Artist Proof: Yan Wei is currently one of China’s leading-edge creatives and our buddies over at Neocha have been following her every step of the way. Sprinkled throughout the interview Neocha did below, You’ll find is some of Yan Wei’s black-and-white work for which she is most well-known for.
They also provided the video above, in which Yan Wei shows us the creation process of one of her new characters and discusses an ever-changing Beijing, influences in her work, what others think of her style, a messy sketchbook, and her philosophy on venting.
Neocha: Tell us how you got into illustration? Do you have any formal art training?
Yan Wei: Drawing and painting has been a hobby of mine ever since childhood. I started taking art classes during high school and in 2003 I graduated with a bachelor‘s degree in graphic design from Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Neocha: A few years ago you resigned from your then job to become a full-time freelancer. What was the decisive moment when you realized that you wanted to create your own work? Was it difficult for you to make that decision?
Yan Wei: In the years following my graduation from university I worked full time as an illustrator and story-boarder at an advertising agency. However, I soon felt quite restricted by the requisitions of clients and thought that the job did not suit me well. I wanted more freedom to explore my passion, to concentrate on drawing and develop my own style. In 2006 I resigned from my full-time position and became a freelancer. It wasn’t until sometime later that I had found my way and developed my own style.
It was not a hard decision to make. And, so far, I believe I made the right one. I have no regrets.
Now, I try to work in different areas, because I like everything interesting, no matter whether they are fine arts, design, or illustration. I enjoy the freedom of not having to I define myself by just one field.
Neocha: When are you most productive? Day or night?
Yan Wei: Daytime for sure, as I like getting up early. I like using the night to think and read, but the day is for my hands.
Neocha: When you’re not working, what do you usually like to do? Any hobbies or favorite past-times?
Yan Wei: I like hanging out in the park and being online. I enjoy traveling, especially in different countries and among different cultures. My favorite activity is probably having hot tasty milk tea, watching films, and reading.
Neocha: How important do you think college art education is to be an artist?
Yan Wei: I believe art education just opens a gate for you, but the rest has to be your own effort. Art education is valuable because of the skills training and mind exchanges. But I think that being an artist is more based on your own will and talent. I have seen many art students who are not doing anything related to art and design now.
Neocha: What are some of the things art students should keep in mind before they start to create? How can somebody prepare for a career in illustration? How do you succeed in the art industry?
Yan Wei: I think they should remember that time is scarce. They need to learn and read as much as they can, in order to to gain more and more understanding. It‘s not enough just to look at an interesting image. One has to try to see behind it.
They need to try and find their own way. There should be no rush or pressure – finding oneself does take time.
If someone wants to pursue a career as an illustrator, I think they don‘t just need drawing skills, they should also work on developing good communication skills, as they will have to manage clients. And they should learn how to follow a strict working schedule.
Neocha: From where do you draw inspiration from?
Yan Wei: I belong to a generation that grew up being strongly influenced by manga, anime, comics, street art, and 80’s Chinese pop style. Therefore, most of the themes in my art are centered around childhood, memory, games, and toys. I read many comics as a child, as a result, my imagination and some of my artwork have been influenced. Also, fairy tales have a special meaning to me: The feeling of helplessness in many of the stories is masked with innocence, which creates a world of contrasts and contradictions, hence exposing the reality of the world as it really is. I also like to follow other creatives’ work and love reading books on various subjects. Books are a good way to understand the world and myself. Many times one simple sentence inspires a whole collection of ideas and paintings. When I’m calm and undisturbed is usually when the most ideas emerge.
Neocha: What kind of message you are trying to convey with your art?
Yan Wei: I think my art is a way for me to speak. I express all kinds of thoughts through my work. My ideas about people, and the world. I like to use contrasts to portray a disturbing reality under a lovely disguise. My art is grotesque, but also apparently cute and childish, all while incorporating dark and sinister elements.
Neocha: Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? How does one of your illustrations emerge?
Yan Wei: Normally 10 minutes before I fall asleep, haha! Sometimes an image just shows up in my mind and I record it. Then I take the time to think about what it means to me and what it makes me feel. Finally, I work on further defining it and put it on paper.
Neocha: What tools and materials do you use in your work?
Yan Wei: I have done a lot of black and white paintings. I also completed some color paintings. I enjoy exploring new ideas and trying different types of media. I basically use spray, pens, and Chinese ink and brushes. Acrylic, and paper cut sometimes.
Neocha: What shows, projects or collaborations are you most proud of?
Yan Wei: The show I did at the Shanghai art museum and a recent commercial project with Levi’s.
Neocha: What projects do you have planned?
Yan Wei: I like cooperating with brands on interesting commercial projects. And I like street fashion. I might work on that if possible. Now I don’t have any specific shows or projects planned. I’m the kind of person who first draws, then sees what happens.