'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 23 April 2020

Meet The Illustrator: Nan Cao

Name: Nan Cao

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Colourful, abstract, poetic, dreamy, unrealistic, symbolic, metaphoric, warm, philosophical, organic.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
My drafting table from Amazon,
which is simple and user friendly,
stacked with art supplies. Next to my working table is a lower desk with my computer,Wacom Cintiq and scanner. It’s a typical spot for looking at the New York brand skyscrapers outside of my window. Another essential in my studio is my drawers and shelves full of novels, illustration and fairy tale books.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I have changed my medium over time. Before I began my illustration studies, I used to paint with oil on canvas or work with soft pastel and pencil. I followed this by teaching myself how to use digital programs and audit classes to polish my skills. Lately, my preference has been to work with ink and digital colour in most of my illustration projects with consideration of efficiency and flexibility. However, I’ll paint with gouache and acrylic for long-term projects or gallery work. The soul behind most of my artwork is stories and concepts, and just like an operatic performance, the medium is the different instruments that play for the art piece that is destined to sing.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Joan Miró, Brad Holland, Charley Harper

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
17th to the 19th centuries in Japan. I love the ink drawings by Katsushika Hokusai, all types of Japanese woodcut and Japanese demon art. Also, 1880-1890 is a good time since I am a big fan of Vincent van Gogh’s art. I really love the raw and fresh energies in his paintings and drawings. 

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
From an early age, drawing images was my way of interpreting and reacting to the world around me. I was the only child and my parents used to be very busy. Since my mother was an avid book reader, I was always left with tons of text-only fiction and fairy tale books along with some paper and colour pencils to entertain myself. Inspired by the stories and colourful characters from the books, I started to draw the creatures and imaginative narratives on paper. The drawing process not only satisfied my curiosity for fantasy but also brought me a strong sense of pride and fulfilment. This inspired my path to pursuing illustration. 

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
I’m sharing a small apartment with friends so my work space is quite tiny and I’d like to keep it organised and clean. You can see some small art prints on my walls, some in progress sketches and a calendar that helps me keep my schedule in order. I prefer to put my sketches on the wall for a while before starting the final piece. It helps me to see my work with fresh eyes everyday. 

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
I enjoy both of my inking and colouring process. As for inking, I get senses of peace and fulfilment by having something down on the paper. And there’s so much possibility at this stage to let me play with different visual languages and ideas. Also, I am always excited to apply different colours to my work to make the characters become more alive.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
As an illustrator, drawing and painting are very natural activities in our daily life. If we being honest and express our true feelings through our work, the process of making art can become therapeutic and bring harmony and happiness to the illustrator as well as our readers.
We can never lie to the audiences through our artwork, because we’ll never able to bring pleasure to people if we are not enjoying the kind of work we’re doing. The advice I am having now is to keep working hard and really love what you choose to do. Don’t be afraid if your “art style” is not trendy or popular in a short term. Try to know better the weaknesses and strengths in your work, accept your limitations, but most importantly, be persistent and make your strengths stronger and shine.

Nan Cao is a New York-based illustrator and painter from Beijing, who graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art and received her Master's degree from the School of Visual Arts. Nan creates art for newspapers and magazines such as the Spectrum and Baltimore City Paper, makes visual projects running across the 1700 Link NYC screens in all five boroughs in New York, works on paintings, which have been exhibited internationally and across the country. As an illustrator and painter working and living in New York, Nan gets inspiration from surrealistic imagery and her daily life in the big city. Her work has also been recognised by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, AOI, 3x3 Magazine among others.

For more information please visit Nan's website or follow her on instagram .