China Underground > China Trends: Emerging fashion trends in China > Crafting the Darkness with Intricate and Detailed Illustrations: An Interview with Yiran Jia

Crafting the Darkness with Intricate and Detailed Illustrations: An Interview with Yiran Jia

Creating Gateways into Other Worlds: Navigating the Unknown with Yiran Jia’s Mysterious Illustrations.

Yiran Jia is an illustrator, based in New Jersey, whose marvelously peculiar creations offer gateways into mysterious worlds inspired by horror and science fiction. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2020 with an MFA in illustration and a background in graphic design. During her studies, she learned traditional techniques such as scratchboard, dip pen, and wood engraving. This path led her to become a freelance illustrator who combines the precision of graphic design with the craftsmanship she learned through illustration. She has focused her efforts since graduating on editorial illustrations and gallery work. Printmaking has heavily influenced her style and technique. Her works are always inspired by nature, science, fantasy, and science fiction. Yiran considers herself a formalist. She loves playing around with strong and dynamic compositions to achieve an uncanny and spooky effect in her works. She ponders form and techniques far more seriously than meaning. She has been collaborating with Studio RX on different medical advertising projects after graduation. Yiran also creates illustrations for scientific magazines like Nautilus.

This interview first appeared in Planet China Vol 15, March 2023
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How did you decide to specialize and pursue a career in graphic and illustration design?

I always liked drawing since I was little. I guess it’s just really hard to give up on what you have been doing in your life. I decided to learn graphic design in university because it doesn’t sound overly idealistic to me. And I kept pursuing the study of illustration after I got my bachelor’s degree. I love graphic design and it has a huge impact on my illustration works. But I didn’t get a lot of chances to draw while working on graphic design projects. So, I thought maybe finding a balance between graphic design and fine art would be good. And that is why I choose illustration as a path.

Yiran Jia illustrations, wolf
© Yiran Jia

Which illustration influenced you the most as a child? What are some of your favorite childhood memories?

As I recalled I liked reading atlases. I am really obsessed with those illustrations of intricate road maps and local resources of different places. I also remember my grandfather had a tiny little book about earthquake. There are a lot of illustrations and graphics about how earthquake happen and what influence it has on our life. Among the beautiful childhood memories furthermore my favorite memory probably is sitting in the living room early in the morning listening to the radio while my grandmother was swiping the floor. Or took a long walk with my grandfather to the park near where we lived.

Yiran Jia illustrations, eye
© Yiran Jia

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

I don’t have any clear memories of my earliest drawings and I never see them myself. But based on what my mom said it’s a pair of glasses of hers and a human face. I was about 2 years old.

Digital vs. analog. Do you have a sketchbook? What tools do you prefer for creating your illustrations?

I do have a sketchbook. I picked it up very recently. Because I work digitally for both my commissions and my self-promotional works most of the time. I feel like I do a lot of online research for my visual references and just draw a base on digital images, which leads to absolutely zero real-life observations and experiences in my work progress. But it is the efficient way for commissions since it’s not realistic for me to go out and find visual references and draw especially when my client wants the work to be done in two or three days. There are more resources online and working digitally allows me to explore different compositions, colors, and textures very easily. So, I prefer working digitally when it comes to commissions and self-promotional works. But I think a sketchbook is very important for me as well since I don’t want my work to be just based on downloaded images. I still need to experience life and observe instead of planning everything out digitally.

Yiran Jia illustrations
© Yiran Jia

What do you enjoy the most about your job? What is the creative process behind your design?

There are two points that I enjoy the most: one is I can set up my own schedule and execute my work in my own way. The other is I can communicate concepts with an audience through my visual interpretations. I’m still very new in this industry and my clients are most magazines right now. When I’m working for magazines, the process begins with reading the article they send me throughout. Sometimes they already decided what title they are going to use. In that case, I will bring the question and pick up the information I need for the illustration while I’m reading the article. Then I will draw about three thumbnails and show them to the art directors. After they decided which one to use I will just keep pushing it forward and polish it.

Yiran Jia illustrations, city
© Yiran Jia

Your work also includes the design of book covers. How did your passion for editorial design come about?

I think it’s maybe simply because I like reading. Texts expand my imagination. And I always love to see different artists come up with different visual interpretations based on the same text. I’m interested in what interpretation I come up with as well. That’s why a lot of my works are inspired by books or articles.

What are the major challenges to satisfying the need of authors and publishers? When creating a cover, how do you stimulate your creativity?

I’ve never worked with book publishers so far. But I can take my magazine cover illustration as an example. When I was working for Nautilus, they sent me the article which was going to be the cover feature story of that issue. The article was about Australopithecus, what their living environment was like, and their living habits. But the main vibe for that issue they were going for was building a link between us and our ancestors and rethinking ourselves. Which wasn’t exactly the article’s topic. So, I have to adapt the information from the article to the concept they wanted for the magazine cover. I choose a few points like time, environment, modern humans, Australopithecus, and mirror. To be honest, using a mirror as a metaphor was the editor’s idea, so I had to follow. But it was a decent enough solution. I guess the challenge for me when I’m working with magazines is to balance what visual elements and visual interpretation I prefer to use with what editor or art director prefers. The next step was to organize these elements and make them work and that is my favorite part of the whole process. I didn’t give a preference or answer about what should we reflect upon ourselves living nowadays. Since I want the reader to get the overall idea and give the answer by themselves rather than they get something too specific and narrative at their first glance at the magazine.

Yiran Jia illustrations, mirror
© Yiran Jia

Does your style reflect the way you see the world? What better focus your personality, in your illustrations? Can you share with us the philosophy behind your creations?

Yes absolutely. I tend to go back to technique, craftsmanship, design of compositions, and basic forms when it comes to how I reflect the world or reflect my personality rather than concept and ideas. Especially as an illustrator, I think how I depict an object with my technique and craftsmanship that won’t be replaced by anyone else easily is very important. The technique is the most direct way to reflect on how I see the world and how I visualize it on paper through my observation and craftsmanship. Also having a good understanding of shapes and forms is vital for compositions. When I’m trying to convey a either concept or feeling in my works, I always try my best to convey them through pure basic visual elements and put forms and technique on top priority.

Yiran Jia illustrations
© Yiran Jia

Your horror and sci-fi graphics are very detailed and intricate. You open various portals. What can you tell us about these multi-dimensions between past, future, life, and death? How important is it to keep the portal open to build a new future?

That’s a big question! Honestly, I didn’t think that much meaning behind them when I was creating those works. I merely tried to think of my own way to visualize the text I read without interpreting them. I know that sounds extremely boring and stiff, but that’s basically what it is. Keeping the portal open to build a new future is important of course. Whether building a new future or starting a new project it always starts from imagination and daring to doubt instead of taking everything for granted.

What is the project you had achieved that represents you most? Can you tell us about it?

The several editorial illustrations from earlier last year can represent my typical style, technique, and content the most. I was preparing a portfolio for magazines last year. And I picked several topics including war, nature, and science since I want to train myself to be versatile when it comes to different content. For example, there’s a piece I did that was based on how the war in Ukraine had a huge impact on the local environment. It was fun to explore how to use my visual elements to convey the idea and build a connection with viewers. Also, as an illustrator, it’s necessary to connect with viewers through my works and share ideas and compassions even though I value style, technique, and form more.

Yiran Jia illustrations
© Yiran Jia

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Yiran Jia

Last Updated on 2023/03/25

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