The Way I Talk to the World, NYC-Based Illustrator Hannah Li

Hannah Li is an international award-winning illustrator originally from China. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with MFA in Illustration. Her work has often described as whimsical, dreaming, and optimistic. She received recognition from Red Dot. Society of Illustration, 3×3 Illustration, Illustration West, American Illustration, Japan Illustrators’ Association, etc. Her selected clients include The New York Times, Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar Germany. Hannah’s work showcased internationally in the United States, Europe, Canada, and China. She is currently residing in New York City and works as a freelance illustrator.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in a southern city in China, in a loving family. My parents are both artists, they offered an unlimited space for me to learn and create. I enjoyed watching my dad doing xylograph, painting, and sketching. Most of my vivid childhood memories were sitting in front of the desk and doodling to amuse myself. I spend lots of my childhood with my nana too. She is such a fantastic role model, and I admire her open-minded and wise heart. The pictures I make nowadays somehow reserved my memories and feelings of my childhood. I went to college for Oil Painting in China for my Bachelor degree. I am glad that I made this decision as an entrance of my artist path. I moved to the US afterward and graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with MFA in Illustration. Stepping into communication arts, at this stage of my life, fits the way I want to talk to this world. I also consistently feel lucky that I get to do what I am passionate about for my career – working as a freelance illustrator.

What is your experience like moving from China to the US?

Personally, seeing this world by moving from China to the States and standing from a distance geographically has helped me to develop a different view. By the time I was born, our generation became the very first group that witnessed China’s growth as an international country. The advantage of this era indeed offered our generation better chances to embrace the world, obtaining better education and living in wealthier conditions. 

However, I became aware about the fact that there are always arguments between the elders and the youth regarding learning Chinese traditions. I never had consciousness growing up about finding self-identity and protecting my heritage. After I moved to the US, I was amazed by how much in common my classmates and I share in our growth even though we live on different continental plates, and whenever they asked me of the history and culture that I grew up in, I frequently feel that I don’t have a precise answer. I do feel this sense of cultural deficiency, but I don’t see this as a negative now. 

Being widely acknowledged in international studies doesn’t mean there is a replacement of local traditions by foreign influences. The reason for this cultural deficiency may urge me to go overseas and study, but it also further helped me to fulfil my artistic achievements.

How do you like New York? Anything excited you want to share with us?

My first impression of New York is that the city reminds me of home with its energy and high-speed lifestyle. The hometown I grow up with is best known for its entertainment industries, lots of restaurants, events, and the street remains crowded even in the 3:00 am. I like the similar way in New York that full of life, energy, and enthusiasm. What is more, bring me to move here is its diversity in culture, arts, and cuisine. It is a big fusion of everything. I feel like I see something new every time I step foot outside. Being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life is my thing, it makes me feel energetic and alive. Although I don’t know how long I am going to spend my life in New York, I won’t regret I had at least once lived here.

New York is for dreamers, but living in New York is realistic. It is a perfect place for people who want to chase their dreams and doesn’t mind living with a busy schedule. The rent is expensive here, the job is competitive, the weather can be a challenge to deal with (I used to live in the warm southern city and don’t tolerate well for a cold winter). Every city got its good and bad to live in, New York is no different. At least for me, this is the perfect city to chase my dreams, I enjoy every second living here.

What are the goals for your career in the future?

Career-wise, I do have a long list client that I want to work with. I can be super driven, and I am passionate about it. For the longer future, I don’t know. Maybe I will be diving deeper and focusing on one specific subject, or perhaps not. One thing that I am sure about is, I will always be carrying the responsibility that contributes to cultural diversity and brings positive energy, the true social value to my audiences.

How’s your local community inspired you as an artist?

Even there are increasing numbers of freelancers working on their own world-wise, it is still can be minority in some places. If you want to experiment an exclusive version of freelancing, NY might be the perfect place to work and live in.There are quite fair amount of Asian illustration freelancers living in this area. It is very inspiring to see how the fellows form the same industry hustle to earn the life here. They are hard-working, sharp, passionate, and very inspired existing. 

text & photo courtesy of Hannah Li

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