Yue Zhang’s emotion-led illustrations aim to create a connection with the viewer

Despite being new to the medium, the digital works of Yue Zhang unfold many emotions and topics in a single image.

14 September 2021

It may be surprising to hear that Japan-based illustrator Yue Zhang actually only started drawing when the pandemic began. Picked up as a habitual routine to process the personal effects of the pandemic, her work is diary-like in its documentation of daily life, yet retains a surreality – apt, for what a surreal time the past 18 months have been.

Growing up in Qingdao, which Yue recalls as “a beautiful seaside city in China,” the illustrator describes herself as a studious child, possibly even the “submissive child in my family,” who always “tried so hard to be complete and correct in every way, but never really thought about what I needed,” she tells It’s Nice That. In turn, it’s taken Yue a little while to find her creative medium and it wasn’t until she completed a bachelor degree in education in China that she became “conscious of my passion for design, or should I say art,” says the illustrator. Now studying graphic design in Japan following a short stint as a fashion writer, Yue’s studies impact her illustration experiments, which always lean towards digital executions. “Despite being two different designing styles,” she adds, “I’m seeking a balance between them and also want to see where it might take me.”

Yue’s drawings are first sparked when she feels the need to keep “track of my unspeakable emotions.” Logging down thoughts and feelings as notes in her phone, once home or in any “relatively comfortable place,” Yue will begin to sketch out a composition (“I love sketching on paper with pencil”) before transferring to her digital practice. Favouring techniques such as gradation which creates silhouetted boundaries in a piece to provide a three-dimensional aspect to the work, Yue explains she tends to “erase all the lines but create boundaries using the contrast of colour” instead. To create this effect, the illustrator also has to continuously experiment with colour combinations “to find the one that suits my theme well,” says Yue. “Every creative process is like an adventure for me.”


Yue Zhang: Dinner Table (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)

Day-to-day observations began some of Yue’s recent creative adventures. “I think I’m more an observer of life,” she points out. “I prefer time alone and love to watch life happen around me and always have an urge to document it – my work shows how I interpret and react to the world around me.” For example, while discussing her recent piece Horse Eye, Yue explains the spark of the idea began while staring out of the window on the bus. The illustrator’s new university is located “literally in the forest” meaning there’s a fairly large stretch to the train station and students have to catch a shuttle bus. Each way it passes a horse ranch, where Yue spotted one horse in particular, reaching “their head from the ranch and looking at me through the bus window,” she explains. “In this piece, I tried to recreate that moment to convey that sensation.” Other pieces can be more feelings-based in their inspiration such as Anxiety, which features black rubber as a visualisation of anxiety for the illustrator, as it “always gives me an unpleasant sensation which I can not describe,” she says. “For me, facing anxiety is like touching the black rubber.”

By interpreting such personal feelings in her illustration work, Yue hopes most of all that the sensation that has driven the work is shared. “But I want [my work] to be open to interpretation as well,” she concludes. “It would be great if something could touch the viewers.”


Yue Zhang: Hug (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Horse Eye (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Gaze (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Girl and Crane (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Anxiety (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Girl in Rain (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Flower Table (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)


Yue Zhang: Garden (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)

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Yue Zhang: Girl and the Crane (Copyright © Yue Zhang 2021)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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