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Interview with illustrator Zhang Liang

Thursday 02 February 2017
Words Spindle

Zhang Liang, who also goes by the name Ray, is an illustrator who graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a masters in illustration in 2012, and is now has bases in both Beijing and London. He makes bold, cartoon-esque work that pops with colour and character. Ray is strongly influenced by American culture, with iconography such as dollars, the Simpons, junk food, and hip-hop featuring across his vibrant illustrations. His work is fun, zany, and over the top, hinting at excess with candy colours, crazy characters, and wild goings on. He has produced work for Anorak Magazine, Absolut Vodka, The Skinny Magazine, Durex, GQ China, and Esquire Magazine, among numerous other clients. We chatted to Ray, asking him to tell us more about his unique illustrations.

How did you get started as an illustrator?

I was the best at drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and characters from Water Margin (one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature) when I was a kid, and I really felt like I was best at drawing. I was lucky enough to see what options were available when I attended Glasgow School of Art and realised I wanted to do illustration from day one.

Your work has a very distinctive style – how did you develop your own style?

My work is grounded firmly in an obsession with America and its pop culture. I have recently been watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 TV series and Garbage Pail Kids TV series again, which is super fun. I also collect a lot of toys (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Toxic Crusaders, and The Simpsons) at my home studio in Beijing, and that definitely influences my artistic consciousness, so it was an organic process to develop my style. But I am also trying out new things and looking forward to see what my style looks like in a couple years.

What do you want to explore or say with your work?

My work tries to communicate and convey a simple and fun idea – particularly relating to pop culture. My work usually involves a lot of characters, and they are all based on real people. I hope it will hit you with an immediate blast of fun, energy and humorous nostalgia.

Tell us about buy viagra uk yahoo your fantastic use of bright colours.

I like to play with large blocks of bright colour using Photoshop to give my work more energy and fun. On occasion, I throw in some texture to enhance details. I enjoy picking colours, although it does take a while!

“My work usually involves a lot of characters, and they are all based on real people. I hope it will hit you with an immediate blast of fun, energy and humorous nostalgia.”

What’s your creative process when responding to a brief?

My creative process really depends on the brief. For editorial assignments, I usually start my work by reading the article, and finding related image material on the subject, then I make lots of thumbnail sketches until I find something that works. After that, I keep adjusting and refining everything properly until I’m satisfied with it.

Which commissions have you most enjoyed?

I have really enjoyed doing the cover spread and spot illustrations for the cake themed issue of Anorak Magazine. They always give me a lot of freedom and I have learned a lot from the lovely people at Anorak.

Do you have a favourite series or piece of your own work?

I did some Illustrations based on some of my favourite hip-hop stars last year, which was loads of fun. I also did a ten-panel fold out zine that was inspired by my love of some female pop stars.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve got few projects on the go at the moment. I’m doing a few illustrations for Justice Skateboard from Shenzhen. As for personal work, I did a poster design recently that was inspired by my love of ‘Breaking Bad.’ I’m also in the middle of another version of ‘Men In Heels’ – a non-fiction book looking at music performers from the 1970s to 1980s who wore heeled shoes as part of their stage act. I have to do around twenty images so it’s been pretty manic.

What’s your dream project? 

Something crazy like working for a hip-hop artist like Lil Wayne, or collaborating with Bape or Billionaire Boys Club. Other than that, I’ve never done a toy design or a mural, so I would love to do one of those.

Click here to check out more of Zhang Liang’s work.