Yao Xiao : Illustrator!



By Izamar Rodriguez


1. Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Tianjin, China.

2. Month, date and year of birth?

February 3rd, 1990.

3. How did you come to the U.S. and why?

I came to the US first as a cultural exchange student with non-profit organization, YFU (Youth for Understanding) ­­after my first year in high school in China. I was young and wanted to see the world outside of my city and out of my country. I also always wanted to travel by myself.

4. How has your transition from your home affected you as an artist and as an individual?

It think the differences between home and the US has given me many more voices than the ones I believe I’d have by age 22. Besides being a young woman trying to make it in the art industry, there are the voices from traditional Chinese culture, from the Chinese immigrants in the US, and from traveler who travel alone. How to speak with all of these different voices embedded in my experience has always been my challenge.

5. Do you consider the U.S. your home?

It’s hard to say. It’s easy to consider each city I’ve stayed home. Genuinely, I still consider myself a guest and a traveler here in the US until one day I settle down with a work/artist visa.


1. What motivated you to become an illustrator/artist?

My mother has been very supportive of me learning about art since my early age. I was attracted by the freedom of expression that artists process, also by the belief that I could be good at doing it. Also, the romantic myth of a bohemian artistic life (however ‘diminishing’ in our modern reality) has always been a motivation and reward for me. I believe artists are still the ones that speaks the most truth and the most brave at doing it.

2. Who are your greatest influences? Who would you like to be like in 10 years?

I always loved Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. They remind me however successful or unsuccessful my current career can be, I should always keep challenging myself to experiment and make the art that is true to me. I also indulge the influences of a few contemporary illustrators, mostly working in digital media, such as Tomer Hanuka, Asaf Hanuka, Yuko Shimizu, Marcos Chin, etc. I want to be like my mother in 10 years. She’s a writer and she gets to wear colorful clothes and travel to different countries to teach about culture.

3. Do you have any childhood influences that show up in your current work?

Yes. Stylistically and conceptually. I read a lot of illustrated books in b&w pen and ink line work, which I adapted now as part of my technique. Conceptually, I like to illustrate clutter of things and crowds of people from different era and different cultural background, I think I got that from going through every drawer in my parents and my grandparents’ houses.

4. Has there been a defining moment in your life that has affected the style in your work?

I think my style is still shaping up. Every time I have gone through a major change in my life–move to a different city, discover a new obsession–my work changes a bit (sometimes a lot). I like uncertainty and I try not to settle until I truly like what’s coming out.

5. What themes do you see the most prevalent in your work?

Right now I am into creating realities that are not quite all real. I think of them as my version of the world. I also like documenting travels and urban lives.

6. Do you do ample amounts of research or base your illustrations on mostly your imagination?
I do my research. Although my concepts are mostly powered by imagination, I try to make everything else as close to what they really are as possible. I believe that is an effective way to invite the audience into my imagination.

7. Do you reference any arts journals or magazines? Which are your favorite?
I follow new work on Juxtapoz and High Fructose Magazine. Also the featured articles on Illustration Age (website).

8. Is there a style that you admire?
Not sure if it is a style–but I admire artists who respect reality but do it with a fantastical flare. Like Toulouse-Lautrec, for instance. I love that he depicts the real life of the performers at the Moulin Rouge with such a sensitive care, while still showing it through his festive choice of colors.

9. Who is your favorite illustrator/artist? What is there favorite work?

The old-school: Vincent van Gogh, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso,…(it goes on…) Contemporary: Yoko Ono, Al Hirschfeld, Andrea Zittel…some of them not illustrators, because I admire people who do things that I’m not doing.


1. What is your favorite media to work in?
I work digitally right now. It’s my favorite and best-controlled media so far.

2. Please describe your favorite process for completing your work!
Initial sketch–transfering sketch onto drawing paper–tight pencil–inking–scan and color in photoshop.

3. Do you like traditional media or digital media? Or do you work with both?
I like digital media because it is very versatile and precise. And that’s what I use for illustration. I do love oil, though. I used to be so torn between the two because they are such opposites yet both offer versatility and precision. I try to do oil studies once in a while.


1. Have you been published in a magazine?

2. What magazine?
Robb Report Lifestyle, Bloomberg Businessweek/China.

3. What kind of work do you enjoy doing for publications?
I enjoy having a bit of freedom.

4. Are you currently employed somewhere? If so, is it career related?
I work part time helping to make an image database at SVA and part time as a design/production intern at Random House. Neither requires me to draw for money, but I do get to help people out with my computer skills.

5. How does your work distinguish you from other illustrators, in your opinion?
I believe every illustrator is unique. I always love the work out there that are delicate, fashionable and elegant, but I focus my work on the fun, bold, messy, dusty, rejected, lost & found clutters in everyday life.

6. Are there activities that you participate in that you believe help you in your art career?
I have activities that I participate in because I think they are fun–therefore adding to my art and my career somehow. I go to burlesque shows, volunteer at film festivals, draw caricatures at underground parties, acting in prohibition-era plays. I like discovering the inner-working of things, instead of seeing a show I prefer checking out the backstage. I get to know new and interesting people along the way, which I think is healthy for an artist always.

7. What is your favorite work that you have done? Your least favorite? Why?
I like the recent 20 Objects project that I did (Where/What/How is Ridgewood Queens) http://www.yaoxiaoart.com/#33879246600 and the rainbow mermaid that I did on the day of Pride Parade NYC http://www.yaoxiaoart.com/#25711795678. I think both pieces are made of purely everything I love to draw ( from the bottom of my neighbor’s garbage can to steampunk mermaids, yes). My least favorite ones are those I knew I didn’

8. Do you do freelance?
I do. Hoping to do more of it after I graduate. I have to turn down mostly everything now in my senior year.

9. Have you had any other publications made of your work? Interviews?
My work is featured in the Transmetropolitan Art Book, Drawing Comics Lab, Fables for Japan, and Chocolate Chips & Rocketships (coming 2013).
interviews: ChinaShop: http://www.chinashopmag.com/2011/04/artstar-yao-xiao/
Ink Puddle: http://theinkpuddle.blogspot.com/2011/07/interview-yao-xiao.html
Fables for Japan: http://www.fables4japan.com/2011/07/meet-contributors-yao-xiao.html
Lofter (Chinese): http://i.lofter.com/post/4a3a_22d933

10. Any awards?
Certificate of Merit from Kennedy Center for theater set art/design in 2008.


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