Vivienne Shao is an illustrator who injects fun and humour in to the topics close to her heart
Illustrator Vivienne Shao talks us through using illustration as an expression of the weird and wonderful thoughts she cannot explain with words.
- Joey Levenson
- 21 July 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Born in Guangzhou, China and now based in London, Vivienne (Ziwei) Shao is a self-proclaimed “fun illustrator who creates fun illustrations”. It’s an accurate assessment of Vivienne’s rather spectacular portfolio: bright, jubilant characters animate the frame as wonderfully wacky situations and colours envelope them in sticky situations. “I tend to make humorous illustrations out of serious and debatable subjects,” Vivienne tells It’s Nice That. “I love using highly saturated colours, and I mostly use myself as the protagonist in my illustrations.” It explains why the majority of Vivienne’s illustrations are centred around women and female subjects, because she creates outwardly from her own self and experience. “I also like including the fun bits of my daily life in my works,” she adds. This sense of fun and playfulness has been with Vivienne since she was a teenager when she found her adoration for anime and manga lead to designing her own characters for the stories. “I was excited about illustration because I could create a fantasy or ideal world, and I could express my weird thoughts and ideas that words could not explain,” Vivienne says. She took up a foundation course in illustration to perfect her craft and obsession, and soon found it an ardent passion of hers. “Now, I think that illustration is somehow a diary to me.”
After years of practice, Vivienne found a style that gives her instant recognition. It’s part of the reason why she’s becoming a greater name in the world of illustration and is as highly commissionable as she is entertaining. “I think my signature style is reflecting my identity, and my physical self,” Vivienne tells us. “It’s all about short black hair, long eyelashes and red lips!” Additionally, Vivienne’s own mock-up of herself in the colourful illustrations carry a trademark palette of pinks and reds, which is a far cry from her start when she scarcely approached colours.
As for her process, Vivienne is a dedicated physical sketcher. “I always start with sketches in my sketchbook, which makes me feel freer instead of starting sketches from the digital,” she explains. “Then, I will scan the sketches and start to do the illustrations digitally and I always go for the pencil brushes to create a more analogue texture.” As mentioned, Vivienne then uses aesthetic qualities of herself and those around her to inform the characters and their surreal situations. “I love observing real life, and mainly small and funny moments that will inspire me,” she says. “I have a series about my daily life with my boyfriend and I also created two projects about fertility and another about menstruation.”
Vivienne is not one to shy away from grappling with topics she has strong opinions and feelings about, hence her work The Perfect Female Magazine. “It’s about my opinions and thoughts towards the subject of fertility in Chinese culture,” Vivienne explains. “I have included the stereotypical aspects and thoughts about pregnancy, breastfeeding and birth-giving in the form of a gossip magazine, which was inspired by the Hong Kong tabloid magazines.” In doing so, Vivienne hopes to bring these topics out of the margins, into the limelight, and create a visual map of how she really feels. “I like it because this is the first project where I have pushed the boundaries of traditional aspects of fertility and motherhood, and present it strongly and ironically,” she adds. The illustrations circulated around Chinese social media platforms, where they generated a schism of opinion. “It was super interesting to see people’s thoughts about that,” Vivienne says. “Plus, I would say this is the project that finally unified my signature visual style, and I like how I included Chinese texts in the illustrations.”
With Vivienne becoming gradually popular with every passing illustration, we know that she will continue to entertain, surprise, and floor us with her bold and detailed illustrations. “It’s been really hard to be happy and creative during the pandemic, but I wish to continue creating interesting and fun illustrations for myself and others,” Vivienne says on what she hopes is next for herself. “Of course, I also wish to explore more and try out new subjects in my works in the future.”
Vivienne Shao: There Is Monster (Copyright © Vivienne Ziwei Shao, 2021)