The world of Taiwan based illustrator Chia-Chi Yu is whimsical, playful, jaunty, deliciously sprinkled with interesting colors and scenarios, and most importantly, largely inhabited by cats.
If Charles Dickens is to be believed when he says ‘what greater gift than the love of a cat’, then Chiachi must be getting constantly showered with love, thanks to her 11 cats at home and many other stray cats around her house that she feeds every single day. Cats play a gigantic role in many of Chiachi’s works including a graphic book that she dedicated to a few felines’ surreal nighttime adventures.
In this interview, among many other things, I speak to her about, well, cats.
Tell us something about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Taipei city, the satellite city of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. I lived with my parents and my younger brother. I have studied in public schools, and I always did well in class. I then studied industrial design at the national university.
What influenced you creatively when you were growing up?
When I was in elementary school, I attended drawing classes over the weekends. I was lucky to have met a great art teacher there, and I really enjoyed the class.
Also, I loved to read picture books. I would often read a book over and over again just for the beautiful and interesting illustrations.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue illustration/design?
When I was a first year student in the university, I went to a design exhibition. I realized that I was so excited when I saw the illustration works. But I didn’t try to change my major then.
After university, I worked as an industrial designer but I didn’t like what I did. I tried to draw, and was being praised for it. It was then that I started thinking about working as an illustrator.
You studied at National Art School in France. How did that happen?
I registered firstly for the course of French in the university at Lille, the city in north of France. Then I passed the admission to enter the art school.
Could you pick up one personal project and tell us a little about its making?
I would like to talk about this book cover illustration. This book tells a story about a salmon. It’s a book for teenagers. My client, the Ray Field Publication, wanted to use the scene where the main character salmon meets the child, as the book cover. I used three colors to make the illustration, which is something I often do. I was quick to decide how to show the rocks and the waves, but for the salmon and the face of the child, it took me some time to figure out the right way. I wanted to make the character cute, but not in a common way. Also, I used handwriting to make it more lively and lovely.
How do you balance between client work and personal projects?
I didn’t have many personal projects for a long time. I did a lot of commissioned work to earn money, but at the same time I was constantly looking for what I really wanted to do. However, I quite liked the commissioned work I was doing. It gave me a chance to work on different projects, and I liked the challenge.
What attracts you to literary projects like newspapers/ book covers?
I love reading, and I read a lot. For me, literary projects are more interesting as compared to others. They are full of imagination. I am always inspired by writers’ words. They enrich my illustrations.
You did a very interesting graphic project on street cats. Can you tell us what inspired that?
I take care of street cats in my neighborhood. There were about 25 cats three years ago, and now there are only 13 cats left. I have fed them every night since the last six years. When I had the opportunity to make a graphic fiction, I just wanted tell a story about them.
You live with your pet cats and dogs. Tell us about them.
I have 11 cats and one dog now. I adopted my first cat in France in 2003. After coming back to Taiwan, I started taking care of the street cats, as I mentioned earlier. All my other cats were street cats too, and I brought them home from the streets. Cats are a big part of my life, and it’s very natural for me to put cats in my works.
How does Taiwan inspire you/your work?
I don’t really know how Taiwan inspires my work. I think the education I had in France has had more influence on my work.
Tell us a little bit about your usual day at work.
I don’t really have an everyday routine as such. Usually, after I wake up, I have to feed my cats and dog first. Then I clean their litter, and go out for a walk with the dog.
After this, I finally start work in my studio. To reach my studio, I have to take the metro and it takes about 30-40 minutes. I use the commute time to reply to my emails, read a book or make sketches. I usually work for 6-8 hours, which sometimes get stretched to 10-12 hours. After going home, I feed my pets again, take the dog out for a walk and feed the street cats at the same time.
Which are the designers/artists around the world that you really admire?
In illustrators, I admire Laura Carlin. Beatrice Alemagna, Isidro Ferrer, Paul Cox, Sara Fanelli, Kveta Packvska, etc. And I also admire painters such as Matisse, Nicolas de Staël, David Hockney, etc.
What are the other things, amongst say music, books, films etc., that have deeply inspired you?
I like going to the theater to see performances, especially contemporary dance.
What are you currently working on?
I have just finished a picture book. I am going to make an illustration for Taipei Poetry Festival 2016. Also, I am going to take out more time to make woodcut prints.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
Chia-Chi Yu’s photograph is provided by her. ©
All the other images are artworks created by Chia-Chi Yu. ©