Dannie Niu (Yidan Niu) is an award-winning illustrator based in Atlanta. Dannie was born in Guangdong, China. She received her Master of Fine art degree in Illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta. Dannie’s primary direction is packaging illustration, children’s illustration, and fashion illustration. Dannie loves to create anything beautiful and gorgeous. She likes to work with gold colors and is specialized in using lines to trace the details. Dannie wants to bring more beautiful and positive feelings to the world with her work because she knows the world already has too much harshness.
We are excited to learn more about your practice, Dannie. Can you tell us a little about your background and how the journey has been so far?
I like to be called Dannie, although it is my nickname and English name. My parents and people around me call me that often, so sometimes I don’t even remember my real name. I don’t think this is bad because I prefer Dannie as a more easily remembered name.
I am from Zhaoqing, a small but old and beautiful town in Guangdong Province, China. Now I am living in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents are both college professors, my father teaches oil painting and my mother teaches psychology. They would always think that girls need stability, so they always hoped that I could find a stable job or could always be around them.
But I am a very unstable person. I always liked to try more things when I was in middle school and high school, so I was always fighting and arguing about what I wanted to do during my teenage time. But the good thing is that I always believe things could be worked out, and even though there were a lot of tough times I have been through, I was always full of hope. I’m now a freelance illustrator and I think that’s what I want to do, I’d like to create my image to show people what was in my mind, what is my imaginary world looks like. I think this is what I want to do it forever.
What brings you to art? What are you exploring in your creative practice?
Because my father was an oil painting professor, I saw his oil paintings all over the house from the moment I was born. My family was poor when I was very young, but my father bought a lot of books about oil painting. On the one hand, I watched him paint every day, and on the other hand, I went through his various books all day long. He was a traditionalist oil painter, so his books were all about classical oil paintings. Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, and so on, as well as my father, these people’s paintings became my initiation into the art world.
I grew up learning the violin, but I had no interest in the music of Beethoven or Bach. Vivaldi is my favorite musician. His works are highly rhythmic and full of various emotions. I think that’s why I preferred to pay attention to the melodies and drums, and lyrics were never my main focus. And when I was 10 years old, that time people still bought CDs to play in the car. My father started playing Michael Jackson and Britney in the car and I became interested in pop and hip-hop music. For me both music and drawing are very important existences, even I think they can’t be separated. I always listen to music and meditate while I draw, I really think music is the energy of my creation because the melody and rhythm in music always bring me inspiration and a sense of a picture.
I always want my work to be joyful and positive and for people to be inspired and happy when they see my work. However, due to the epidemic and the daily chores of life, I have now started to think about some questions about self-worth and social topics. I have tried to create some works about feminism, but I always put myself in the middle. I don’t want my attitude to be too negative or too radical. I also have some work on children’s books, and the world in children’s books is always a beautiful and carefree place. I always feel a sense of relaxation and warmth when I am working on children’s book illustrations. But the cruel thing is that I feel I can’t keep doing children’s work for a long time. Because when you become an adult, you will find that reality and the ideal world are completely different. So, after creating children’s works for a while, I need some time to take a rest.
Do you have a mentor that influenced your practice?
Yes. I’m actually a very impressionable person, and I enjoy observing the people around me, talking to them, learning about their experiences and pasts, and then noticing something encouraging. I have never been a very confident person, so I always like to set a benchmark or a goal so that I can strive for it. As much as I like to compare myself to other people, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to be someone else or “the second xxx”, I just want to be a better version of myself.
Lady Gaga is my idol and my spiritual mentor. During a low point in my middle school life, she was like a ray of sunshine that shone into my dark world. Her songs gave me inspiration and strength, and she taught me that everyone is unique and born to be perfect, don’t be afraid to be yourself. This was an overwhelming hug for a 14-year-old girl who was subjected to verbal violence. And then, I met many different wonderful people, such as my friend who wanted to pursue her dream of baking after getting her master’s degree in food chemistry in Australia. She has now become a full-time baking blogger. Or my undergraduate classmate, who went to Europe for travel and was sleeping in the airport for several days because he needed to save money, and now he is pursuing his degree at Harvard and MIT. There was also a classmate in my previous class who was approaching 70 years old, but she had always loved illustration, so she chose to return to school after retiring. When you are surrounded by people who are so very aware of what they want and try to fight for it, you will be easily inspired and infected. These people became my mentors, and they told me not to worry and not to rush if I had something I wanted to do. After being prepared, just be bold and try it.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
If I were to interpret the word “community”, I would think that “community” is a group of people who share something similar or common, or who work together for something in common. But maybe it’s my personal characteristic, I don’t like to join some fixed organizations or groups deliberately. However, after I came to the United States, my thinking has changed a bit. Sometimes “community” does not necessarily exist in a fixed form, but sometimes it is indirect or abstract. In many cases, I think I represent my culture. When people see my face and skin, they already define me. And when they ask me where I’m from or what language I speak, they will give me more of the frame. I’ve never been afraid of those things, and I know that when I’m standing in front of a complicated crossroads, the thing I need to do is to do well about what I am supposed to do and tell people out loud that I’m proud of my own and I’m proud of the culture I represent.
What are you working on right now?
I just got back from a trip to Boston, and to be honest, Boston is beautiful. I may have to start to rethink settling again. But on the other hand, the epidemic has made me lazy.
I’ve been writing poetry lately and have plans to create an adult picture book about my own personal experiences. I think this is very exciting for me because, for the first time, I will be writing out my own personal experiences in poetry and creating illustrations on my own. In my past work experiences, I just always translated others’ thoughts through my works. I’m also working with my publisher about revisions for a children’s book I’m working on, which I know is a lot of work and a bit of a tedious process because I hate going back and revising drawings that I’ve already done. But I’m a bit of a demanding person, and I don’t want my work to look bad when it’s printed. Sometimes life becomes more difficult when you are a perfectionist.
Also, I will be trying to give two lectures at my undergraduate university, which makes me very apprehensive because I feel I am bad at teaching people. I hope I can learn something new with this opportunity, I guess.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?
Sometimes you need to be selfish a little bit and not let other people’s words affect your thoughts. Age is just a number, don’t let it constrain your mobility. And most importantly, have some chocolate and doughnuts if you’re in a bad mood!
text & photo courtesy of Dannie Niu