Welcome to Submit Saturdays, a year long series of articles in partnership with Squarespace. Be it a professional work website, a shop, a social enterprise or a site that hosts a personal project, Submit Saturdays will showcase the work of creatives around the world who use the online platform Squarespace. This is a great new opportunity to share your projects and ideas with our readers.
New York-based illustrator Jocelyn Tsaih was born in Taipei and grew up in Shanghai. Her largely monochromatic work depicts curious looking human forms that are at once recognisable and alien. Jocelyn has had her work published by the likes of California Sunday Magazine and her client list includes WeWork, Nickelodeon and Hearst Digital Media.
What was your route to becoming an illustrator? Where did you study?
Growing up, I always had creative hobbies and the support of my parents to pursue them, but I never planned on creating a career out of them. It wasn’t until I started attending pre-college programmes that I took my interests seriously. I explored a few different routes to figure out what I wanted to study, which included fine arts, advertising, and interior design, but when it came time to decide, I went with graphic design at School of Visual Arts in New York. I didn’t know what graphic design really meant, but after observing other people’s work, it seemed that design was a pretty open concept with many possibilities.
During my four years at SVA, I started to realise that what I enjoyed the most was creating image-based work or combining illustration with design. I started veering even more towards illustration especially after taking a motion graphics class. I learned frame by frame animation in this class and really enjoyed the drawing process. It seems a bit backwards, but design brought me to motion graphics, motion graphics brought me to animation, and animation brought me to illustration, which is mostly what I do now.
What is the most important thing you have learned in your career to date?
One important thing I’ve learned is when to say yes or no. Sometimes I really want to say yes to every single project that I encounter, but there are so many factors to be considered. I’ve come to really value the projects that challenge me, allow me to have freedom, and push my work in the direction I’m hoping for it to go in.
A lot of your work is monochromatic – what dictates the colour palette you use?
I think I naturally favour black and white because the concept of duality is always in the back of my mind when I’m creating my work. Though black and white creates contrast, I see it more as a form of balance. Sometimes it’s challenging to limit my palette, but I often feel that something becomes even more successful if I embrace the limitations. I do also believe in the importance of not constraining myself too much, so I’ve recently been exploring the use of minimal colour, which has presented a lot of new ideas.
The vaguely human forms in your work are familiar yet alien. Who would you say are your influences?
I started drawing the figures because I liked how ambiguous they were. I wanted them to be relatable yet somewhat alien, like you mentioned. It is important to me that the focus is less about the figures and more about what they are trying to express, which is why they don’t have any distinct physical characteristics and look more like blobs. Keith Haring’s work has definitely been an influence on me. I’ve always admired how expressive his figures were even without distinct qualities.
Tell us about your Eggif project.
My Eggif project is a combination of two things I love: eggs and gifs! I love eggs so much that I used to argue with my sister about who loved eggs more. I always made sure I won. This project was just a fun way for me to further declare my love for eggs in a digestible way. I’ve never dedicated so much time to one particular subject, but I figured that if I had to pick, it might as well be eggs.
How did you approach the design of your site? What did you prioritise when showing your work?
When figuring out the design of my site, I wanted to make sure that it was straightforward and simple to use. I wanted the navigation to be easy for others and the focus to be on images rather than descriptions. I also prioritise my recent projects, if those projects are what I want others to see first when they come to my site, or if I feel that past visitors may check back to see what I’ve been up to.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
I’m hoping to do more collaborations with friends and other artists. There are a few collaboration projects in the works, including an ongoing side project called Kitchshn.co, which is a platform a fellow illustrator, Kevin and I created to collaborate on designs for pins, shirts, hats, and such. It’s nice because this kind of collaboration is very hands-on; we do a lot of screen printing and like to try out new mediums like polymer clay. We’ve been selling our stuff at a couple of fairs, which has been really fun mostly because it’s a great way to meet other artists, designers, and makers. Hopefully we’ll be at more fairs around New York throughout the year.
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