Joanna Zhou


Joanna Zhou is an award-winning manga artist and graphic designer. A graduate of Central St Martins and Chelsea College of Art & Design, she specialises in on-trend character design, packaging, web-design, Japanese street fashion and manga illustration.

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How did you begin exploring your ideas for your Momiji dolls? I love looking through Japanese fashion magazines to get inspiration for different styles and colour palettes. I try to find ideas which are new but are on their way to becoming a bigger trend. For instance, my first few collections of dolls were heavily inspired by a niche street-style called "kigurumi" (japanese animal pyjamas), which promptly turned into the "onesie" craze a few years later!

What’s your usual way of working; do you sketch first or immediately create digital files? I always doodle my initial ideas using a black biro pen. I deliberately work very small (2-3cm) so it's easy to see at a glance whether the overall shape of the doll is working or not. Then I pick out the ones which I like best and draw them larger so I can add detail on the clothing. This gets scanned and then turned into a digital file for colouring.  

What was your favourite part of the design process? My favourite part is the very early stage of sketching ideas because there's no pressure to get things looking perfect. It's mostly about finding themes or shapes, and I love that moment when I make a doodle and realise that it would look adorable as doll!

Tell us about your workspace. Do you design in a specific place or do you find it easy to work anywhere? I definitely like working from home because I do my best work when surrounded by absolute chaos. My desk is so messy that I often end up drawing and inking on top of my tablet, and various books or papers open for reference. Needless to say, I prefer working alone to escape any judgement from most normal people who won't be able to tolerate the mess :P. 

Tell us about a typical work day. I get up fairly late (as explained later), usually around 10-11am. Then I answer emails for an hour or so, especially any from the USA or China which would've come in during the night. I have breakfast/lunch around 12 and then continue doing admin work or packaging orders until 3-4 (I run the online shop for my jewellery brand Maqaroon). In the afternoon I head out to the post office and complete any errands. Almost half of my workday actually takes place after dinner because I find that is the best time to focus on creative work. The day is over, there's no need to worry about grocery shopping, cooking, appointment times and far fewer distractions like calls, emails, etc. So between 10pm and 2am, I usually concentrate fully on creative things, like designing new pieces, filming craft tutorials, making jewellery etc. This means I end up going to bed about 2:30am so I still get an average amount of sleep!

What would you say are the most important characteristics for anyone wanting to work in design? A love for contemporary pop/media culture, never missing deadlines and the ability to handle criticism without taking it personally. In my entire career, I discovered that taking deadlines seriously is actually the single most important criteria that contributes to being a successful artist/designer.  

In the movie of your life which song would be the title track on the soundtrack? I love the song 10,000 Hours by Macklemore. It perfectly captures the ambition, struggle and pride of trying to make a living in art. The title is a reference to Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favourite authors and whose books have been a huge inspiration when building my business. 

In the kitchen, what’s your speciality dish? I'm quite proud of my cookie skills! When I lived in London I was addicted to Millie's Cookies (which I still think are amazing) so when I moved back to Austria I was forced into learning how to bake my favourite ones :).

If you could live in any other city in the world where would you choose and why? Without a nanosecond of hesitation, it would definitely be Tokyo! I have never felt happier or more at home than when I was in Tokyo. Almost everything I do is inspired by kawaii art and Japan, so I feel indebted to the culture that enables me to do a job I love!

Friday nights or Sunday mornings? After having had my 30th birthday, it's most certainly Sunday mornings now!

Who are your design heroes? Takashi Murakami, Tom Dixon, Charlotte Olympia, Simone Legno (TokiDoki), Ludovic Jacqz, Muxxi, Ruben Ireland just to name a few!

What are your favourite magazines? Monocle, ComputerArts, Popteen, Gothic Lolita Bible, Mollie Makes

Thanks, Joanna!