Duration: Five months.
Location: Shanghai, China.
Education: BA in graphic design from the Communication University of China, Beijing, China; MA in graphic communication design from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, London, United Kingdom.
Career path: Back in 2018, I was working as a graphic designer when I realized I would be more interested in illustrating. But it was quite difficult to make the decision to go freelance as an illustrator. At the beginning, you cannot be 100 percent sure how other people would like your work—or if you could land clients month after month. I was also very self-conscious about the immaturity of both my technique and my method; I felt the need to discover a unique visual language that I was comfortable with and that belonged only to me. So I decided to go to London to study at Central Saint Martins, where I could have access to good learning resources and hopefully have some interesting encounters! During my studies, I worked on editorial commissions and garnered recognition. Right now, I am allowing myself more time to prepare before I really start my career.
Artistic influences: I studied and practiced graphic design for six years, and my experience in this industry has a fundamental influence on my approach. And I mean this not only as a preference for modernist aesthetics. In my illustration process, I care a lot about how different shapes work together and their relationships with other objects. I try not to fill in blanks with meaningless things—I’m always selective. Sometimes I feel like I’m curating an image collection in my head, holding onto the home decor at my friend’s place or the colors of a sunset in the Shanghai district of West Bund. I pick out details from daily scenes and use them as I work.
Favorite projects: The KOI Let’s Fall in Love beer label design for Tokyo restaurant Junjo Izakaya Kura. The brief was to illustrate a Chinese word that reflects the purity of romance, youth and idealism. At the time, I was reading the novel The Baron in The Trees by Italo Calvino, and I felt like the spirit of the book was a good starting point. I drew a boy on a tree who seemed like he was endlessly looking for something. But then I thought that might be too abstract for the audience, so I expanded the narrative into a two-image scene depicting a romance beginning at first sight. The project allowed me the most possible creative freedom, and I think that is the reason why the beer has come out to be a unique product that is liked by many.
Work environment: Physically, I’ve been working in different public places. Whether in London, New York or Shanghai, I’m most likely to be spotted at different cafés, libraries or hotel lounges working; my favorite is the Barbican Centre performing arts hall in London! This also acts as my way to explore a city. I feel like being a freelance designer and illustrator is like being a traveling salesman, and I enjoy this concept of nomadic working. I think many of us have dreamt of working internationally—not necessarily working overseas but breaking boundaries to make connections and collaborations. While it’s not an easy thing to achieve, I’m trying to make my life closely reflect this vision as possible.
Aspirations: Ideally, the breakdown of my work would be 30 percent editorial work for magazines and publishers, 50 percent commercial work for brands and campaigns, and 30 percent collaborative work with my friends. I want to stay always open to different types of work and keep up the energy to produce personal projects.
Philosophy: To produce something I enjoy. It’s as simple as that.