JING ZHANG'S ILLUSTRATIONS
CAPTURE A BIG WORLD
IN A SMALL FRAME
WNW Member Jing Zhang has lived in London for over 10 years, and she doesn't play down its influence. "This city changes lots of people’s dreams and life paths, including mine." During her time in London, Jing has seen her career as an illustrator develop and flourish. In our interview below, Jing opens up about some of the challenges of pursuing a creative career, specifically in regards to pricing yourself and your work. She also shares her dream to have her work printed on a jumbo jet, references London's investment in creativity through the lens of the TFL, and predicts how the creative landscape may shift in the UK. "Despite the political uncertainty ahead, I think the future of the UK’s creative industry is actually shaped by the internet. The way clients and freelancers work will become more borderless; it will be less important where you’re based."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Jing and how did she get here?
I was born and raised in Southern China. I've been living in London since 10 years ago, where I now make it my home. This city changes lots of people’s dreams and life paths, including mine. In 2007 I took my first commission from Computer Arts to illustrate their cover when I was a student. This has paved my way to becoming an illustrator today.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links most of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
My illustration style is architectural, graphical, infographic. From project to project the style might differ. But the general theme is to give all my illustrations a big world in a small frame with lots of tiny people. They can be flat, isometric, 3D. I don't claim to own a certain style. But it is what I find very interesting at the moment and have been the most passionate about.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
Perhaps it's the point when I left my full-time job which lasted for five whole years. In the latest 2 years of my full-time job, I started taking lots of "moonlight shifts." I got more and more commission work, so much that I started to lose my personal time and weekends. So I started my real career in 2014 concentrating on my illustrations. I don't even call myself a freelancer as I am selling my products rather than just my skills and time.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
The difficult part would be pricing myself in the market. Everyone is different, you simply can't apply someone else's experience and price card on your own. On top of that, my customers come from all over the world with different markets and different values for creative work. This added more complexity to my non-existing price card. I had my agents but honestly no one really knows your price better than yourself. And it takes years of experience to get to know that. No, I still don't have a price card.
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
The Imaginary Factory project got me started with my career as an illustrator;
The Recipe Card project kept me going.
The Heys Luggage is my first packaging project.
Legoland map is my first theme park map project.
My illustration for Dubai Expo went exhibiting around Dubai as a sculpture. It was my true honor to be a part of it.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
In my mind, a typical dream job would be a well-established brand knocking on my door and saying, "Hey, here is some money and please do whatever you want." But my type of dream job would be having my work printed on a jumbo jet. I don’t have anything like that in my portfolio yet. I will tell you when I do although I don’t think I ever will. But I think about it every day. :)
Where are the best places to work in the UK?
Not sure if I'm stating the obvious. But it can't be anywhere else than London. It's such a great city encouraging all kinds of creative work.
How would you define the London creative scene?
It's fast-paced, open minded, and diverse. To start with, TFL (transport for London) is probably the best example of a London corporation that embraces creativity so well. London underground feels like a gallery for commuters and a battle ground for all advertisers. TFL also fuels up the creative scene with their own vivid seasonal campaigns.
East London is also home to many brilliant creative studios and world-renowned artists. When you walk into a kebab shop in Dalston, it’s very likely you’ll see the art legends George and Gilbert having their meals next to you.
How do you see the creative landscape shifting in the UK & Europe?
Despite the political uncertainty ahead, I think the future of the UK’s creative industry is actually shaped by the internet. The way clients and freelancers work will become more borderless; it will be less important where you’re based.
In terms of creative style, Europeans keep a lot of local tradition whilst the British would very much like to try everything. e.g. the hand-drawn look has been popular for a long time in France whilst lots of Nordics will favor minimalism. British might just like them all.
If not here, where would you most like to live?
Porto, Amsterdam, Hanoi, Kyoto, just to name a few.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
My husband, WNW Member James Wignall. He’s a super talented animation director who brought me to the creative world.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
I wracked my brain for an answer. But there really isn’t anything serious. If there needs to be one, I’d say that I’m constantly paranoid about “oh no, people don’t like my work anymore, because I have fewer likes from this project than the last one." It’s silly but we are sensitive.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Sleep Tight (Rachel Abbot)
Innerworld (Electric Youth)
Spirited Away (I’ve watched it probably over 10 times)
What is your most treasured possession?
Most of my plants. I have recently obtained a pilea peperomioides. Oh my gosh it is so beautiful.
What do you do when Not Working?
Having some time away is very important for me. I usually go away around 2 months a year. In the last year, I spent 4 months traveling around the world. It was very refreshing.
In my spare time, I just stare at my plants. I’m growing over 50+ species in my balcony, enough to keep me away from the computer every now and then.
What’s your motto?
"Keep your eyes on the prize."
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Stay inspired. Stay excited.
You should keep finding time for personal projects. The benefits of personal projects are so much more than you think, in your career, in bringing better clients, also in mental health.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m working on my cocktail recipe project. It’s a project that connects the recipe with local culture. I learn a lot through the process. I’ve tried lots of new things outside of my skillsets (3D texturing and creative writing). It is my zen garden time after my commercial work.