Atmosphere is just one of the illustrative elements that sets Zitong Shao’s work apart. Born and raised in China, the Camberwell College of Arts graduate admits she likes to focus on the ambience in an image. It’s the first discernible quality across the illustrator’s work; a practice that stretches across comics, editorial and picture books.
“I like to catch some tiny emotion in life and enlarge that in my work,” Zitong tells us. “The thing I always want to do is to show the quiet and gentle strength in my stories and images.” The illustrator also often looks to her faith for inspiration, citing how influential sermons and talks with fellow church-goers have helped the illustrator to “think more about the relationship between the world and myself.” In turn, such cosmic dwellings evidently appear in Zitong’s moving works.
For instance, figures seem to contemplate their place in the world, depicted amidst golden speckles or starlight and moving happily through hypnotic reeds blowing in the wind, bathed in soothing, textured hues. Looking inwards, Zitong turns to her faith to find out more about herself and explore the deepest emotions at the bottom of her heart, she goes on to explain. These are the elements that are poured into the beautiful works from the beginning of the illustrator’s creative motions. What is more, it’s the singular motivation for driving her work forwards, the need to express herself “more deeply and truly.”
Cheap paper absorbed with marker pens is Zitong’s medium of choice. First discovering the technique at art school, buying the materials for the first time in the college art shop, she found the effect to be “pretty nice” for its uniform effect. Ever since, she’s expended on the technique, using it for landscapes and smaller works alike, often combining it with direct pen lines which offer sharp definition to the smudges. This way of working allows her to “express some fine emotions while building a quiet atmosphere,” the illustrator adds; a style exemplified in her latest project Journey to the Sea, an ongoing and highly personal project.
“The project is inspired from the suspicious and confusion I’ve met in my life of faith,” she explains. “As a little girl born in a Christian family, the first time I left home for the world, I found a lot of differences with my previous cognition.” Though the experiences were painful and confusing at times, she felt she had to do something to record them. In Journey to the Sea, the protagonist ventures out into the unknown mysteries of the sea. At times she questions whether it really even exists in the first place amongst other things. “Will the girl reach the sea? Is the sea the destination or is the journey itself the treasure?”
Putting her challenges down onto paper, this latest project subtly explores how Zitong’s relationship with faith has developed over the years. “Challenges are always with us,” she finally goes on to say, holding the power to stop us in our tracks or work through it. There will always be a lot of new information rushing around us, which Zitong found confusing first hand, but through modes of expression such as illustration, she’s found a way to voice herself, both the trials and tribulations.
GalleryZitong Shao: Journey to the Sea (Copyright © Zitong Shao, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.