WHEN Sheffield design agency The Cafeteria were commissioned by Museums Sheffield to find someone to create artwork for their China: Journey to the East at Weston Park Museum they knew just the chap to call - a designer in Manchester called Jonny Wan.
What they hadn’t guessed was that in addition to having Chinese heritage he fitted the bill in another respect - he was born in Sheffield and knew the museum well. At least so he thought. “I hadn’t been since it has been revamped,” he admits. “I just remember the Sumo wrestlers, everything else has changed.”
Wan grew up in the Sharrow area and his Hong Kong-born parents were in the fast food business, latterly running a takeaway in Fulwood. It was going to Nether Green Junior and then King Edward VII secondary school that his artistic side emerged, he says.
“Going through school I knew I wanted to do something creative but I couldn’t see a way of doing it,” he says. “Drawing for a living was something unheard of. When I went to Chesterfield College to do a foundation course I was exposed to a lot of different ways of working, both practical skills and traditional fine art, painting and sculpture.
“I was still a bit confused as to what I should do when I went to Manchester School of Art in 2005. In my third year I realised I worked best in illustration.”
Since graduating in 2008 he has worked as a freelance designer and illustrator in advertising, editorial, publishing, fashion and product design establishing a distinctive almost abstract style inspired by a fascination with shape, colour, texture and symmetry.
It is predominantly computer design. “A lot of my work at college was very traditional with pen and paper and I only really moved on to computers when I graduated,” he says. “It’s really necessary to speed up your work. In my personal work I still have a sketchbook.”
Recent projects have including collaborating with the Microsoft hardware team in the US to produce an illustration which would later be incorporated into a fully functioning mouse. Further underlining his international reach have been images for Russian business magazine Secret Firmy and Kult magazine in Singapore and a poster for Ford’s new SYNC system.
The brief for the China exhibition was to create a series of lead idents - five icons exploring the themes of the exhibition.
“I started with the Dragon which sits on all the promotional and marketing material from the posters to the banners and then I had to create banners for the gallery space indicating the key attributes of China’s history which is being explored - Language and Writing,, Food and Drink, Play and Performance, Festivals and Beliefs and finally Technology and Innovation.
One reason that Wan welcomed the commission was that he would be able to impress his parents “As the child of an Asian family there is the perception you have never quite got a job and it’s great I have got to do things like this.”
For him personally, it is something which represents both sides of his heritage. “It was weird growing up because outside the house my culture was English and inside it was Chinese and I guess I was straddling the line in between,” he says. China: Journey to the East continues at Weston Park until April 9.