From Childhood Passions to Artistic Advocacy, New York-based Illustrator Junyu Lin

Junyu Lin is an illustrator based in New York. She was born and grew up in China. Ever since childhood, drawing and reading have been her two biggest passions. She started to learn painting in high school and got her BFA in oil painting at Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University. In 2022, she got her MFA in illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She now lives in New York and has published three illustrated books.

Junyu has been awarded in many professional illustration contests, including 3X3 Magazine Annual, American Illustration, Communication Arts, and Creative Quarterly. She’s passionate about storytelling and creating visual solutions, and she believes that a good story should be a combination of reality and imagination. With her stories, Junyu is eager to share with the audience about how she observes and reconstructs the world.

THAT’S HIM p4, 12″x10″, digital, 2022

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

Since my childhood, I’ve had a deep passion for reading and drawing. During my early years, around the age of 6 or 7, I was obsessed with watching anime and cartoons on television. This led me to start sketching the characters, using pencils and oil pastels to recreate their unique styles on paper. I especially enjoyed drawing cute girls like Cardcaptor Sakura.

As I grew older, in 5th grade, I discovered that many of these anime shows were actually adaptations of original Japanese manga. This revelation sparked a new love within me for manga books, and I found myself visiting the nearest bookstore every day to read them. They changed me a lot on how to tell a story in a different way. Inspired by them, I began creating my own comics in sketchbooks during that time.

Years later, I was about to graduate from high school and was considering my future path. All this time, I’ve been self-teaching, and never had any art class. However, I desire to go deeper and learn more professionally. With the support of my family, I decided to go to art college and study oil painting. In 2019, I got enrolled in the MFA illustration program at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Subway Yoga, digital, 2020

What is your art about? Do you have any specific themes in your projects?

I’m a storyteller and I make comics and picture books that transport readers into imaginative realms. Most of my stories have sci-fi or fantasy elements. They are fictional, unreal, but not coming out of nowhere. I create my characters based on my own life experiences and the people around me, as storytelling is my way to observe and reconstruct the world. In my view, a compelling story seamlessly merges reality with imagination. Through the journey of my protagonists, transformative shifts occur. Their adventures become a reflection of my own voyage and self-discovery.

Another theme in my projects is feminism, as it is an issue that cannot be ignored for women anywhere. Having grown up in China, I am exposed to a constant stream of news highlighting instances of harassment, harm, and even violence against women. It deeply resonates with me, and I believe it is my duty to speak for them.

THAT’S HIM cover, 12″x10″, digital, 2022

One of the related projects is my MFA thesis project, a picture book called THAT’S HIM. It’s about domestic violence. It tells a story about a woman who’s living in an abusive relationship with her husband. The book depicts a day in this woman’s life. She pretended that she was still okay and tried to maintain a normal life. However, she was not. She was in trauma, she saw illusions of her husband and his violent behavior wherever she went, and she was always tired and scared. When she got back home, her drunk husband assaulted her again. This time, she couldn’t bear it anymore and killed her husband.

THAT’S HIM p1, 12″x10″, digital, 2022

My book emphasizes how an abusive relationship would affect a person’s mental state. I want people to be aware that it is common and normal for a victim (especially a female victim) to hide their wounds, to escape from reality. People should support and encourage those who suffer to stand up and help them. A victimized woman might make mistakes and become a criminal as well, that doesn’t change the fact that she needs help and support.

You have been very active during the past few years. What is your secret to keeping yourself creative?

The road of art is never easy for any artist, and I am no exception. In the past few years, I’ve faced quite a few challenges. One of my biggest challenges was when I first graduated from college and entered the competitive world of this industry. Like so many of my fellow classmates, I found myself struggling to secure even the smallest of jobs. I chose this path because of my deep love for drawing and my belief that I want to draw for the rest of my life. I was so I then, that I never thought about if I could make a living wage on this path.

Osaka, 7″x7″, acrylic on paper, 2021

The reason why I could keep myself creative is my family and friends. I am grateful to have the support of them, who have stood by me through thick and thin. I found that the artists community is so helpful and supportive to each other, as we are all bound together by a shared love of art. This gives me the strength and courage to continue on, no matter what the future may hold.

Market, 7″x7″, acrylic on paper, 2021

What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community changed you as a creative?

The word “community” means a lot to me. 

It’s the local artist community in New York. I really enjoy the creative atmosphere here. Almost every week, there are numerous events that take place, and I make it a point to attend as many as possible. It’s during these events that I get to learn and get a lot of inspiration.

Furthermore, “community” is also my graduate school family and my creative friends. We provide support to one another, and even after graduating, we stay connected. We understand the true essence of unwavering friendship, particularly in challenging times. In my darkest hour, my friend linked me to new clients, and I will forever be grateful for their assistance.

THAT’S HIM p6, 12″x10″, digital, 2022

Additionally, “community” also means the local residents in New York. This year I had my first table at Mocca Art Fest, and I was overwhelmed by people’s enthusiasm. Their willingness to purchase art and support artists exemplifies the diverse culture that New York boasts.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on an advertising project, which involves motion animation. Animation has always been my interest, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to apply the skills I have learned in a practical setting. Additionally, I’m creating some new comics. Most of them are documentaries of my daily life experiences, and I hope to collect them together someday.

Town, 7″x7″, acrylic on paper, 2021

Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?

Don’t give up and be brave to express yourself. It may be a cliché, but it holds true.

THAT’S HIM p2, 12″x10″, digital, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Junyu Lin

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