By Heidi Pan and Huahua Zhu
Hi Huahua! Is there anything specific that motivates you to create art?
I draw out of different sources for motivation in different periods of time, but generally, creating is an expansion of myself.
I first got access to Japanese animations and games when I was in middle school, which is when I started drawing Dojins. Creating and sharing fanart on online forums became my hobby in between the intense pressures of school life. After entering college, I started creating original art as a form of catharsis for my negative and unwanted emotions. Until now, I have been happy to create as both a hobby and a career. I enjoy the sense of achievement I get when I finish a commercial project in a professional manner.
I have obtained experience, ideas and connections that I couldn’t have had without creating art. The potential access to something new is what keeps me going.
Has that motivation changed? When do you think you’ve gained or lost motivation
through your career?
It is my goal to make a living as a creator, which has never changed. But my specific motivations have changed a lot. For example, after I finished my undergrad, I wanted to make more commercial projects in different areas, hoping to find my place in the market. Before this, I was mainly motivated by intuitive ideas that were more personal and improvisational. I started viewing myself as an illustrator when I entered college in China. Initially my major was graphic and media design, which I soon realized was not my true calling. Instead, I enjoyed drawing and creating illustrations as a form of relaxation after school. After I finished my 2nd year of college, I took a gap year and decided to transfer abroad to study illustration. Since then, I have always felt motivated, despite some moments when I faced work-related challenges.
You received a degree from RISD, and I’ve heard mixed opinions on the environment there. Could you provide a little insight into the college experience? Was there anything particularly impactful (both good and bad) about your experience?
My opinion is probably biased, since it was an unexpectedly good experience for a transfer like me (especially since I transferred from another country and another department). I was excited because it was my first time being in a foreign country for long-term study. Everything was new for me, from the campus buildings, to the food, to the online community. Above all, I found myself to be really into illustration. The curriculum for illustration in RISD is loose compared to other majors, so I had a lot of freedom to take classes from other departments– even from Brown. I also took a semester studying in Italy for an exchange program. The RISD experience opened up my vision for both my career and my life.
What inspires you during your creative process?
My inspiration comes from traveling, music, movies and books. Sometimes, negative emotions also help me create. I take notes when I have an idea, such as writing my dreams down when I wake up. I will go through texts when I run out of ideas. New experiences are always the best source of inspiration for me.
Speaking of creative processes, what does your workflow usually look like? Are you
a fast or slow illustrator? Do you produce work in bursts?
For me, creating the initial concept is the most challenging part. I do research and sometimes draw mind-maps. The initial sketches are also hard to make, since I have to visualize an abstract idea and make it clear. If these things go smoothly, the final stage is often delightful. This is the stage when I can start to listen to some music or a podcast. Generally, I’m a slow illustrator. Sometimes I take 20 hours to finish a single illustration. Picture books and comics usually take more than a month, and that requires endurance…
Emotions come to me in bursts, so yes, motivation comes to me in bursts. In 2021, I
drew a 64-page picture book based on my mixed feelings about New York, where I had just
moved to. But for commercial works, it is necessary to be rational and calm. This is
when I write and draw many rough sketches to test out.
Many of your works feature animals or fantastical creatures. Would you say they have
a special appeal to you?
I joke to my friends that, since I can’t be a dog, I’ll be an illustrator. My art was significantly
influenced by Japanese ACG culture (animation, comics, and games), and fantasy is my
favorite genre. Meanwhile, I love drawing vigorous animals. They are symbols of vitality
in my work. Through drawing these creatures I hope that people (including myself) can
briefly peek into the world of fantasy.
What are some projects you’re interested in pursuing in the future? (These don’t
have to be realistic ideas! Give me your most ambitious plans!)
I’ve been interested in novels and have been thinking about their visualizations. In the
near future, I’m planning to create a series based on books. Speaking of which, I have a
60-page comic project to finish by the end of the year. That is what I truly need to worry
about right now...
Any parting words you’d like to give aspiring artists?
When you feel tired of drawing, go get some sleep... Also, black cats are the best
illustrator companion cats.