edinburgh College of art in Visual communication.


DA. So you’re leaving I love Dust. How long did you work there?

SJ. 7 years, I started in 2005 when ‘I Love Dust’ was a very small company.

When I started there were 2 bosses, one work placement and me. 3 months later the other designer left, so there was only 3 people left, 7 years later, they are ten times bigger with 30 people and 2 offices, one in London and the other in South Sea. It’s really big now and getting many big jobs.

I gained so much experience working with a company which went from small to large. In the beginning we had no idea how it was going to turn out. From the first meeting, the bosses said, we are not earning enough money, so everyone needs to work really hard, it’s kind of sad because for 7 seven years I contribute all I can do for the company, but for me myself and my career I need to move on. I’m 32/33 and I like to build up my own studio, I’ve got a lot of experience from building up a small company, which way it can go, and how it grows up and I enjoyed that part of it.


DA. In many ways your style is synonymous with ILD, when I think of some of the ILD work, such as our Digit cover and the Ride Journal covers, it appears to be your work.

SJ. We had very few people at the start, only 2 bosses and me. We had to build up the style in the beginning, and this mainly came from myself, I used to do perhaps 50 percent of the companies jobs, and in particular: the more fun expressive jobs. For jobs like the Ride Journal covers, we didn’t do them for the budgets. They have quite small budgets, but they are good at getting your style out there, for building a reputation. So I was doing a lot of things to help develop the style, to make sure it was a cool company to work with.

Now they have so many good people working at ILD, when I leave- they can still be really good, the jobs will still roll in for them, but in the future I think the style could change a little for them.

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