China Underground > China Trends > Interview with Animator & Illustrator Nancy Liang

Interview with Animator & Illustrator Nancy Liang

She is an Illustrator and animator and she creates unique and dreamlike art and looping Gifs.

Nancy Liang is an artist, illustrator, and animator who mixes paper with new technology. Nancy Liang based in Sydney, Australia, studied Design at UNSW Art and Design with Honours. She tried so many things, to satisfy her artistic vein: textiles, jewelry, objects, and even undertook research in sustainability. She took a course in Illustration and this helped pave her decision to venture into the field. During her studies, she was already teaching. Outside of illustration, she worked at the International Art center of Sydney. Inside monochrome Nancy Liang’s forgotten tales visions of fictional cityscapes and suburban life, every little detail is executed beautifully. The very personal style of Nancy Liang shines with a special intensity. Most of her animated Gifs are night scenes, and in her personal page ‘Over the Moon’ she expresses her fascinations with the night and all the dreamy elements that can have a different shape and a different story under the moonlight. Nancy curated every small detail to the background and periphery, foregrounding the image in quiet, bringing with her drawing the spirit and the breath of the night. The images evoke the circumscribability of twilight, midnight, and predawn delirium. She enjoys working with traditional techniques, such as drawing and painting. Art looping Gif, where a little animation is added to the new illustration generation brings the level of narrative to another level. The artist makes her artwork unique with her fantastic details created with paper textures that give the final work a romantic and nostalgic effect. Incredibly and surprisingly the paper without the help of technology would never arise the same effect on paper. All her elements that move are completely hand-drawn or hand-made frame by frame. Working in layers allows Nancy to animate individual subject matters, drawing, cutting, pasting, and shifting things around in a reiterative process. With the combination of traditional style and modern technology, she has balanced a good harmony that enhances visual communication a great deal. She also collaborates with musicians and makes music videos. Her professional work can be glimpsed in a variety of locations, such as The Lifted Brow, The Illustrated Mixtape, Airbnb, Realestate.com.au, and many more.

Official Site | Tumblr | Instagram | Behance | Vimeo | Cargo Collective

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did your adventure in the illustration world begin? What motivated you to become an illustrator? What illustration impressed you the most? What are your best childhood memories related to drawing? Do you remember your earliest sketch? What was about?

My name is Nancy Liang, and I am an artist who is currently based in Sydney, Australia. I predominately work with paper and collage, and my artwork is often presented as a cross between hand-craft and digital techniques. My practice spans illustration, animation, and installation. However, I’m always constantly curious and eager to explore new fields to add to my creative practice. Currently, I dabble in Korean ceramics and have a keen interest in Chinese painting. During my time off, I enjoy reading, in particular on Chinese and Korean history, language, and historical arts and crafts with a focus on Buncheong. I’m am passionate about the environment (stemmed from my studies in Sustainability in Design), and for the past 4 years, I’ve been doing my best to reflect on my impacts and incorporate mindful practices into my daily life and creative practice. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, or at least pursue creativity in my life. I have been drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, with vague memories of doodling on loose sheets of paper in the hallway light as a child. This passion eventually carried on into my studies, but I was always determined to keep my creative practice open due to my interest in many fields. However, it was also important to be practical and establish a path to work from first. Based on my experience at the time, illustration seemed to be the most feasible route as I neared the end of my university studies. While I took a semester module in Illustration during my studies, my illustrative practice is primarily self-taught. Of course, I applied the skills and advice given to me by my mentors and tutors, but in the end, it was up to me to forge my own path. My Tumblr ‘Over The Moon’, really helped my work gain attention. This was during a time when other forms of social such as Instagram were not as prominent, and all major creative platforms had also regularly used a Tumblr. In time, I was invited to interviews and features from places such as Colossal, Brown Paper Bag, and Hi-Fructose. This then gave me leverage to be scouted by agencies and clients.

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Nancy is prolific and most productive during the nighttime, she can keep working on projects until the crack of dawn. The night is one of the sources of inspiration of Nancy. In her illustrations and animations, we can see whimsical looping Gifs of star-filled nights, mysterious urban stories in a quiet and often focused on the natural elements of cityscapes and life in Australia.

Who influenced you as a person and as an illustrator and creative?

My influences are comprised of people that had continually offered their support and given mentorship throughout my creative journey. They include my agencies, art directors, clients, creative colleagues, collaborators, family, and mentors. A very large part of me is made up of pieces of them. I am very thankful for their contributions and guidance.

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Nancy is a person that prefers to stay far away from hustle and bustle of life, her Gifs are about what the world looks like when she is alone reflecting. She has a personal and experimental touch, and her artwork is filled with poetic and mysterious surrealism.

What do you love most about your job? What better focus your personality, in your creations?

There are so many things, however, I’ll tap into one for now! I love the geographical flexibility of my job. Most of the time, I am able to work anywhere. However, to be considerate and practical during these strange times, I have been residing and creating in my studio and attending meetings via video calls. Previously I have been lucky to enough to work on a short animation stint in Japan, and tomorrow I’ll be heading interstate for an exhibition opening! The only downfall is perhaps staying up during the odd hours. Sometimes a client will be in the US, and for them to organise a meeting in the morning would mean I’ll wait until midnight on my end. However, I am quite used to this and enjoy the solitude of the night!

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Nancy works with a limited color palette that allows her to exercise and develop control, observation, reflection, and attention to detail.

Do your illustrations express your mood and the way you see the world?

Absolutely! I am not particularly nimble with my use of words, and (without a lot of preparation) I struggle to string sentences in most social situations. Despite my tendency to enjoy solitude and shy away from the world, I choose to open myself to others using illustrations spurred by my thoughts and feelings. Recently I’ve also been enjoying reading (and attempting to write) poetry. This non-verbal form of communication may seem rather obscure, however, it is one of my most natural ways of expression and a genuine way for people to engage with me.

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What are your sources of inspiration? What is the biggest challenge when you have to start a new project? How long does it take from the beginning to the end? What is the creative process behind your artwork?

My main sources of inspiration often stem from the world around me. I enjoy observing my surroundings, reflecting on its movement, and trying to understand the patterns or mechanics of what I’m fixated on. There aren’t a lot of big challenges for me when starting a new work as I have certain habits and rituals I follow with my creative process ( for both personal and commercial work). I often start with a brief to map the project, create sketches, reviews, and finally start the artwork which involves both hand and digital collage using found and hand-made textures. With timing, it really depends on the artwork. When working with clients I adhere to a much stricter action plan due to deadlines. Times can range up to a week or even a year.

“What interests me most about illustration is how it can go beyond a static image and be merged with new technologies such as interactive media to create new stories,” – Nancy Liang

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Do you also use traditional tools to create your illustrations? Do you have a sketchbook? What is the main difference between work using digital and traditional tools?

I enjoy tactility in my process, and this stems from the foundation I received in drawing and painting as a child to young adult. While I am now able to explore art freely and peruse the possibilities digital technology and tools can provide for the artist, I also keep my traditions close to my heart. All my textures are found, drawn, painted, or handmade but I also find joy in augmenting and applying them within a digital landscape to aid in the creation of an artwork. Despite the perception that traditional and digital tools are on the opposite ends of the scale, they are surprisingly compatible if you can find a way to process them together. The hand-made is closer to the heart, however, the digital provides opportunities like animation and sound. Digital tools can efficiently complete tasks too mundane and time-consuming if done by hand, and this allows me to focus on more unique processes that only the hand (or human) can muster ie, unique frame-by-frame animations. In addition, to allow me to process my thoughts I always have a sketchbook (or loose pieces of paper) handy. I have two Tumblr blogs that allow me to post-digital experimentations and thoughts. The ‘Ask’ feature is fantastic, as it helps me engage with the creative community. I have a section called ‘Q&A’, where I answer questions and create Gifs or tutorials to my response.

“The mood I aim to capture in my work is what you feel when you step into the night. You are immediately surrounded by a vast sky of stars, darkness, and the quiet. Everything is so subtle and this is incredibly overwhelming for me — it feels as if you could drift away…I would love to fly into the night if I can.” – Nancy Liang

Your intricate Gifs and dreaming illustrations have poetic narratives. You use a limited color palette. What do you want to communicate with this color choice?

Thank you for this lovely question! In the beginning, my choice to use a limited color palette was due to the fact I struggle with using colours. While it is still not my strong point, after years of working in the creative industry I have gained a little skill to wield the spectrum with a tad bit of confidence. However, I definitely do not want to get any hopes up as I still have trouble with colour coordination. This phenomenon also overlaps with my daily life as I have a hard time apprehending excess, whether it be colour or sound. So my home is simply lined with greyscale and natural colours, materials, and textures.

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In her meditative state, she reflects on nothing and everything around her: the stillness of her urban scenes is subtly interrupted by the faint flicker of some natural or urban detail in the landscape or cityscape. Her stillness allows her to captures the environment layers, interesting stories, and unknown pieces of the past.

Are there any of your illustrations related to a moment that marked a significant point in your life? Could you share with us the story behind it?

There are a number of choice pieces I’ll love to elaborate on! However to keep it succinct I’ll tap into two pieces for now 🙂

Midnight Games 2014

Midnight Games was the first illustrated series that launched my illustrative journey. The piece is collaged using Kraft-paper and hand-painted textures using hand and digital (in Photoshop). It was then later overlapped with pencil scribbles and shading. The process involves a lot of scanning and printing, and the artwork had probably been flushed back and forth as physical and digital manifestations numerous times. This series is rather melancholy. There is some pride and some jealousy as I look back at the young artist at the time fumbling her way into a creative industry. She had no idea when once commercially approached it can be a surprisingly competitive and cut-throat place. However, it was her naivety that allowed her to be able to be scouted and further allowed her to continue to create work that is poetic and whimsical. Sometimes I yearn to be that past version of myself…

The Rabbit Lantern 2020

The Rabbit Lantern is a large-scale illuminated artwork made for The Sydney Lunar Festival 2020 with the City of Sydney. It is one of 12 animals of the Lunar Zodiac represented as a sculptural installation in a free outdoor display that celebrates a centuries-old tradition of Chinese Lanterns with a contemporary twist. It is inspired by playful childhood memories of the popular ‘White Rabbit’ candy. The concept is a nod to my humble childhood, where we did not have the luxury of owning toys but cherished the folded paper forms my parents would fashion out of our favourite wrappers from candies during the Lunar New Year. This was my first project that was predominately conceptually driven. It involved more than just an illustrative component to realise it. I worked closely with The City of Sydney and through Gorilla Constructions manufactured the installation. The artwork on the lantern is hand and digitally collaged with handmade textures. It was then blown up and printed on fabric to adorn the Rabbit like a jumpsuit. Through this project, I was given the opportunity to explore my place and my identity. It was something I was starting to question after working for around 5 years in the commercial industry. As a practicing Australian-born Chinese (ABC) artist, I have slowly become interested in exploring how art can contribute to a dialogue that helps shape an understanding of Chinese culture and inspire a continuity of tradition that is increasingly being disconnected from the lives of the Australian-Chinese diaspora.

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Nancy also shares how she creates her amazing Gifs. She also gives some great advice for aspiring animators. An illustration is an art very simple to understand, it immediately touches people’s minds, but even the one that appears as the simplest one has a long process of work behind it.

Can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration “Family Murmurings”?

Family Murmurings is a collaboration inspired by the stories written by Kenneth Chan of growing up as an Australian Chinese in the 1950s and 1960s. It focuses on the ups and downs of one community, concentrating on one extended family. It presents as an exhibition with the artworks drawn together into a virtual reality reel, allowing viewers to explore memory, community, and belonging. The project is an acknowledgment that the Australian Chinese community is diverse, with people whose families have been in Australia for generations and people who have just immigrated. It looks at the cultural relationship with the broader Australian community, through the prism of individual relationships. It is both a historical reference and a personal statement about our past. The project is a first of its kind for me. To begin, understanding how it worked in VR within a 3-dimensional space a bit of a challenge as I’m used to engaging with my audience on a 2D scale. However, I was very lucky to receive an Oculus Headset to trial, and this allowed me to interact within a digital world. Furthermore, it had inspired for me to further explore my own identity as a younger generation of Australian Chinese – something that I struggled with when growing up in Australia. As an artist, it offered an accepting space for me to contribute to the ongoing dialogue the Chinese had played to help shape our community.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Liang

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