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The dreamy world of Qu Lan, illustrator and graphic designer

Last Updated on 2021/10/25

She works in several areas of visual art as an illustrator, graphic designer, and paintress.

Qu Lan is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She was born in Suzhou, China, and has been living in France after graduation from the China Academy of Art. She collaborates with numerous publishing houses, magazines, and design agencies both in Europe and in China, as well as participates in a variety of exhibitions. Her artwork has been exposed regularly and received worldwide awards like Prix du livre jeunesse Marseille, American Illustration 38, Prix Janusz Korczak, the award Book of the Year (children’s book) in the Annual Selection of the Book Industry in China, etc.

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How did you realize that being an illustrator would be your profession? What was your starting point and what motivated you?

I realized it quite late, in my thirties actually. I’ve always been painting and drawing in my early years. Everyone said I should be an artist. But I was not so passionate about this idea and didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time. I started by writing and illustrating my first book, a travel journal, in 2010. While promoting this book, I found that children’s picture books might be a huge playground for me to explore. So I began to concentrate on making children’s books. The more I move on this path, the more possibilities open up in front of me. The desire of creating something wonderful is my essential motivation.

qu lan illustrator

Who influenced you as a person and as an illustrator?

In the beginning, I was influenced by a french illustrator, Rebecca Dautremer, a master of our day. And then I am also inspired by many other artists, like Miyazaki, Kaii Higashiyama, Nika Goltz, Jon Klassen, Isabelle Arsenault, Philip Giordano, Violaine Leroy,… I have a long list of artists that I admire, many of them are very young. But what influences me the most is different painting techniques, like screen printing, woodcut, riso, etc.

Qu Lan developed her passion for ink painting during her childhood

qu lan illustrator

What illustration impressed you the most in your childhood? What are your best childhood memories?

When I was little, there were no children’s picture books in China. We only had “Lianhuanhua”, a kind of comic book. They were palm-sized and printed in black & white. Most of them were very well illustrated. I loved them so much. I read my small books again and again and reproduced every illustration in them. These books were my first teachers of literature and aesthetics.

qu lan illustrator

Do you remember your earliest drawing? What was it about?

I liked to draw people, mostly fairies. I loved dreaming and drawing house and interior decoration. I would love to be an architect and interior designer.

Qu Lan works in several areas of visual art such as children illustration & press, graphical design &volume, painting, animation, 3D modeling & rendering, together with publishers and communication agencies in Europe and China

qu lan illustrator

Fantasy and reality. Which one is your main source of inspiration? What keeps you inspired?

Definitely reality. I am quite down-to-earth and don’t have lots of fantasy. Nature, the emotions, the experiences of real life, the cinema and other visual arts keep giving me inspiration.

qu lan illustrator

What do you love most about your work? What is the creative process behind your illustrations and what are some of your favorite subjects to draw?

I love the freedom to create my art. My editors and clients trust me and let me do what I think is better for the project. Usually, I spend lots of time researching and thinking. When I find an idea, I draw a very quick sketch. Then a more detailed rough in color. The final artwork is easily done afterward because everything is already clear enough on the rough. There’s never a bad surprise. I draw people more because I’m quite good at it. But I am very curious and I want to draw everything, the landscape, the city, the animals, abstract, etc.

Illustration world, which is an intersection of painting and design allowed her to master painting and drawing and the technique refined in her years at the School of Fine Arts

qu lan illustrator

What better focus your personality, in your illustrations? Does your style reflect the way you see the world?

Quite serious and rigorous, I feel like it’s impossible for me to draw funny things. Although I wish to have the talent for this, I should accept that everyone has limitations. My artwork maybe not so fun, but subtle, accurate, sincere, touching and powerful.

qu lan illustrator

What emotions do you try to inspire? What would you like to communicate with your illustrations?

Most of the time, there’s text first, and illustration should represent the text and the emotion behind the text. My job is to communicate the given message with visuals. Above that, I try to convey positive, peaceful power and sincere emotions through my artwork.

If you are motivated, you can always find ways to learn” – Qu Lan

You were born in China and moved to France. What are the main cultural differences you notice in education and relationships? Did living in different countries influence your way of illustrating and being creative? Being based in the EU has changed your artistic path?

In the context of globalization, the younger generation of Chinese is not much different from Westerners. They get almost the same information, have similar values, aesthetics, and entertainment. But people are facing greater competition in China, so everyone has to work much more and can be much more anxious. Living in Europe, I have less stress and I’m happy about that. If I didn’t settle here, maybe I’d have been teaching in an art school in China, as many of my classmates do. I would most likely not to work as an illustrator. I was lucky that I finally found what I loved to do in life, and it was not too late.

qu lan illustrator

You make beautiful illustrations for children’s books. What are the main themes of the stories you illustrate? Are girls equally encouraged to be smart, confident, and courageous? What advice would you like to give to girls with your illustrations?

I’ve illustrated a lot of tales, but also documentaries and novels. I’m always attracted by things I’ve never done yet. So I keep accepting new challenges. In many of my books, like Corbeau noir cygne blanc, L’oiseau de brindilles, female characters are courageous and tenacious. They can encourage readers to learn from their experiences. In my illustrations, I love to present multicultural characters and customs as much as possible. I’d like to urge every kid, girls, and boys, to become a better self, being smart, confident and courageous.

qu lan illustrator

During the digital era, how can we encourage children to keep connected with books? Can children’s books help them overcome prejudices and encourage them to be part of a multicultural and intergenerational world?

Unlike passive stimulation and entertainment on the screen, reading requires initiative and effort. That’s not easy for a child, even for some adults. Reading habits are not formed automatically by buying books but are established and maintained with the help of parents and teachers. We don’t lack great books with rich content and worthy values. If a child wants to learn something interesting or get emotional resonance from books, I’m sure you can help him/her find really good materials in nearly every field. What we need the most is to guide our children, and to take time reading with them. Tales of other countries, documentaries on science, animals and the environment, books that help children to know themselves and handle different emotions, … a lot of books can broaden children’s horizons. The more they learn about the world, the less they’ll be trapped by prejudices.

qu lan illustrator

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Qu Lan

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