Meet Jeannie Phan, an editorial illustrator residing in Toronto, Canada, with her furry best friend, Odin. Jeannie immediately captured our hearts with her picture-worthy and plant-filled apartment when we stumbled upon her on Instagram. Then we realized that she is also an amazing illustrator with a cult following. Swoon.
Headshot by Dawn Kim
Name: Jeannie Phan
Location: Toronto, Canada
Occupation: Freelance Illustrator
Favorite Plant: Strelitzia nicolai (Giant White Bird of Paradise)
Can you share a little bit of background about yourself?
I’m above all, an artist, which explains why I can’t help but keep my hands moving and picking up things like plant care, home organization (or really, just the obsessive re-arranging of bric-a-brac) and DIY projects. If you’re into the Meyers-Briggers personality typing, I’m an INTJ, but far from a mathematician.
Originally, I’m from a small city in the prairies of Canada (Winnipeg), born from immigrant parents who brought us up on resourcefulness and appreciation of the outdoors. Although, I’d say I’m a definite late-bloomer in the latter, to the surprise of many! Currently, I hang out in the bustling city of Toronto with my feline best friend, Odin, and an uber supportive life partner. I work, live and grow in a home
Can you share a little bit about your art?
Sure, my art has developed from being highly ornate to now a body of work that appreciates the simpler forms of people, objects, and places. Hilariously, unlike my personal life, which is buttered in neutrals, my art is colourful, bathed in saturated primaries and overlayed with the colours inbetween. I’m an optimistic person with a dark sense of humour and I like to think my work radiates some of that, particularly with my personal series. To get to the nitty gritty, I’m primarily an editorial illustrator that draws for publications globally. But I also do work in advertising and have a few influencer
campaigns under my belt (I love social media!).
What’s a secret skill you have?
I have an incredible ability to forget birthdays.
What’s the best present you’ve given or received?
You know, I have to say when my friend Justine (@patternsandportraits) gifted me with my very first plants, which were two succulents I couldn’t even tell you the name of. I killed one overnight by suffocating it bare-root in a bag (yup…) and the other rotted. I give huge thanks to Justine and my other friend Elaine for really planting the seed with this whole plant obsession. If it wasn’t for that gift and a huge stubbornness to redeem myself, I probably wouldn’t be as big of a plant nerd. Thanks Justine!
If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?
My cat Odin, of course!! I have a thing where I don’t put a lot of value in physical objects so everything can burn, and so long as my loved ones are safe, that’s all I need. But alright, if I had to pick something physical, I’d grab my hard drive because it’s the lifeline to my work and an archive of a lot of priceless photos.
What’s on your to-do list today?
Work out. I’ve been really into fitness this year (after years of failed attempts) and valuing self care. Not only is being a freelance illustrator mentally straining, but it physically chips away at your body from hours of drawing at a table. So every day I’ll either go for a walk, jog, or pump some iron.
What is your favorite plant and why?
Strelitzia nicolai (Giant White Bird of Paradise) because it’s one of my oldest surviving tropicals. It was with me when I was a budding plant enthusiast not knowing what it wanted and stuck by when I became better versed with plants. Thankfully, like a trooper, it survived our move and grows bigger (it’s over 6ft tall!) and even prouder. The giant paddles for foliage strelitzia have are no short of majestic. It transcends me into a different world and I’ll often just sit and stare at it while having my morning coffee.
Do you have a “green thumb”? Not naturally, no. People are always surprised when I say I’m a former plant murderer because my mom had a beautiful garden, and I show my love for plants like we’ve been best friends since grade school. But, it just goes to show that anyone can learn the language of plants and appreciate nature, even if it’s not woven within their DNA.
Any plant care tips you can share?
Shower your plants one a month. Much less often for dessert plants of course, but your tropicals, like your garden plants, appreciate some “rain” even if it’s not actually from the outdoors. It helps clear dust, flush out the soil, and keeps pests at bay. Good circulation and adequate light is key afterwards though! To properly dry out the soil.
What tops your houseplant wish list?
I’d love a variegated monstera deliciosa but I’m much more of a plant opportunist, so I gather plants I like when I see them and seldom “hunt” for them. I have enough plants as is!
When did you start illustrating?
I started freelance illustrating full-time in 2013 but I was drawing since I was a kid. I went to art school at OCAD University here in Toronto, and graduated in 2012 with a bachelors. After working at a concept shop/gallery on Queen West or about a year, I decided to dive into freelancing full-time. I started off doing layout design as a graphic designer, but lost interest in it so I finally pushed to just do art 100% of the time. And here I am today!
Do you have a favorite illustration or project?
Recently, it’s the Acqua di Parma influencer campaign I did where I visualized all the scents in their Blu Mediterraneo collection. This collection was inspired by natural botanical ingredients and I just couldn’t imagine a more perfect project to mesh my love of plants and art. You’ll see the sketches for this project pinned on my wall as a momento. They were also kind enough to send me all the perfumes, so you can catch me swimming in the scent of citrus fruit or figs almost everyday.
Any words of advice for those looking to do their passion full-time?
No risk, no reward. You can be strategic in finding a way to freelance full-time but don’t lay plans that are too concrete (because this is a profession that’s fluid) and don’t let it paralyze you. Sometimes, jumping in and learning to swim is the best way. One thing I also really want to stress is, when your passion becomes your job, the dynamics of this relationship shifts. I have classmates from art school that realize that they don’t actually want a career that involves drawing 24/7. They want to be strategic thinkers, or creative in another way. Look at the core ability of what you’re passionate about and be open minded in what skills that can be applied to and maybe that’s a 9-5 job, maybe not. Disregard the topical idealism certain freelance professions have because that shiny coating wears out quickly after a few years.