Visualize the Written Language, NYC-based Illustrator Yihui Yuan

Yihui Yuan, an illustrator and picture book writer & illustrator, was born in China and currently lives in New York. She got her master degree in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts in 2019. During her time at the school, she won the scholarship from the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators, and designed posters for the 7th Stavros Niarchos Foundation International conference. After graduate, she created illustrations/visual design for major international events such as International Women’s Day and International Human Rights Day at the United Nations headquarters. Her illustrations are poetic, articulate with a dose of magical. Her works have been displayed in a number of prestigious galleries, museums and venues around the world, including French Embassy, Seventh Starvos Niarchos Foundation International Conference, SVA Chelsea Gallery , to name just a few. Her illustrations published in Creative Quarterly, Circle Foundation Art Review and other well-known art magazines.

Fantastic Fruit and Where to Find it, 25cm*50cm, Digital Media & Mix Media, 2017

We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far. Can you tell us a little about yourself?    

I come from Hangzhou, China, and went to New York 3 years ago. I studied Internet and New Media in my undergraduate and got my master degree from School of Visual Arts in their Illustration as Visual Essay program. At that time, it is a huge transfer for me to pursue a Fine Art degree. I always enjoy drawing and making something creative, but Chinese parents have more concerns on the career path in Fine Art. So I chose to do this after getting one degree.

During my time in SVA, I was exposed to various art classes and equipped with different skills. In the creative writing class, I wrote my first published short novel and numerous poems. Those literature studies add a dose of poetic flavor and narrative in my illustrations. Half-year later, I adapted that short novel to a picture book. It is an interesting adventure to turn written language into visual language. I introduce more characters to rearrange the narrative with a more clever solution to solve the main conflict in the story. 

Connection1, 60cm*20cm, Digital Media & Mix Media, 2019
Connection2, 60cm*20cm, Digital Media & Mix Media, 2019

After graduation, I got an internship from the United Nations to produce visual solutions (illustrations, designs, infographics, etc.,) for international campaigns and events. After experiencing countless rounds of critic and ideations, I gradually learn how to balance multiple party’s opinions and your own aesthetic. 

Generation Equality, A2, Digital Media, 2020

Besides creating illustrations and picture books, you have also made installation artworks. What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

Nowadays, I rely more on digital media. I try to not limit myself on certain media, but find the suitable one for different themes. In the installation Steam or Bubble, I want to create an installation which is integrated with two different worlds — the Steampunk world which represents technology and the primitive ocean world which represents nature. With figures in the middle in different directions show human’s different choices when they face the rapid development of science and technology. 

Steam or Bubble, 20cm20cm50cm, Clay & Resin & Metal, 2016
Steam or Bubble2, 20cm20cm50cm, Clay & Resin & Metal, 2016

The two-side of technology is one of my interested topics, in the picture book <Out-of-Tune>, I talk about a musician playing the piano in a machine town escapes after his music been distorted from the robots, and he conducts the birds who help him fix his music to fix the town with their pure and beautiful music and vitality.

Out of Tune0, 25cm*50cm, Digital Media, 2019
Out of Tune1, 25cm*50cm, Digital Media, 2019
Out of Tune2, 25cm*50cm, Digital Media, 2019

What is your process like? Do you have any secrets to keep yourself creative?

I will draw rough sketches or even write down a few sentences to quickly capture the ideas. Then I will redraw them into more delicate line formats and play with the compositions. For different atmosphere, I may create textures or marks. Sometimes the color may not precisely attach in the outline of the object, I just use the line as a reference. 

I think the secrets to keeping creative is to keep feeding yourself high-quality humanities, arts, and science input, no matter they are drawings, literature, movies, or any format.

The Alchemist, 35cm*20cm, Digital Media & Mix Media, 2020

What do you find the most challenging in your career?

I think the most challenging thing is to fight with the uncertainties. Uncertainties about if you can produce better art, if you evolve to the right directions, if your audience can get your information, if you can get more clients, if your clients have different opinions on your works and how to persuade them, etc. Every day you need to equip yourself to deal with them. Keep practice and critique with your fellow are one way to evolve.

Fly, A4, Digital Media, 2018

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

“Community” means a group of people who shares the same interests and goals. I think I belong to different communities since I have multiple social roles: illustrator community, Asian creatives community, Generation Equality community, to name a few. Illustration is my way to communicate with the world, it is important to make the voice of your community be heard.

Real Teaching in the Era of Fake News, 35cm*20cm, Digital Media, 2019

Is there any advice you would like to share with others?

Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep creating.

Disaster, A2, Digital Media & Mix Media, 2020

text & photo courtesy of Yihui Yuan

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