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Conversations with the Inspiring Janis Ahn

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janis Ahn.

Janis, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My interest in anything visual started in my early teens after being gifted my first camera. I was ecstatic to shoot everything. Being part of a church community since I was a child, there were so many opportunities to shoot large events and shadow others. As most young teens, feeling lost and in the search for purpose and individuality, I found heavy refuge in capturing. It was an honor seeing people feel seen through my photos. I felt empowered by gifting people with memories. In my later teen years, with my steady interest in photography, I did neglect a ton of my studies, with a strange confidence that my future was in the visual arts. When I look back now, I wish I honored and took advantage of the privileges that I had of free education, but back then, I was just so fixated and pushed away what was unfamiliar to me.

I started my first year at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles in 2014, quickly growing a fascination in graphic design. The interest in graphic design sprouted from two separate interests in communication and visual arts. In college, I was able to learn not only how to make, but also the importance of history, community, and learning how to work collaboratively. During the summer of my last year in undergrad, one of my favorite instructors offered me my first ever internship for his advertisement agency. With a ton of fear and excitement, I was introduced into the working world. From there, I’ve worked as a designer for cultural institutions such as the Natural History Museum and SCI-Arc, both in Los Angeles.

I am currently a creative for Our Place, an ecommerce kitchenware company that focuses on the importance of home-cooking, gathering, and telling stories of tradition through our cultural collections. I was drawn to Our Place after witnessing the team’s mindfulness and care into what they do. Being a part of this team has challenged me to not only see my value in design, but also in various sectors of building a brand. Working for a start-up has had its challenges, but have all shown itself invaluable skillsets. It’s been really exciting coming into a company so close to its birth.

Alongside of developing exciting projects with Our Place, I’m an active freelancer. I make it an effort in my practice to build a community outside of my full-time job through design, collaborating with different companies or individuals who may have design needs.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Many challenges have come through the barriers I’ve built within myself. Some of those being my desire to please everybody, as well as the fear of how I’m perceived. I wrestle with holding onto times where uncomfortable moments happened in relationship to my race and gender, but I’m learning the importance of facing those events, understanding what had happened, and to be well equipped for anything that may happen in the future.

Advice I would give to young women entering into any working field is honored your boundaries, study, speak up, sit up straight (metaphorically and if you’re able, physically), and to trust yourself. As I’m still fresh into the working world, I always doubt myself and my abilities. I don’t think that’s entirely bad, as humility and an open mind to be mentored and guided is crucial, but it’s important to reflect on where there have been successful moments of learning and improvement and add that unto your belt of abilities. I’m learning that it’s important to have opinions and ask questions, as it’s a physical example of showing that you’re engaged and in a mindset to develop ideas, rather than watching from the sidelines.

I’m always working on learning how to handle difficult situations with respect for myself and others.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
I’m a graphic designer, sometimes a photographer. My main interest lies within the print design, as it’s so incredibly rewarding physically holding the product of your efforts and seeing others engage with your work outside of a digital space. I want to make sure my work is meaningful and makes an impact. Whether that’s in relationship to people’s rights, the environment, my faith, and more, I want to draw people in to care. I hope my work can help build that connection.

A fulfilling part of being a graphic designer is working through the challenges of visually communicating something purely imaginative or verbal. While graphic design is typically seen as a practical tool, the most exciting part is to break that mold and explore the line between fine art and practical communication art. Graphic design is transforming. It’s so fluid and open-minded. This community, especially in the city that I live in, is flourishing, offering resources, tools, and most importantly, friendships. I see graphic design as one of the most fundamental tools of our society, and I’m honored to be part of it.

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