ON STARTING OVER:
When you meet WNW Member #2465 Zipeng Zhu, you won't easily forget him. Raised on a diet of Manga and Gossip Girl, Zipeng's style might not be so surprising as he describes himself as exuberant, colorful, and relentless with the desire "to make every day a razzle-dazzle musical." Before he could live his New York City dream however, Zipeng had to get through the hurdle of visas (or rather a "real life Hunger Games"), and before that, making the big decision to eschew his parent's preferred path of a traditional life in China as a biochemist.
Zipeng tells us about his first impressions of America, how he became a designer, and what it means to start over. He also created a series of seriously awesome illustrations specifically for this post.
What was it like growing up in China?
Hmm… Where do I start?
I grew up in a very ordinary Chinese middle-class family. Because of the one-child policy in China, I was the only child, or rather, the spoiled brat. Since both my parents had to work, I spent a lot of time at home alone, the only thing keeping me company was my Legos. I was not interested in anything else but legos: boxes and boxes of legos. I was constantly constructing and deconstructing lego pieces all through elementary school.
What was your first exposure to America?
I always loved Power Rangers. But in Asia there are two versions: one is the original version called Super Sentai and the other is the American version. My memory of the American version was that it was the same as the Super Sentai but with American actors. I also remember that the cinematography was so different (the Japanese one was greener.) I felt the American one was nothing but a rip-off. So my first exposure to America was not great.
When did you know you wanted to move here?
In high school, I fell in love with the show Gossip Girl (shame, and this is why my English sounds like Blair!) After seeing all these fabulous fancy bitches on the UES, I decided I had to come and see if it was at all true. (Sex and the City was before my time.)
The creative community in China vs. America: what are some differences?
In China, due the the popularity of Manga, the illustration industry is very dominant in the creative scene, so lots of the designers are primarily illustrators. More recently, there is starting to be more “design” designers. But the creative scene in China is still almost a blank paper, full of possibilities and opportunities. Meanwhile, America seems to be much more developed. Both however, are super tough industries.
Do your parents understand what you do for a living? How do they feel about you living so far away?
My parents are starting to understand what I do after they saw the Jewish Museum identity that I worked on. They finally know what typography is, thank god! They also finally understand that living here is much better for my career. We miss each other very much though; I FaceTime my parents on daily basis!
Tell us about the visa process. As a foreign student, what pressures did you feel?
Getting visa is like a real life Hunger Games. There is just such a slim chance of actually getting the visa and you need to make sure you are super qualified for it. Since I was applying for the O-1 visa which requires industry recognition, instead of working 9-5 like most of the recent graduates, I had to spend extra time to put myself out there and let people know who I am. I had to work really hard on everything since there might be a chance 6 months later that I would get deported. Plus, lawyers are ridiculously expensive.
What have you learned in the process?
I learned how nice the industry is. Honestly, I wouldn't have gotten the visa if I didn't have help from everybody.
What’s your proudest accomplishment, personal or professional?
Moving to New York! I was a biochemistry major in high school and it took a lot of fighting with my parents to convince that I'm was going after my passion and not necessarily a safe and comfortable life.
Tell us more about that transition from biochemistry to design.
I was really into manga when I was in middle school and I wanted to be a mangaka (manga illustrator.) After three years of drawing, I finally realized I sucked at it. I spent a lot of time talking about broken dreams, listening to Comptine d'un autre été on repeat and drinking endless cups of bubble tea. All that I was left with was the fact that I knew how to use photoshop (not to mention an endless number of embarrassing illustrations which I'm not sure I'll ever be brave enough to show to the world..) Since I was the only one in my whole school who knew the software, people started asking me to make posters and flyers for all the clubs and events at school. My art teacher mentioned graphic design as a career and I was like, "I can make money from making posters?!" My mind was like BOOOOM. It went from there to me walking on 23rd Street. I mean, who cares about biochemistry any more?
What has been the biggest challenge in coming from another country?
Language, no doubt. It's not just the day-to-day vocabulary, its the slang and cultural references that drove me insane. I basically didn't know anything before 2009 (the year I arrived), so it took me almost a year and a half to finally have an effortless conversation without forming the sentences in my head first.
Any favorite words or expressions?
Word - Uranus
Expression: DUH (with my eye roll of course.)
Best thing about being a foreigner here?
The excuse of "I'm from China" works everywhere and every time.
Advice for fellow foreigners? Other creatives?
For foreigners: Make sure your work speaks for you and hopefully you also made some awesome friends that are willing to help you with the visa.
For everyone: Know your worth.
The future: what would you like to create? Be known for? Dream projects?
I want to create things that represents me as an individual.
I hope to be known for my happiness and optimism.
Dream projects mean an open brief with endless budget.