ADC’s Illustration Month is off to a great start this week! If you haven’t been paying attention, Illustration Month is where we shine a spotlight on ADC Members who consider themselves illustrators, whether professionals, students or just really keen amateurs. The common thread is that they have a passion for drawing that just couldn’t be contained.
If you’ve been following ADC over the past few months, you’d be familiar with at least one illustration by today’s featured ADC Member; she’s the Brooklyn-based artist who created the poster for ADC’s wildly successful Holiday Bazaar!
Just about every kid can draw, but not every kid is particularly gifted at it. Where did your childhood artistic inclinations come from?
Although born to a scientist couple, I have been always drawing in my life. I did pretty well in math, physics and biology at school, but my favorite parts about those courses are actually drawing geometry problems, electronic wire connections, as well as all of the experiments on plants and animals, which is what my early illustrations were like. I was also the person in charge of the blackboard drawing in the classroom, the newspaper drawing at school, and other similar things in any period of my school life until I started a real art major in college. I also used to take commissions to draw famous cartoon characters on my classmates’ school uniforms, because I could draw exactly like the real one. My parents always secretly wanted me to do something more related to science, but very fortunately they actually supported me to go to art school. And here I am, an illustrator!
When did you discover that “Hey, this could actually be a career”?
I never wanted to do anything else other than making a living through my creative artistic talent. My only problem is I had to learn a lot real life lessons after graduation since I was an art nerd back in school who was only interested in exploring art history, contemporary art and finding myself. In addition, the fact that I went to an art program in China for my undergraduate and then an art graduate school program in America actually makes my exploration also about culture, which is very hard yet interesting.
“I never wanted to do anything else other than making a living through my creative artistic talent.”
How would you best describe your style? Do you fight against having a particular style, or do you embrace your style as your “brand”?
My friend describes me as an illustrator whose work looks exactly herself as a human being. I really like that and I think it means that my work is a direct interpretation of myself: vivid color, sometimes a lot going on, funny and delicious! My style comes naturally and I absolutely embrace my style as my brand. I am even thinking about expanding it more to a product level.
Walk us through your usual creative process.
For regular illustration assignments, first step I print out the email and study the request. Then I will Google reference images and put them into tiny windows all over my iMac screen. After that I draw a tiny sketch according to all my reference pics. Next I take a photo with my phone and send it into Photoshop and refine my sketches until they’re good enough for the art director to review. I then wait for the response, do adjustments and finalize my sketch, making line work and add color. I sometimes refine my sketches directly with Photoshop and Wacom, sometimes with a pencil and light box. For line work and color, I started out with pen and Photoshop, but now more and more I work directly in Illustrator, beccause I love perfect lines!
Tools of the trade: do you have any specific pens, pencils or other instruments that you swear by?
I have a Pentel Graph Gear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil that I love. I feel uncomfortable drawing ideas with any other pencil or tool. Another favorite is just Adobe Illustrator. I am obsessed with the Pen Tool!
“I have a Pentel Graph Gear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil that I love. I feel uncomfortable drawing ideas with any other pencil or tool.”
What is the most challenging thing about a career in illustration?
Trying to not freak out about the fact you have to always find that next project!
Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?
The illustration I made for BellyKids about the pie eating contest scene from the movie Stand By Me. I always love to work on illustrations related to food and character, but a scene about everybody vomiting their food, are you kidding me? It was super hard already watching that scene over and over again. But I am very happy about the result, cause I think it looks definitely fun and not so gross (you tell me?).
Another very satisfying project is the poster I made for the ADC Holiday Bazaar. It pleased me so much, since I had just started to sell my own product, and by doing the poster I imagined all kinds of fun and happy customers — it was like drawing my daydream!
Cocktail party talk: how do you describe what you do to someone who isn’t in a creative field, and what’s the typical response you get from them?
Most of my English speaking friends are in creative-related industries, and thus understand me as someone who make cute pictures, and I think that’s good enough. But most of my Chinese friends are not creative, and sometimes when I say “illustration” in Mandarin — “Cha Hua” — they think I do flower arrangements, since those two have a very close pronunciation.
Where do you most often seek out creative inspiration?
I basically find my inspiration from my daily life, which is focused on food, drama stories and jokes. I am also very interested in fashion, especially the kind with a lot of color and patterns going on. Last but not least: I am obsessed with famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Alex Katz and many more.
Which professional illustrators do you look up to and why?
God there are too many!! My heroes are masters like Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, as well as younger generations includes FriendsWithYou, Mike Perry, Andy Rementer and many more, whoever is telling interesting stories and crossing disciplines. I also love the wisdom of Chris Ware!
At the end of the day, what do you love most about being an illustrator?
Making pictures is just satisfying, I think I look slightly cuter in the mirror every time after finishing some happy work.
Illustration Month continues throughout January, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!