From the heavens to your hands: making an app with Jasu Hu

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Jasu Hu's work often appears in the New York Times; she creates illustrations that capture a story in a single image. In contrast, while working with Tinybop, she made countless images to build an entire world in Weather, the sixth app in our Explorer's Library series. 

For Weather, Jasu took inspiration from the landscapes around us. The NYC-based illustrator writes, “for me, weather is not just about weather systems, it’s more of a vehicle for connecting the earth, humanity, and heaven.” In the app, her images combine ethereal mysteries of the skies with the atmospheric science behind them. It feels a little bit like she's put the heavens in our hands.

We asked Jasu a few questions about how she did it.

Can you talk about your process for Weather
Making Weather was quite different from work I’ve done for other clients. I’ve always done editorial work for magazines, newspapers, and annual reports. Everything was fast and text-oriented.

Weather was the first time I worked for more than three months with a group of talented people, listening to different perspectives, and thinking about kids’ interactions—it’s really amazing to see my artwork interacted with. I wrote more about the process here. Every task for Weather was challenging. I appreciated all the help from our team!

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Jasu (left) at work with Tinybop production designer Sarah Jacoby (middle), and product manager Colleen Hampton (right)

What were your inspirations for Weather
Every time people bring up the weather, it reminds me of my hometown. The fresh smell of the earth after rain, cicada sounds, frog sounds, and the fisherman relaxing on his little boat across the river. 

For me, weather is not just about weather systems, it’s more of a vehicle for connecting the earth, humanity, and heaven. Landscapes and environments bring me the biggest inspiration and emotions to my art process.

Tell us a bit about where you live. How does place affect your work? 
I work at my home and I do think place affects my work. I need a separate, private space for my brain to work. It has to be small, like a cube, so I can focus on my own emotions without being disturbed by too many other things.

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Jasu Hu's studio

Do you have a work ritual?
I have to write my to-do list the night before or the morning of the day and check off everything I do during the day. And I like cleaning everything, even when I get an urgent assignment. I think that helps me calm down and start concentrating on my own thoughts.

Where do you go for inspiration? 
My inspiration comes from lots of disciplines, and I like storing them in my memory palace. I like going to art museums and learning different perspectives from their works. Reading books helps me train my brain for conceptual thinking because I think inspiration is all about abstractions and connections.

What were some of your earliest influences? 
My earliest influences date back to the Chinese ink painting and calligraphy class I took when I was 3 or 4. I didn’t even know what I was drawing, but I enjoyed splashing lots of ink on the paper. After that, when I was using other mediums, I still loved a lot of flat colors and soft edges.

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The Return by René Magritte

In your field, whose work do you admire, and why?
It’s so hard to name all of them. I admire painters like René Magritte and Alex Katz, and sculptors like Louis Bourgeois and Antony Gormley for their explorations of humans, emotions, and space. In the illustration field, I like Lisbeth Zwerger for her beautiful compositions and emotional storytelling, Javier Jaén for his brilliant ideas and strong conceptual thinking, and Josh Cochran, Jon Han, Emiliano Ponzi for their vivid, unexpected scenarios!

What do you hope people take away from your work?
I hope people can feel emotions from my work, and like they’re going to a different world — an imaginary abstraction based on our reality.

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A scene drawn by Jasu Hu in Weather

What advice would you give to a young person?
Focus on what you love the most, and discover what you can do the best. Try different things and embrace different perspectives. Everything you do is connected. Find out how your connections work together, instead of measuring each of them individually.

What do you think is the most important or most exciting thing about illustrating for kids?
I think kids are our future. It’s important and exciting to show them interesting things in this world. It’s also great to see reactions from kids of different genders, races, and places and think about what we could do for our next generation.

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Play testers playing an early version on Weather

Where did you grow up? Was art a part of your childhood? 
I grew up in a small town in China, and spent most of my childhood with my grandparents in the countryside. I drew everywhere—on the wall and tables—with chalk and made them mad. Born a shy kid, art was a very important friend of mine that I could share emotions with that couldn't be told with words.

What are your favorite children's books now? 
I didn’t have a lot of picture books as a kid. Most of the children’s books I’ve read, I read in college. I admire Shaun Tan for his book, The Arrival, which encouraged me the most go to the west and explore new things.

What were your favorite books as a kid? 
Definitely the Harry Potter series. It opened up an entire magical world for me as a kid. I got so addicted to its characters and stories. As a Chinese kid, I had to read the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature in my childhood. Journey to the West is my favorite of all of them.

Thanks, Jasu! See more of her work in Weather and on her site. Read more interviews with artists here