Meet The Illustrator: Olana Janfa

Name: Olana Janfa

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Expressive, colourful, joyful, humorous, innocent, free, simple.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
I mostly paint, so I use acrylic paint, brushes, timber boards, hair dryer. And music, always music.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I generally work with acrylic paint on recycled timber board. 

Working with old, discarded timber gives my work interesting character and means that every piece is slightly different. 
I prefer things that aren’t perfect.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
I have been most inspired by the Ethiopian Orthodox artwork that I saw in the church growing up. This style of art has really influenced the way that I approach colour. I also get a lot of inspiration from African and Jamaican street art.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
I would love to visit New York City in the 1970s and 1980s during the era of Basquiat. The creative energy of that time for music, art and fashion seems cool to me.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I started painting in 2018. I met an artist on holidays, and it motivated me to start drawing and painting. I had never learned any kind of art before, not even in primary school, so I was starting from zero. I taught myself and gradually developed my own style over time. I was very obsessed with painting and did it every day, which meant I learned a lot in a short time. I recently illustrated a children’s book for Pan Macmillan called ’29 Things You Didn’t Know About Me’ by Solli Raphael. This was my first time illustrating professionally and was a really fun process. I hope I can do more in the future.

 Can you share a photo of your creative workspace or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
This is a photo of me working in my studio. Not long after I first started to paint, I cleared out some space in an old shed in the garden at my home and created my own space to paint. I love having a space at home to work. It’s quiet and peaceful and inspires me to work more, any time of the day.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

I really enjoy working collaboratively to understand the writer’s vision and communicate a story. My work is usually very solitary, so this is a nice change for me. Working like this allows me to approach the work differently, create new ideas and push myself into new areas.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
To achieve a good outcome, the process requires open communication and a good relationship with the publisher, and I was lucky to have this in my process with Pan MacMillan. It’s important to be flexible and make changes quickly but you shouldn’t feel like you have to change your style. I feel lucky that I have been encouraged to do things my way and stay true to my art.


Olana Janfa is a self-taught artist based in Melbourne. Born in Ethiopia, he began painting to connect with his culture and create a sense of home. Taking stylistic cues from traditional Ethiopian Orthodox art and African street art, Janfa presents his often-humorous take on the world through themes of family, sport, popular culture and the migrant experience.

For more information, please visit Olana’s website or follow him on instagram

September 8, 2022 at 12:53AM Katrin Dreiling