Q+A: Rachel Joanis On Illustrating Diversity

Rachel Joanis, the founder of Rachel Joanis Illustrations, is a talented artist living in Toronto. FAULHABER recently partnered with Rachel to bring our customized holiday campaign to life. As somebody of mixed-race heritage, she understands the significance of representation and the importance of seeing yourself reflected in art and media. Her art includes people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and sizes to help promote equal representation and inclusivity.  Read her Q+A below, where she dives into the steps brands can take to create a diverse content strategy, the effect the Black Lives Matter movement has had on her work, and who her dream illustration would be.

Q: How did you get into art & design? 

A: Art has always been my passion. Since I can remember, I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but growing up it was never something that I thought I could do as a career. I grew up taking art classes, and I worked as an assistant teacher at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in high school – art always been a part of my life growing up.

My university experience was also pivotal. I had amazing professors for the various art courses I took at Toronto Metropolitan University. Studying art history there was honestly life-changing for me. I always had a deep appreciation for art, but this course really brought home to me how important it was to always have art in my life, front and centre. I adored taking illustration classes and then progressing into digital illustration, where I began to feel like I had found my calling. It felt like so many opportunities to express myself where opening up — I had a flood of creativity once I was able to learn the basics of the programs.

In my final year of University, I started working as a freelance illustrator and designer. Beginning with doing illustrations for free, I began slowly building up a client base and then growing it until I was able to sustain myself illustrating full time.



Q: What/who inspires you daily?

A: As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, I’m continually inspired by my family and friends, fellow creatives, and designers. I also find inspiration scrolling through portfolio platform sites such as Dribbble & Behance and seeing all the amazing work that other creatives have published.

I’m definitely inspired by current events; reading about what’s going on in the world always gives me new ideas for something to illustrate. I also have an “inspiration” folder on my computer that I’m constantly adding to; it’s full of photos and illustrations/paintings, news articles, screenshots taken during movies, quotes, etc. It’s truly a never-ending mood board.



Q: Diversity and representation have been the forefront for companies this year, being a graphic designer and content creator, what do you recommend companies do when thinking through a content strategy?

A: I think the place for companies to begin is to look inward — having a diverse team is so important when you’re putting out messages or campaigns that talk about the importance of inclusion and representation. Make sure you’re authentic and have done the work in-house. That means having a diverse workforce for starters.

Having a diverse team may pose challenges to companies, but in the long run it can only be beneficial. Having people with different backgrounds and perspectives can help identify biases; it will help companies increase their level of cultural sensitivity and among other things, avoid PR blunders. Working with a diverse team of employees from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and viewpoints will also drive innovation and creativity and broaden the exchange of ideas within a company.

I think it’s important for brands to do their homework — take steps to make sure you’re knowledgeable about the customer group you’re targeting and understand the cultural identity and concerns of the base you’re trying to connect with.

Making sure that you’re using inclusive copy is also important — for example, using gender-neutral pronouns, avoiding stereotyping gender roles, and so on.



Q: You’ve stated that “The majority of your work focuses around women, and promoting different ethnicities and body types, to help further inclusivity and promote equal representation” –   why is this important to you?

A: As a person of mixed-race heritage, I know firsthand the importance of representation, and the significance of seeing yourself reflected in art and media. As an artist, I feel a responsibility but also a natural desire to make sure my work includes people of different ethnicities and all sizes.

I know what it’s like to not see oneself reflected in the media — in movies, ad campaigns, magazines — and while my role in trying to address broader issues of racial inequality may be small, I recognize how each instance of representation can have a profound effect on how people from minority groups are seen, and how they see themselves.


Q: What has been your favourite project to work on?

A: I’ve been so fortunate to work on projects I never would have dreamed that I would be a part of and partner with brands that I’ve grown up with and have long admired.

One project that stands out for me was illustrating FASHION Magazine’s S/S19 Trend Report, which was a dream come true. Fashion illustration is always my favorite type of drawing to do, and it was so much fun to illustrate the clothes and models from shows that I’d been obsessing over! The editor that I was working with gave me a tremendous amount of creative freedom to illustrate in my own style and experiment with the background elements and colors. I felt like I was really able to push boundaries and appreciated that she trusted me so much.

The commission came right during my winter holiday, and I was illustrating in the airport, on planes, trains, and at the home where I was visiting, but I would not have wanted to miss that opportunity for anything. Flipping through the spread once the magazine was released was really exciting. We were later nominated for a National Magazine award in the illustration category, which was one of my proudest moments. I was thrilled for the magazine and delighted that our work together was so well received.



Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: I love my morning routine — it helps me feel centered and sets me up for a productive day. As a freelancer, I’m always juggling a number of different projects, ranging from illustration to packaging design, logo design, meetings (now via video-conference), administrative tasks, and more. I love the variety because it keeps things interesting, but the lack of structure and consistency in my work day leads me to rely that much more on a stable start.

I never used to be a morning person, but in the last year I’ve started to enjoy waking up early and having a quiet apartment to myself. I always try and fit in a short exercise or yoga session before walking the dog. I usually settle into work by about eight o’clock.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living, so it always feels like time flies during the day. Before I know it, it’s time to make dinner with my partner and have some uninterrupted time together at the end of the day.

Q: How has this year affected your work life?

A: This has turned into my busiest year for commissions. Because a lot of agencies couldn’t have in-person photo shoots with live models, a lot of them turned to illustration for their ads and other campaigns. In the process, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of incredibly talented art directors who’ve had to get really creative to still put out dynamic work in the midst of a pandemic.

As a freelancer, working from home hasn’t been an adjustment for me, but not being able to go out and see friends or have experiences outside with other people has meant the lines between work and relaxation can get blurred. This past year I feel like I’m working nonstop.

It’s hard for me to reconcile with this, but the momentum from the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death has led many companies and agencies to pay closer attention to who they have in their boardrooms and on their staff and who is representing their brand — and in many cases to take steps to diversify. I feel like this has afforded me so many opportunities this year, which I’m grateful for, but the fact that these opportunities arose from such horrific circumstances is not lost on me.

It’s also been incredible to watch so many talented BIPOC creatives and entrepreneurs have their work highlighted and pushed to the forefront.

In general, I feel very lucky to be busy and have plenty of work when I know this has been an incredibly hard year for so many people.



Q: Is there anyone you’re dying to do a portrait of?

A: Michelle Obama has long been on my list.



Q: What will you be doing this holiday season?

A: Like most, this year will be a lot different than past holiday seasons. Instead of visiting my partner’s family in Ireland for Christmas, we’ll be staying home this year and trying to recreate the Christmas he’s used to as best we can in our apartment.

I am Jewish, so this is my first time having a Christmas tree and decorations, which takes some getting used to, but my goal is to create that sense of home and holidays for my partner.


Check out more of Rachel’s work on her Instagram.