My online author-illustrator friend, Dow Phumiruk has just released a new picture book, Mela and the Elephant, which I love and am reviewing on Friday. Ziyue Chen’s art beautifully enhances Dow’s text, and in my goal to interview as diverse a group of artists as I can on this blog, I was thrilled when Ziyue agreed to an interview.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[ZC] I’m from Singapore, a small, sunny and highly urban country in South East Asia. I have lived in Florida for college, followed by a year in New York City for possible work-related opportunities. The experience of living in US has certainly widened my horizon and it helped me to understand better about illustration and life, which in turn influenced my thoughts towards my work.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[ZC] It all started with drawing on the wall as a kid and art became a form of escape for me as it was a lot of struggles, frustration and confusion growing up deaf. I was really lucky to have supportive parents and how my Mum always encouraged me to create / draw whatever I like. She gave me different art materials to play with and even joined me in drawing. I’m really lucky to have her.
I stopped creating art when I wasn’t doing well academically to the extent, that I had to drop out of ballet dancing class too. It was a lot of catch up to do. I eventually managed to complete GCE O-level examination where, later, I decided to break away from continuing the academic route and choose to follow my heart – to take up an art-related course. It was a diploma in Digital Media Design where I majored in Animation and it led me to work as an Animator for a year for art content for Children’s Television Programme. I felt something was still missing so I quitted the job to try out various freelance projects with different clients. Later, encouraged by my brother, I decided to apply for an Illustration course overseas and scholarship. The rest is history. Today, I’m happy to be an artist, working as a Children’s Book Illustrator and occasionally sketching in my personal sketchbook.
[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?
[ZC] Sakura Micron Pens & Watercolor. Personally, no preference as I still enjoy playing with different medium. The most recent played medium is gouache and color pencils.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from Mela and the Elephant, and the process of creating them?
[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?
[ZC] I don’t quite remember and I don’t think I did as my Mum often brought my siblings and I to library where we enjoyed indulging in Children’s books and borrowed them.
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?
[ZC] Nature and memories.
[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your home?
[ZC] As shown in that same photo above – the artworks on my wall feature:
- Fox painting by Chris Buzelli and he quoted– “Freedom is born of great discipline.” (on the left side)
- Clean, well composited illustration by Jing Wei (in the middle)
- A postcard size featuring a man with the girl in her red dress with a toy soldier by Hayao Miyazaki (next to Jing Wei’s artwork)
- Teddy bear and Dog illustrations by David Colman (on the left side)
- Alphonse Mucha illustratons (on the right side)
- Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer painting by Gustav Klimt (on the right side)
- Mary Blair’s illustrations (at the bottom right)
- Elephants by Andrew Shek (at the bottom right)
The rest are my personal illustrations and photos of my loved ones. However, the two photos at the top right side are of me with different Illustrators like Shaun Tan and Tomie dePaola at SCBWI NY 2013. It was a great experience for my first time to SCBWI in New York City, thanks to SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship and support from my college, RCAD.
Behind me, not shown in the photo, is a framed up personal illustration of my loving Mother and I, titled “Memories”.
[JM] Tell us a little about the world of children’s literature in East Asia.
[ZC] Children’s literature in East Asia in my personal opinion is often about moral principles, and stories related to culture and tradition.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?
[ZC] Yosemite National Park in Northern California and Nuuksio National Park in Finland. There are so many National Parks to be visited in the world. Can I say all of the National Parks are my favorites?! Nature is so beautiful that word doesn’t do justice.
Yosemite Fantasy –
More nature landscape illustrations are still in progress.
[JM] I have just watched the PBS series on US parks, and your illustrations only add to my desire to visit Yosemite! Cats or dogs?
[ZC] No pet but I’m looking forward to own a dog when I have more space.
[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city/town!
[ZC] Hawker Centres at Old Airport Road and Maxwell Road. They are generally well known for a wide variety of delicious local food! Wanton Mee, Mee Pok, Hokkien Mee, Bak Chor Mee, Popiah, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Fried Kway Teow, Soya Beancurd, Rojak and so many more.
[JM] A very good Spanish friend has just moved to Singapore so when I visit her, I shall try Hawker Centres!
What was your first paid job out of high school?
[ZC] Waitress at Swensen’s and Barista at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[ZC] Drink, particularly Genmaicha (Japanese brown rice green tea) or American Ginseng Tea, and occasionally snacks like goji berries and dark chocolate. Yum.
Social Media Links
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/zzzyuair
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/ziyuechen
- Website http://www.ziyuechen.com