Jean Liang is a recent graduate of Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Her work in animation and digital illustration has made her a notable name on Tumblr. With an eye for shape and colour, Jean’s most recent accomplishment was her thesis film for her final year in Sheridan, Happy Unhappy, a story about finding happiness in the little things in life.
MadlyJuicy: What do you ultimately aim to show through your work?
Jean: Story and ideas are things that I would like my work to show – though I’m not always sure if I’m successful (haha). It’s always been a personal goal of mine to make art that has a point. Even if it’s super experimental, I at least need the work to mean something either to my personal life or about the world around me.
MJ: Do you find yourself returning to a similar style/subject matter/even a set of colours over and over again?
J: I don’t have a favourite colour scheme but I do have colour habits that I instinctively use. For example, I think I tend to use a lot of dark purple, yellow green and yellow orange in a lot of nature/landscape work.
Not sure if I have a similar style or subject matter, but I guess I love cats and finding things in shapes, so they appear in my work quite a bit. Making connections and solving puzzles is probably what drives the shape-based paintings.
MJ: You work a lot with digital art and animation. Have you ever dabbled in traditional art?
J: Yes! I think it’s really beneficial for any artist to be fluent in traditional mediums. I like using digital tools because it saves on materials and costs, but there’s a certain feeling that isn’t always translated well in digital mediums. I like to paint landscapes outside with gouache and acrylic when I find the time to, and I also do a bit of silk screening for fun too!
MJ: Now tell us about your digital art and animation! Your thesis film, Happy Unhappy, was amazingly animated, and had a strong message. How was that process of design/animation? Was it everything you imagined it would be?
J: Thank you so much hehe! The design and animation process was probably the least of my worries when conceptualizing the film. I really wanted to make the film expressive but under a mask of barely any expression. The design style was decided to be pretty rigid and that itself meant it was hard to add a lot of extravagant animation. I gave myself a strict set of rules I had to follow to maintain a cohesive look to the animation and design. For example, one of the rules was that I had to clean up the drawings using only straight lines. Usually clean up is like tracing the rough lines of the drawing, but for this film I did it in a really mechanical manner. It was a lot more clicking than actual drawing. The straight lines rule restricted the movement in some places, so the cleaned up animation had much less stretch and squash than the rough version. I think each of these rules sort of effected each other in a pretty logical way so it kind of figured itself out without me having to worry about it haha.
Perhaps the most difficult part was making sure the environment suited the character’s animation/art direction. I made the backgrounds pretty detailed to give contrast to the simplicity of the characters, but they’re mostly made up of blocky shapes too. I think since I love painting, I just couldn’t live with the thought of total minimalism, so part of that decision was for my own indulgence. Not sure if it was the right choice, but it certainly makes the film unique to my body of work.
There were many times during the process of making the film that I wanted to be super indulgent, but had to ultimately make some sacrifices. The whole project was like a little baby haha. I wanted it to grow up and have the best future, but that was so much pressure! I learned -with a lot of struggling- that this little baby of mine would grow by itself and I can’t always direct it to suit a specific need. I think after 4 months of storyboarding and revisions, I finally knew that no matter what, I wanted to tell a story that held truth about how I felt about growing up and life in general. The process was pretty organic and chaotic. Many revisions were done so I could keep my feelings in the film pure and unedited. I had SO MANY expectations about how I wanted the film to be at first, but soon learned to let them all go and just do it.
MJ: Do you have any gallery and/or art show plans coming up in the near future that our readers might be interested in attending?
J: Yes I do! My Sailor Moon series of prints + new secret ones, will be at MEATBALL HEAD, an art gallery celebrating over 20 years of Sailor Moon, August 16th, in Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics, in Los Angeles.
MJ: What would you have said to yourself ten years ago to help motivate you to get to the success you’ve garnered now, now that you are where you are?
J: I would have told middle school Jean to chill out and enjoy life. I think child Jean thought she knew stuff about the world. There was so much more to life than anime and comics… It’s true that success comes with hard work and skill, but that stuff I guess isn’t what draws me to work I find successful. I think being able to experience many things be it relationships, new strange foods, different cultures, etc. make an artist’s work unique and exciting. I think drawing is a form of communication, so if I could go back to motivated a 12 year old girl, I’d probably tell her to go outside more, take more risks, and keep drawing those dumb comics for her friends (no matter how bad she thought they were).
Visit Jean Liang’s site : http://jeanliang.com