Between illustrations, animation and comic books, GRACEY ZHANG tells us what it’s like to work with the New York Times, about the Italian graphic novel that changed her life and what’s the best piece of advice an aspiring artist could ever receive. Here we are at ON! Storie‘s Q&A #10.
Gracey, where are you writing from?
I’m writing from my room/studio in Ridgewood, Queens, New York!
What does it mean to be an illustrator in New York City? What are the biggest challenges, and how do you cope with them?
It means doing what you love and having the best peers, it’s great to having admired certain works for a while and then suddenly being able to meet their authors in the city. Challenges would probably be trying not to eat ice-cream three meals a day – when you’re working from home it always seems such a good idea!
Three illustrators that today you think are doing a great job.
How would you describe the process you went through to find your own style, and what are the main sources of inspiration that are behind it still today?
Just drawing over and over until I’m happy with something or it feels right, doing things over time and gradually developing a way of working that suits you best. I’m always influenced by things I see on the street, interactions between strangers, as well as children’s picture books.
Alongside illustrations, you also work on animation and comic books. What fascinates you the most of these two disciplines?
The narrative you’re able to create! I love being able to tell stories. I remember when I discovered the Italian comic book called W.I.T.C.H when I was little and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Before that, I think the only comics I had been aware of were the old Archie comics (which honestly are really great too).
Can you tell us how your first commission for the NY Times happened?
I sent a lot of emails full with promos of my work to art directors. I suppose they liked them and reached out, and that’s how it started.
Was your family supportive when you decided to become a professional artist? What advice can you give to young artists scared of facing their parents with such a choice?
We definitely fought a lot because of it! I don’t think illustration is a profession they still really understand, but you have to do what makes you happy because it’s your choice, no matter what anyone says. I think that showing dedication in what you want to pursue will make a difference to anyone’s eyes: when they see how seriously you’re taking something, they’ll have to do it too.
What do you think are the first steps that an emerging artist should take when starting to promote their work?
Just getting your work out there! This was the advice given to me. However, I felt reluctant to put out my work when I was a student because I was still unhappy with it, but the more you force yourself to share it with the world – even on social media – the more you’ll get noticed, even if you’re unsatisfied with it.
Do you have a motto that always cheers you up and keeps you going?
“No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative: it gets people going!” (from Blades of Glory).
One precious career advice you received and always go back to.