Interview | 7. Dec, 2017 - 10 min read

Jiji Knight

“I want my characters to be the person I wish I could have been sooner”

Jiji is an ambassador for body positivity. Her artwork turns the spotlight to girls of all shapes and sizes, all feeling fabulous and all having a chance to be perceived as gorgeous. Jijis’ good-vibed ladies represent chic, sassiness and girl power. Lately, we are noticing that the subject is receiving more media attention, but it’s still very much considered a marginal topic. So, it’s really uplifting seeing Jiji’s illustrations affecting the lives of young girls across the world.

In this fast-paced world stacked up with social labels, encouraging body positivity through art is an amazing thing if not a cause. Can you speak of the importance of body positive influence in your illustrations?

The body positive influence in my work means pretty much everything to me. As a little girl, I don’t think I can remember one single instance where I had the joy or pleasure of going, “Oh my gosh! She looks like me.” I instead had the very unfortunate experience of going, “I don’t look like any of these girls. Is something wrong with me?” And there was no body positive source to turn to in the media or in the art I had exposure to to make me feel like I was as perfect or pretty as the thinner girls. I can’t express the endless happiness it brings me every time people reach out to let me know how much my art has brightened their day. I get messages from girls saying how they feel beautiful or strong because they see that people with their body types can be portrayed as happy, confident and curvy, and that no compromise has to be made to get there.

“No more ifs, no more buts, no more of these almosts that pretty much all said the same thing: you’re so close but not good enough."

Does the sassiness of your characters come from the area you live in Las Vegas or your hispanic roots?

Living in Las Vegas isn’t as tough as most think! I grew up super normally: I used to scrape my knees in the street playing kickball with the neighbourhood kids, ride my bike until the streetlights came on, chase down the ice cream truck with my sister and cousin – supernormal. Like, American dream normal.

My Hispanic roots might have more of an influence on that sassiness though. You develop a thick skin when you grow up Hispanic, female, and fat. I grew up used to being compared to other members of my family, both near and distant. I grew up being told ‘you’re very pretty, but you’d be prettier if…’ My need, my desire for sassiness partially stems from killing those “ifs.” No more ifs, no more buts, no more of these almosts that pretty much all said the same thing: you’re so close but not good enough. Someone with sassiness, with fire in their heart, has the strength to crush an “if” under the heel of their boot or the palm of their hand. I want my characters to be the person I wish I could have been sooner to inspire people to be their own sassy character.

Your journey to the current style is quite interesting. The refreshingly bigger girls used to be quite thin. The influence of mangas is still apparent, but an impression of pinup and minimalism also made its way to your approach to style and color. How do you feel your work has developed through the years?

My style pretty much developed like everyone’s does: Frankensteining. You steal pieces of people that influence and move you and stitch them together until they start to heal. That patchwork became what I do today and I’m still stitching pieces to my style while editing out others. Somewhere along the way I just starting pulling up my own ideas to start adding into my style which is when my style really became mine.

“I can’t express the endless happiness it brings me every time people reach out to let me know how much my art has brightened their day."

Adorable and sassy characters from the MERMAY ‘17 collection and StrawberryMintWitchling seem to enwrap a theme you are most inspired by: mermaids and witches! Can you share more about your collections and inspirations behind them?

My collections are really just dictated by what I feel most impassioned by: magic, the unknown, and fantasy. I’ve always been utterly fascinated with witches and mermaids and that wonder around them grew with me instead of disappearing. My head never left the clouds. It was quite a revelation as an adult to realise I was allowed to still love and depict both of those subjects, and even more so, allowed to add to the lore and make new, exciting kinds of additions to each world.

Your illustrated ladies have different fashion styles and fantasy depictions. Do you ever get inspired to dress up like your characters?

Definitely! Although, I think it’s more 50/50. Half the time they kind of direct what I feel like wearing or what I decide to add to my closet but the other half of the time, I just put them in things I may already have, or own, or plan to own. For example, I have a rabbit hat in my closet I picked up at New York City Comic Con a few years back. And those who are familiar with my work see there’s this rabbit girl character that surfaces pretty frequently. She’s in part inspired by that hat.

There are many tasks beside the illustration work that freelance artists have to do. How busy are you with pre-orders and packaging?

Pretty busy! But running my store keeps me supported so I can keep making more work and things to sell. So I am happy to juggle freelance work with pre-orders and packing my own shop orders. It is so fun to be able to personally send off work to put into the hands of people who will appreciate it! And it’s even more fun to know I’ve made something they’re happy to display in their homes because it speaks to them on some level.

There have been stories from Hollywood that shook the entertainment world. It was refreshing to see good-natured stories in your social media posts that aren’t told by the traditional media as much.

It is important to remember that celebrities are people! So often we put people with large social media followings or film stars, musicians, on pedestals and forget they are human. And by forgetting they’re human, we tear them down as if it wouldn’t hurt them. That’s why it’s important to share these moments of simple humanity: as reminders. Luckily, there was a post going around Twitter from Scott Benson (@bombsfall) asking for completely neutral interactions people shared with celebrities.

I shared mine from sometime back, when I was attending Emerald City Comic Con as an assistant. I lucked out big time and ended up in a limo between Marina Sirtis (best known as Counselor Deanna Troi from Star Trek) and Scott Wilson (best known as Hershel Greene from The Walking Dead) and you’d think in front of some Plain Jane like me they’d try and seem important but they were just discussing LA real estate, family – really down-to-earth topics that literally any and every person discuss. It was so lovely to see this very charming interaction between colleagues, and a rare fly-on-the-wall experience people hardly ever get because the media constantly rockets celebrities into the stars and make us think they’re these unattainable deities.

Which artists do you like the most right now?

I can’t pick just one favourite! I admire all of my friends 1000%. If I had to list out some artists that I look up to though, it’d definitely have to be Babs Tarr, Sibylline Meynet, Audrey Kawasaki, Shardula (Mall), Annie Wu, Alisa Vysochina, Meyoco, Maruti-Bitamin (Koyamori) – and I could literally go on and on. I think what I adore most about them is that at a glance, you can literally discern their work from a sea of art. They’re all super confident not only in their style, but what they want their body of work to reflect. It’s beautiful.

Are there any other important causes you are passionate about?
How do you feel after taking part in Inktober challenge?

Exhausted! And embarrassed since I only lasted a week whereas last year I held out nearly the entire month. But it was my choice of subject matter that drained me far too quickly. I’ve always been equally fascinated and fearful of death, so getting introspective about it on paper really took it’s toll. But I am hopeful for next year!

I actually had to create a separate page on my blog to direct people to in terms of my tattoo policy! My policy in a nutshell though is I’m happy to say yes! I am okay with people getting my work tattooed on them so long as I get to see the product in progress/finished, I’m actively credited, and of course a small design use fee is paid. It’s super fun to see people get my work done on them and I always feel super super flattered and honoured whenever I see someone get a tattoo of any of my pieces. To know that this person felt so connected with something I made they want it on them for the rest of their life is absolutely overwhelming and wondrous.

How have Instagram and other social media affected your business?

Definitely overall Instagram, Twitter, and all my other social medias have had a really positive impact on my work thus far! Especially since people are so lovely and tag their friends on things I make and word of mouth has just helped.

We are very happy you became a part of Lake. What made you go with us?

When Lake reached out to me, they told me they didn’t really have any work like mine! And I felt very happy to be able to bring my body positive ladies to such a fun colouring platform for people to enjoy. Not only that, Lake has possibly the biggest collection of artists’ styles I have ever seen! It’s this massive, amazing library where people can literally find anything and everything to colour. It’s the coolest.

Who is Lake for?

Everyone. Even if you think you’re too old to learn to use a tablet! Lake is so intuitive and simple to use. It’s for people from all walks of life, all ages, and for just anyone who likes to sit down and colour.

Any final thoughts for those who are also starting to make their way as artists?

I have three pieces of advice.

The first is plain and simple: Practice makes perfect. It may be the oldest advice out there but it’s so old because it is tried and true. Pencil miles go a long long way. Draw everything, and anything, because it’ll only benefit you in the long run.

My second piece of advice: Draw from life. Doing ‘master studies’ of artists you admire is great, sure, but you end up copying a lot of stylistic choices when you do that. If you draw from life, you’re drawing from the source of inspiration and from the purest subject form. It’ll give you a chance to make your own stylistic choices as you find yourself and will ensure you don’t copy someone else’s mistakes.

And finally: push through it. I know from personal experience I carried a lot of self-doubt, and still do sometimes, but the only way to get to the other side and keep going is to push through it and believe in what you do. You can do it!

Jiji’s art pack is now available in Lake.

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