Chinese designer Can Yang is currently studying graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Born in Shenzhen in southern China, Can moved to the US four years ago where she has been working toward her degree alongside her freelance work. “Most of my projects are situated between design and cultural communication and draw on brand identities, editorial and conceptual art,” says Can. “They are visually characterised by abstract forms and Chinese characters that signal a reflective and critical stance to global affairs,” Can tells It’s Nice That.
Can’s delicate new book White Tiger / Blue Dragon documents the ancient practices of Chinese alchemy, with step-by-step instructions on how to make elixirs. This comes as no surprise, as Can finds inspiration in Chinese folklore and superstitious practices. “I feel that religious practices are subconsciously tied to most Chinese families; in their wedding ceremonies, birthing practices, burial rituals and annual festivals. Having been raised by my grandparents back in China, these traditions have formed part of my early education and are therefore rooted in my psyche.” Can’s manual highlights that Taiqing alchemical medicines can grant immortality as well as summon benevolent, well-wishing gods.
White Tiger / Blue Dragon’s title is inspired by mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations; the white tiger and the blue dragon respectively symbolise the East and the West. In this way, the title reflects Can’s identity, which she describes as a “Western-educated, Oriental soul”. White Tiger / Blue Dragon is a nuanced study into ancient Chinese practices and their effect on contemporary Chinese culture, reimagining Chinese customs as part of the wider design landscape, as well as a personal exploration of Can’s ancestry.
“On the one hand, I want to showcase the design theories and principles I have learnt at RISD. On the other hand, I want to be as expressive and personal as I can. I like to combine concepts and styles that are unrelated and blend them together to be not only visually satisfying but a way to advocate my interests, thoughts and cultural background,” Can explains. White Tiger / Blue Dragon is made up of muted colour palettes and features delicate line-drawings of crystals, glass bottles and distillation devices. The diagrams are paired with easy-to-follow elixir recipes, which include chicken’s eggs, pears and dates.
Can’s White Tiger / Blue Dragon is a printed publication to pay tribute to the rare and ancient scripts she was inspired by. “There is a certain intimacy about the materiality of paper, its texture and the way messages are transferred from hand to hand. It feels as though the colour nuances and pressed typefaces function as a narrative that traces the design from the artists’ early sketches to when it reaches the reader’s hand.”