1. What’s your story? Where are you from?
Hello there! My name is Zaiwei Zhang, but you can also call me James. I was born in China and moved to Surrey, British Columbia, Canada when I was 12 years old. I spent the past 5 years in Rhode Island, the smallest state in America to pursue an illustration degree. Now I live in Brooklyn, NYC trying to start my freelance illustration career. For all my life I’ve only lived in small cities, and living in New York is quite an experience for me so far.
2. Tell us about your aesthetic.
I love contrast and juxtaposition. Whether it’s between shape, line or colour. Composition is a key for me, everything has got to be at the right place with the right proportion. Although I haven’t quite master that myself yet, it’s something I pay attention to a lot. I also love flat colour, and lines that define space and form at the same time. Looking at my work, I feel like I’m not very consistent in terms of style, but I want to develop my sensibility even if the styles are very different.
3. What is your favourite medium and why?
I don’t know if I have a favourite medium for now, because I am all over the place. I usually mix my medium a lot: ink, gouache, acrylic and graphite. I still am reluctant to use digital tools, but every time I decide to use it, I’m surprised by the result.
4. What is your artistic process like?
Usually, I start with a tiny loose pencil sketch on paper, and then I work in the details if something in the sketch has a resemblance of an object. Then I play with pattern, color, texture and more details.
5. Who and/or what inspires your work?
I’m influenced by a lot the eastern Asian traditional art, such as Chinese landscape painting, Japanese Ukiyo-e, and their written characters. I was drawn to them at first because of my cultural background, but later it became a personal area of interest and research. Some of the artists I really admired are Alfred Decredico, James Turrell, Oga Kazuo and many more.
6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?
I remember when I was younger, maybe in 4th grade, I was stilling going to boarding school at the time. As students we were required to wear boring uniforms, I really didn’t like them. So I started to doodle on the sleeves, hoping to make the uniform more fun and personal. Doodling on sleeves quickly became a sensation because all my classmates were asking me to draw on their sleeves. The doodle was barely visible to on walkers, but it nevertheless brought us joy. (The memory is foggy, I don’t recall what happened afterwards, but probably a lecture for sure.)
7. Where did you study?
One of my drawing professors used to say “the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.” It gives me goosebumps every time he says that.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Becoming an established illustrator, being able to support myself by doing what I love.
9. What about in ten?
Becoming a professor, I would love to share my knowledge and experience to people who love illustration. Also if I have money, I want to invest in or co-own a ramen shop with someone!
10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?
To be honest, I haven’t really given much of a thought with what I want to achieve with my art, rather I’m more concerned with the creative process. I think being genuine in what you are trying to convey is very important, no matter if it’s an experience or a statement. After I created a piece, it really should find its own place in the world, because I can’t really dictate how it should be received by every viewer. Although I do love the notion that a viewer can drift away in the image and live inside momentarily.
11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?
Beef NOOOOOODLE and Ramen of all kinds if I must choose a food to live off the rest of my life. I can cook a few dishes myself: my best dish is spicy pot roast. I also like to drink beer, all kinds of beer.
12. Favourite book?
I don’t read very often. But the last book I remember reading and crying after was Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
13. Favourite genre of music?
I can listen to almost everything, but I love Classical music, Jazz, Blue and Soul! However, I enjoy silence too!
14. What are your hobbies?
I love to canoe in the wilderness or anywhere that has a view, especially on a misty day!
15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
I would first become a ramen apprentice, and learn the art of ramen, make delicious ramen and then open a shop of my own. (Or Be a Very Rich man ha JK but seriously!)