GALLERY ARTIST INTERVIEW: ZHANRUI LIU

Tell me about yourself, how and when did you start creating artwork?
I was born and raised in Sichuan, China. And growing up, I always loved doodling, however, I never considered art as a career at that time, because there’s no artistic gene that runs my family. But everything changed after I graduated from high school, I started to think about my future and I repeatedly asked myself where do I see myself in the future. And in the end, I can’t hide my passion for art and animation, so I made a reckless decision to follow my heart to pursue my dream in animation. I decided to start my art journey in 2015, so I went to San Francisco and finished my degree in Visual development at the Academy of Art University. And because of this experience, I met so many amazing teachers and inspiring friends.

What is your process in creating art and what is the primary medium you work with?
Art is very subjective, I enjoy a range of mediums, such as, Oil Painting, Watercolor, Gouache, and Digital Painting, every medium has its advantage and I love exposing around and see what’s the possibilities of each medium. But for my primary medium would be Photoshop, I love the digital medium because it’s flexible and has endless potentials, and it benefits me more like a Visual Development artist. For most of my process, having a rough idea of the general direction and a good story would benefit me, and next, I will spend plenty of time on digging references, for characters, a good shape language can be used to defines personality. But sometimes, I will try to break the rules and explore around and find the most accurate fit for the character. 

What is your favorite medium to work in?
Photoshop

What is your favorite subject matter?
I love to draw cats and people, and I get inspired by street photography, such as Fred Herzog, Vivian Maier, Alex Webb, Robert Herman, Martin Parr, Robert Frank, Joel Meyerowitz, they captures the glimpse of time, every time I look through their photo will always inspire me, it’s a like a time capsule, street photography is very storytelling and I got tons of inspiration from those photos, like how they dress or how they pose, everything tells a story.

What art tools do you use, and do you have any tools or brands that you recommend?
Photoshop and oil paints

What sources would you recommend for artists that are interested in pursuing your art medium?
I mostly use digital tools such as Photoshop or Procreate. But there’s a limit to digital painting, traditional art has its own charm, and instead of mimic the traditional approach through the digital tool, I love to get my hands dirty and just get brush and canvas, personally, I love Oil Painting and it’s good that traditional work has no undone button, so I will think carefully before I put down my stroke. And normally I got my paint from Blick Art Materials because they have a range of choices, so I can choose the paint within my budget.

How did you develop your skills? 
When I decided to pursue the artistic path, I attended art school and in the school, I think art school is a good place to start and building foundations and connecting amazing artists. And often we will go out and sketch at a park or cafe, and doing some Plein-air paintings. Besides schoolwork, I think having social media helped me find various talented artists to get inspired. During school, I took a character design class at the animation collaborative and it was a wonderful experience and through that class, I learned more about designing characters for production. 

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?
There are so many good artists out there, especially nowadays, through social media, I discover so many amazing artists that inspire me every day. 

If you could give any advice to your past-artist-self, what would it be?
Art is a journey, not a destination, just enjoy the ride. Explore more and don’t get too protected about the art you created, don’t sit around and stress out for being not creative, just take a walk and see the world, inspiration will come. And don’t stare and the screen for too long, because you won’t like wearing glasses!

What part of the creation process is the most fun and what part is the hardest? 
I think design is full of surprise, sometime I started struggling and end up proud of the design, and sometimes it went opposite. I think the design and exploring the character is the most fun part and I enjoy the rough sketches, loose lines. And I think it’s hard to keep the same energy when I clean up a design and in most cases, the finished design will lose some of the charms of the initial sketch, so I will just go back to the rough sketch and do it again. 

What project you have worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve worked on several projects like commercials, TV shows, and feature films. After graduation, I was lucky enough to join LAIKA studio and be part of their team for the next feature film, and I met so many amazing artists there and they inspire me every single day. 

What is your ultimate goal as an artist? Has this changed over your art career?
My goal changes consistently, but working in the animation industry is constant, I love animation ever since I was a kid and this passion has never changed a bit, I am often lost in the imaginary world, and I believe animation has endless potential. 

What is your favorite plant and/or animal? 
Iris and cats.

Is nature something that you’re drawn to? 
A big yes, I love nature, and especially after I move to Portland, I went hiking a lot, and walking in a forest really calms and keeps my mind clear. Especially natural is full of surprise, I got inspired a lot. 

Can you tell us about the pieces you created for this gallery? 
I think life is a cycle and a balance between life and death, I believe life is a gift and death is a new beginning, so I included this idea in my work. 

Are there any messages that you’re aiming to convey with the art you created for this gallery? 
Life is about the journey and sometime it’s nice to stop by and appreciate things around you.

Would you like to share any stories/experiences/special memories that revolve around the theme of this gallery? 
When I was little, My parents moved to a city in the southernmost of China, right next to a national rainforest park, the park is part of the wild elephant migration routine, and people often spot a group of wild elephants hangs out in the forest. The wild elephant is a blessing to the world. But as I grow up, the encounter of humans and elephants get less and less, it’s sad to see fewer elephants in the wild, and sadder to see the elephants in the cage or performing. So I decided to include elephants in my work. 

If you could invent any kind of plant or animal, what would it be/look like/what kind of environment would it thrive in? 
If I could invent a flower, it would be growing next to a pond and bloom like flaming fire.

Have you participated in the Artist Lodge Gallery before? 
It’s my first time

YOU CAN FIND MORE FROM ZHANRUI LIU HERE:
Website
Instagram

*Please note that all artwork is reposted with permission from the artists. Please do not use, alter, or repost the artwork without direct permission from the artists. Each artist may have a different Creative Commons license on their work/images and you will need to contact them directly in order to obtain permission for your uses.

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