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Work / Illustration

Illustrator Ping Zhu on how her paintings inform her editorial work

“These paintings are the result of what me and some studio mates down the hall call ‘studio days’, where we get together in the afternoon after work and set up a still life or paint each other,” explains Brooklyn-based illustrator Ping Zhu. “It’s meant to be loose and whatever you want it to be, but in my case they usually end up as paintings.”

More known for her editorial commissions for the likes of The New York Times and The New Yorker, Ping started creating these more personal works a year and a half ago out of a need to paint for pleasure rather than work all the time. “It helps preserve the joy I find in painting but also helps me discover something new by taking risks with no consequence,” says Ping.

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Ping Zhu: Observations

A lot looser in style that her commissioned illustrations, these paintings are full of visible brushstrokes and complementary colours offering soothing insight into Ping’s practice. The illustrator finds herself more drawn to paint because of the contrasts it offers as it’s quite limited as a material yet rarely “leads to a stagnant image”. “I like things that keep my gaze: friends, strange colour combinations and textures. For still life pieces, I like distorting them so they almost become unrecognisable,” she says.

The collection of works range from portraits of people she knows to studies of wild, blooming flowers and plants and it’s interesting to see Ping focus on such a traditional subject matter and applying her own aesthetic to it. “I want to keep things simple so I have a tote filled with my studio day supplies. Subjects aren’t hard to find, and I just work with paper, gouache and brushes,” explains Ping of her creative process. “I start with a light pencil sketch of whatever is in front of me, but not rendered so much that I’m just filling in spaces with paint. It’s more like the pencil lines are the skeleton and the paint is the flesh.”

The joy for both Ping and the viewer is the freedom these paintings offer, and these works feel a lot more personal to the illustrator. “They exist out of necessity to touch base with my own needs rather than a client’s, and I’m in control of how and when a painting is finished,” she says. “The treatment of the painting helps to keep my commissioned work loose because sometimes I try to make the work too clean, when the nature of the medium is quite chaotic.”

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations

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Ping Zhu: Observations