Yichin Chen creates a 50s fictional shopping catalogue confronting beauty norms
The Brooklyn-based illustrator discusses her creative journey thus far and her latest project which sees her address biases through creative social commentary.
- Jyni Ong
- 28 May 2021
For Yichin Chen, illustration lands somewhere in the middle between graphic design and fine arts. It’s a medium where she feels free to express possibilities within visual storytelling. It has a function, a mission, and communicates efficiently to the public. And, on top of all that, it’s something she grew up with. Born and raised in Tainan, Taiwan, she grew up alongside what she calls “the golden age of illustration” which includes manga, the comic books of Moebius and more. In high school, she was introduced to the traditional method of Chinese painting, which would go onto inform her style to this day. Creating atmospheres using watercolour paintings and inking textures, she builds up complex narratives in her meticulous illustrations.
Having graduated with a degree in graphic design from Pratt Institute, Yichin went onto study an MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts. Currently based in Brooklyn, she pulls from her diverse education to hone a multi-disciplinary practice. “I’m still experimenting and figuring out my working cycle and techniques as an illustrator,” she tells us. But one process she has defined mirrors graphic design as she starts every project with a concept then develops a visual solution from there, one that fits her ideas and stories.
The illustrator takes us through her latest project titled qoog. It comprises a fictional shopping catalogue in the form of an illustration series, advertising magical products to imperfect people (“like me”) which help speculative buyers achieve the “perfect” lifestyle. It’s an ongoing series, and Yichin is categorising the illustrated works into issues. The first, Yichin explains, “covers everything we need for dating.” Mimicking a 50s shopping catalogue aesthetic, hinting at the boom in American consumerism and the resulting sale of a certain “ideal” lifestyle, Yichin creates a recognisable format but adds her own stylistic twist.
The illustration series is a visual experiment in probing so-called beauty and social norms. “As an Asian and as a woman,” Yichin continues, “I have been offered appearance-related suggestions no matter where I am by people who believe in those common norms, which kind of pushed me to the limit.” It’s been a long and arduous journey for Yichin to reach personal self-acceptance because of these standards, a journey which has seen her encounter a number of people struggling with the same external pressures to be something they are not, and for no good reason.
Yichin wants to address these biases, and the way society and some people push them onto others. Using her creative nose, the illustrator implemented a specific visual strategy to point how such shopping catalogues “are basically social-norm propaganda that projects specific social biases that were made by a group of privileged people.” In turn, the series sees Yichin astutely reflect on influencer culture, body positivity, whitewashing and more. A social commentary beautifully expressed through Yichin’s visual style of contemporary realism.
When it comes to the aesthetic inspiration of the series, Yichin drew on her obsession with dollhouses, tacky 80s interiors, and the romantic comic book publishing in the 60s, amongst others. The viewer can see this in the hint of vintage in both the drawing style and Yichin’s colour choices. She applies a similar style to another project, The Crystal Ball in Your Hands which she finished during the lockdown last year while in New York. An illustration series about fortune telling, intuition and our eagerness for a better future, Yichin similarly uses personal life experience to inform the work.
As for the future, Yichin plans to create more series imbued with social topics that interest her. Her next endeavour “is a project that grows from [her] memories ad experiences and has become a healing process while she draws it.” Also in the works is a project exploring healing, self-exploration and astrology. She sees this becoming either a graphic novel or comic series, whatever it turns out to be, she knows there is a tumult of further creative possibilities ahead, whether that’s through illustration or otherwise.
GalleryYichin Chen: qoog (Copyright © Yichin Chen, 2021)
Yichin Chen: qoog, Easy, breezy, silky! (Copyright © Yichin Chen, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.