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Ellen Jin Over is an art director, visual development artist, and illustrator. She’s also our featured artist in this quarter’s Illustrator Gallery! Her work has appeared on televisions all over the world for the last 20 years. Spirit Riding Free, now on Netflix, is her latest project. Before that, she was art director on Disney’s Tinkerbell movies for nine years.

She didn’t always know what she wanted to do with her life until her senior year in high school pushed her to figure it out. “I got lucky that my long-forgotten childhood obsession of drawing and making paper dolls suddenly came back to my mind one day and I decided to major in art. After studying illustration at Otis, I stumbled upon a job interview for a position in an animation company.” The rest is history! Her program of choice is Adobe PhotoShop, something we tend to think of for editing photos, not creating illustrations, but Ellen does beautiful things with it! She tells us more in the interview below.

Sarah Parker-Lee: How did you choose to use Photoshop over other programs?

Ellen Jin Over: Photoshop has been around for 30 years. When I was going to school in the early 90’s, that was the only computer software that was available for students at Otis School of Art and Design. It was mostly for graphic designers. It just happened that illustrators like me found it useful to create images too…Photoshop started to be used more in some animation studios for digital paintings [in the] late 90’s.

There are many painting software today such as Painter, Coral Painter, Illustrator, etc–some for professionals and some for “regular Joe” doodling. I just have not found any other software that is comparable to Photoshop. It’s fast and easy.

SPL: Do you only work digitally or do you do any hand drawing? What do you think are the benefits of each?

EJO: I do 90% of my painting in PhotoShop and 10% in a traditional medium.

Photoshop has no downtime, such as drying time or prep time. I can sit down in front of the computer and start working right away. I have an “undo” button that I can use up to 100 times to undo my mistakes. I can come up with many variations without too much effort.

But there is still something about traditional painting that is so beautiful and spiritual. You end up with an “original” painting that you could have art shows with and sell. The traditional also takes more time to render. Materials are expensive. There is no “undo” button.

SPL: Do you have any tutorials or other resources you can recommend to someone who wants to learn PhotoShop?

EJO: Hm…tough one…I have never used tutorials before for myself. I always play with software until I find what I need.  YouTube has so much material…I would teach everyone if I had time.

SPL: How has working in animation influenced your other illustration projects?

EJO: Animation is another form of illustration, in a way, in my opinion. It is all about creating the look and feel of a story, whether it is a short format (ex: book or magazine illustration) or long format (animation). Over the years, I art directed various styles of animation projects. It goes from He-Man: Masters of Universe to Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast. The characters, environments, and atmosphere that I create for each show has to be illustrated in a way that appeals to certain age groups, gender, or culture. I research and study the subject matter and create images that talk to the audience. All this practice over the years made me a visual storyteller. And I can express humor, emotion, and a story in my one page illustration. I think people like my work because they see [that] in my paintings.

SPL: Any advice for illustrators who would like to get involved in animation as well?

EJO: The biggest challenges that illustrators face when trying to get into animation…is that they need to understand their portfolio needs to look like [an] animation portfolio. Animation majors from animation colleges have a very specific look. It will help immensely to look at “Art of…” books from Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar, or any of the major animation companies. What you see in there is what the recruiters are looking for too: style, subjects, and techniques!

To learn more about Ellen’s work, check out her website, www.ellenjin.com, and find her on www.squareup.com/store/over-and-over.



For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies


All images provided by Ellen Jin Over.