Interviews are one of my favorite things to do at CF. It’s an opportunity to connect with some pretty fantastic artists and get the real deal behind their work and any insights they have concerning the artistic community. Today we’re lucky enough to share the work of talented illustrator, Alex Chiu. Alex currently aspires to work as an illustrator or designer within the gaming and animation industries; I must say, after looking through her answers and portfolio, I really hope she ends up there. You can tell a lot about a person from the effort they put into replying to questions and Alex, to put it bluntly, thrilled me with her responses. Take a look at her work and see what she has to say about herself, being an illustrator, and advice for any looking to go down that path.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into illustration?
I’m currently a junior at Washington University in St. Louis studying Communication Design with a concentration in illustration and a side interest in graphic design. I like to draw cute animals and badass females, and I also like tea!
Interestingly what got me into illustration, persay, was manga. My friends laugh whenever I tell them that the moment I picked up a copy of Marmalade Boy in fifth grade, was when all of my tiny fascinations with storytelling in a visual form came to fruition. I started reading a lot of Garfield, reading more manga (Cardcaptor Sakura, Love Hina, Naruto), which somehow led me into doodling and drawing on my own. I drew this pretty funny series called “Monkey Daze” (Days = Daze, ha) [laughs]. But honestly, being able to create drawings that could simultaneously communicate with other individuals is what really clicked with me. It was cool that I could draw these scribbly little things and they’d be characters that were part of a story and a world.
I noticed that you minored in Political Science – Does your interest in politics ever seep into your work?
Oh, definitely. Not literally, in that I draw portraits of Obama or John Boehner all the time, but my own political ideals influence what I draw. Thanks to my dad, I listened to a lot of George Carlin in high school and I try and keep up with The Daily Show—neither particularly influence my subject matter, but both definitely influence my thinking. I’m unabashedly, pretty liberal, so I try and stay conscious about who I depict and what I depict when it comes to political issues—especially in regards to race and gender. Representation is important!
I’m going to cut right into it. I really dig your Davida and Goliath piece. Are there any feminist undertones/ideas represented in this piece? If so, can you share them with us?
Thank you so much! And yes, there totally is! When you decide to gender-bend a story that’s sort of represents the ideal of masculinity, well…feminism would probably follow suit. It was actually inspired by this funny found note that I discovered on a site called foundmagazine.com; it was an image of a pink piece of paper with “The Bitch Bible” written on it in decorative bubble letters. At first I was thinking of the Burn Book from Mean Girls, but then I thought to myself—wait a minute, there are like…two women in the Bible stories that I can think of. Where are the ladies? Which casually led to a gender reversal of David vs. Goliath, which was also fueled out of my immense desire to just draw some badass lady warriors. I don’t really believe in barriers when it comes to gender; I think that everyone (including myself) has done things that are considered “masculine” and has done things that are considered “feminine.” It didn’t feel surprising when I made a Davida and a Goliatha (I promise one day I’ll come up with better names); it felt like a situation that could have been real.
If you were to submit your work to a gallery, how would you describe your illustrative style?
Rooted in a combination of animation, comics, and cute things, with a tendency to either fall into an ink-brush style or cel-shaded-shape-based style.
Do you primarily work alone, or do you ever collaborate on larger projects?
I primarily work alone, but I occasionally collaborate with some friends on larger projects, I was a part of a “Critters” zine that my classmate started, and another one of my classmates and I plan on starting a “Red Riding Hood” zine. I’m also currently (very slowly) working on a comic with a friend. But, nothing too large scale. On the other hand the studio environment I’m in allows for me to freely talk to my peers about my work and ask them for help—so in a sense, there’s a level of collaboration there!
What are your tools of the trade? (Wacom tablets, Photoshop, etc.)
Ink and brush, brush pens, markers, and tablet. Sometimes I paint certain pieces with acrylics, and one time I used fluid acrylic, which was an interesting experience.
What are your primary sources of inspiration? Where do you go when you’re suffering from artist’s block?
I always find inspiration in shows that I watch and games that I play. I grew up watching a lot of cartoons and anime, and playing a lot of videogames. Interestingly, that’s where I go when I’m suffering from artist’s block—I watch an old show or watch a new show and start doodling the characters from those show. I guess you could say that my artist’s block cure is fanart? [laughs] But sometimes I also dig up old stories that my friends have written or that I’ve written, and start drawing scenes from bits of narrative.
Lastly, do you have any advice for the soon-to-be illustrator looking to get exposure?
Honestly—just draw what you want to draw, and post it on the internet. The internet’s such a powerful tool that allows hyper-talented illustrators to manage all of their followers and profits right from their desk. I didn’t even have to step outside of my house to get in contact with people who wanted commissions.
If you’re looking to get a little bit of attention going, then draw (good) fanart. It’s interesting because “fanart” has such an interesting stigma to it. When it’s bad it’s fanart, but when it’s good it’s illustration, right? Even though the definition of illustration is an image based on some sort of text, therefore kind of making it…fanart, to a degree. My illustration professor, the awesome John Hendrix even told us that once we graduate we should draw some kind of fanart to get a fanbase of some kind going. It’s kind of funny how it works.
I’m going to circle this back to the “draw what you want to draw” part. If you want to go into visual development, then you’re going to have to be pretty comfortable with their drawing style and what they want to do (of course, there are exceptions!). But what I’ve learned, is people want to know what you want to do and what you like to draw. It makes it easier for you, and it also makes it easier for clients. If you draw lots of bears and cute little birds, then you probably won’t get hired to do a spread on muck in the sewers, right? Nor would you probably want to do it. So, always be thinking about what you like to do and know what you want, because that’s what’s going to be very important in the long run.