An Exclusive Interview with Artist Jonathan D. Chang

Jonathan D. Chang is a talented and seasoned designer and illustrator based in the Los Angeles area, California. We asked him a few questions about his life and work.




Please introduce yourself

I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States when I was 3. I resided primarily in Los Angeles (San Gabriel Valley) and went to college at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I've been working in the toy and entertainment industries for several years doing illustration and design. Currently still reside in the Los Angeles area with my fiance, Debbie Lee, who is also an illustrator/designer, and our two cats, Jeni & Pickle.



(Photo/Jonathan D. Chang)



Q. When did you first realize that creativity and illustration would be the path that you wanted to follow in your life?

I always doodled and sketched since I was a kid to pass time. I was raised by a single mother and did not have any siblings. It was definitely one of my favorite hobbies.



Q. Do you have art studies, or were you self-taught?

I graduated from Art Center College of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration.



Q. What kind of projects have you worked on recently? What was the most challenging? The most rewarding?

Politics

Worked on Andrew Yang's 2020 campaign designing the majority of his campaign merchandise and created the Mini Yang animated version of him. The challenging part about working on a Presidential campaign is that things move very quickly, and as a designer you need to adapt and be able to execute quickly. Whether it be last minute merch, or thinking of a design that could possibly go viral to create hype around a product. The most rewarding part was seeing supporters posting photos of themselves wearing merch that I designed. It was also super exciting to see my Mini Yang animation become an unofficial mascot for the campaign.



Activism

I got involved with the #TheyCantBurnUsAll with China Mac and Will Lex Ham last year after I heard about the story of the grandmother in Bensonhurst NY who was set on fire. I designed the Proud AF to be Asian tee and the 'They Can't Burn Us All' apparel that China Mac and Will wore at the rallies in NYC, LA, and SF. Also designed the flyers for the movement to raise awareness for the events. The challenges for the movement in 2020 was that many people were not paying attention to Asian hate crimes at all. I was especially disappointed that at a time where everything was so politically charged around certain issues, Asian hate crimes were not being discussed at all via the media or people with large platforms.

Q. Some of your illustrations have been used in racial and anti-Asian hate protests around the country. Was there a positive and negative aspect?

When the Vicha Ratanapakdee portrait went viral, I got hundreds of dms from people asking if they could use my portraits on their flyers for their local protest, to putting it up on their college campuses, or to promote an upcoming rally. I told everyone the same thing. As long as the purpose is to raise awareness for these victims, and has no political agenda. They have my permission. The positive part was that many people got to hear about the wave of hate crimes and the faces and names of the victims. The negative aspect was that as soon as my illustrations started spreading, it was hard to control people from using my art to push their own political narratives. I have always maintained that my intention of the illustrations is to purely raise awareness, nothing more.



Q. Did you ever thought that you’d be an ‘artist - activist’ fighting for injustice?

I don’t consider myself an activist at all. I felt frustrated that when the most vulnerable members of our community gets attacked, the media is silent and no one talks about it or gives the cases any importance. I wanted to put a face to these stories in hopes that people would read about what happened and who the victims behind the story were.



Q. Can you talk about the fundraising for #StopAsianHate?

After hearing the story of Xiao Zhen Xie (the bay area asian grandmother that fought off her attacker) I made a quick 2d animation loosely based on her to pay tribute to her bravery and posted it on instagram. The post went viral and people were sharing it all over. Many of the comments were of people asking me to make it into a tshirt. I was hesitant since I did not want to profit off of grandmas getting beat up. The thing that changed my mind about selling the tees was a dm I got from a follower on instagram. She tipped me off that a realtor from the Bay Area was posting my illustration on his facebook feed with my name cropped off, telling people to put the image on a tshirt to make a quick buck. I did a quick google search and there were already some people selling tees with screengrabs of my animation. This angered me and pushed me to put the t-shirt out officially with all of the profits being donated back to support the Asian community. After I got the permission of the grandmother and her family, the project was a go. They family chose to donate the profits to the #StopAsianHate Aapi Community Fund by Gofundme. I was so grateful to work with Stephanie Tran & Alan Phung from Town Print Shop, an Asian-owned bay area print shop to handle the tee production. They donated all of their labor taking orders and screen-printing all the shirts and shipping. Toward the middle of the fundraising, we decided to incorporate stickers to each tee purchase. We were lucky to get the help of Emily Lonetto with last minute sticker production. We only took pre-orders for 7days and at the end of the campaign, we made $37,968 which went directly to the aapi fund. Our donation put us on the list of “Top Donators” among celebrities and big brands.



Q. What or who inspires you? My mom (Annie Chow) has always inspired me. She came to the United States in her 20s after the sudden passing of my father in Taiwan. She brought me over to the United States when I was 3 years old with no money in her pocket. She started by cleaning windows and getting coffee for people for Escrow and Real Estate companies. She stayed late learning the trade and educating herself. Eventually she became a top Escrow officer and eventually ran her own company. Despite her hardships she was able to raise me and put me through college. Her resilience has always inspired me to do better and catch myself if I start to complain about things.



Q. What is your favorite style?

I can’t narrow it down to one, but I have a few. As far as traditional painting I’ve always been a fan of the alla prima work of John Singer Sargent. I grew up in the 90s consuming all sorts of video games and media. Really influenced by the work of game studios like Capcom (creator of Street Fighter). I’m a huge fan of high quality traditional 2d animation as well.



Q. What is your favorite work and why?

Currently my favorite work right now is the character design I did of Xiao Zhen Xie. The story of how she fought back was really inspiring, especially in times where Asian elders have been getting assaulted non stop. The piece was more uplifting and very different from the current portraits of victims I have been doing. I really enjoyed watching people use the illustration on their rally signs and even draw their own fan art versions of it. The piece also led to the creation of the tee shirt that so many people purchased to support the AAPI community.



Q. Do you have a dream collaboration?

I would love to do something with Nike, Vans, and street wear companies. I love seeing people wearing my illustrations on them.



Q. What is next for you?

Hopefully to grow as a designer and illustrator. There’s always so much to improve and learn.






"Had to illustrate what I saw the other day when I was stuck in traffic. An elderly Asian man tripped on the sidewalk and collapsed on the floor. An elderly Black man quickly got out of his truck and gave him a helping hand. We need this type of energy in the world more than ever." – Jonathan D. Chang



(The people demand #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd // Jonathan D. Chang)




(Yao Pan Ma (61) // Jonathan D. Chang)


(Otto and Pickle // Jonathan D. Chang)



(Otto!! // Jonathan D. Chang)





(Frug // Jonathan D. Chang)




(Andrew Yang 2020 Animations//Jonathan D. Chang)



(Andrew Yang 2020 Merch//Jonathan D. Chang)



(#TheyCantBurnUsAll project // Jonathan D. Chang)




(Portraits #StopAsianHate #AAPI // Jonathan D. Chang)





About the Artist: Jonathan D. Chang is a seasoned illustrator in the toy and entertainment industries based in the Los Angeles area, California. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, he began to notice the national rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, and has since emerged as an upcoming Designer and Illustrator with work that has been seen and worn nationally. You can see more of his work on his website.