When asked how she became interested in illustration, Li Ya Wen, a Taipei-born creative admits it was largely because she “was so bad at anything else in school.” Growing up in Taipei, Li felt a lot of pressure from her parents, as well as society, to perform well academically “but I was never particularly interested in any class other than art, music or language,” she continues.
As a result, evenings for Li were spent drawing on her bedroom walls, meaning that when it came to her family moving house “my parents found my bedroom covered with my hand drawings,” the illustrator recalls. “I think that was the moment they discovered I want to be far, far away from school,” and so her parents got her a place in an art studio every Friday to spend time with the medium. A little later, she moved to a vocational college where she learned traditional mediums of creativity such as watercolour, oil painting and printmaking, before embarking on an exchange programme to Switzerland where her creative ambitions were given room to be realised.
Exploring the art scene in Europe, Li began to filter new influences into a way of working where she was “finally able to truly absorb something unique for myself,” she tells It’s Nice That. Starting to pull together a collection of colours she associated with different moods and environments, a distinctive style began to develop which she translated through gouache, a “tasty medium” that requires confidence to apply.
Li’s time in Europe not only developed her chosen styles but themes too, now describing her unique look as a “dream-like style embracing emotions and gender and colours and the sentimental!” She explains how originally her artistic point of view was a journey of self-discovery, and now, with a cohort of female artists also doing brilliant things in Taiwan, the narrative of Li’s creations have widened. Collecting the viewpoints and experiences from women around her “who also want to discuss their bodies and anxieties, it’s helped me to develop my work outside of myself.” By commenting on beauty standards artistically, it’s her aim to “show real girls with real bodies and real feelings,” adds Li. “I want to encourage people to open up and have conversations about sensitive topics like body image and sexuality. Beauty has more than one definition.”
Currently developing her artistic practice alongside a full-time day job, dedicating time to creativity is increasingly difficult for Li – but it’s not dampening her spirits. After all, it’s what she’s always loved and now she’s “doing multiple things at once, just cooking it up like a creative mess!”
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