To those hoping to decipher an artist's interests apart from illustration, one might not come to realize it would also include doing a wide range of activities such as learning to play sports, languages and music. Especially when it comes to describing this particulate fashion illustrator, both delicate-looking and ladylike, who carries an exquisite sense of style.
If you had a chance to chat with fashion illustrator Lily Qian, you would understand why it is not just fashion and drawing that make her stand out from others. Her warm personality, wide range of interests, while living the Brooklyn bohemian lifestyle, and being surrounded by diverse talents at her Williamsburg studio, all contributes to an artists unique point of view.
"A lot of people associate me with fashion," she says, "but I'm actually interested in many other subjects." While she says this, she brainstorms on the importance of trying new things out side of your comfort zone which have have influenced her both physically and mentally to carry on a career in illustration.
"Sailing, yoga, skateboarding, soccer, and playing new instruments; I have always been this way. While in school aside from art classes, I was very active playing team sports – cheer leading, lacrosse, and swimming.” she says, "Trying something new is not only good for personal self-improvement but it also influence and evolve your work." Lily admits when days goes by without drawing, she feels uneasy when not producing any work. Therefore when there is free time on her hands, she values the opportunity to create through her perfectly pair of delicate hands.
Ever since Lily was young, illustration has been at the core of her soul. This was partly thanks to her parents who influenced her throughout the years in ways no one could have done the same. Her father was a classically trained artist and former Dean of Beijing University's oil painting department. As for her mother, she was a commercial illustrator, costume designer, as well as a former ballet dancer.
"All those things just go very well together," she said. "It’s funny, my mom used to tell me I was the easiest kid to take care of,” she continued, “I would draw and read in my corner quietly for hours."
These set of genes and surroundings as a child made Lily have a very unique eye through her own craft - it made her develop a set of discipline that only grows with practice and experience.
For someone with many years of work experience in design - understanding branding, strategy, marketing, production, textiles and graphics, then switching to freelancing in a studio in Williamsburg has indeed been a change of pace on her career as an artist and designer. "I'm thankful for all the learning experiences working full time as a designer, but I felt like I did not have any time for drawing, and I was getting behind in what I truly wanted to do."
She had to do something to work towards her goals, and dedicated time to refine her drawing and painting skills from home.
"When you work as a freelance artist, there's a lot of things you need to figure out. For example financial and legal responsibilities for your business," she says. "It was such a hard transition."
Mentally it had to be challenging for Lily, but because of her willingness to push forward and not give up, she grew more as illustrator each year. Now she works out of her art studio with her photographer friends. "None of us actually felt ready at first, but that extra bit of pressure, made us focus more to get to the next level.
Lily has worked for a wide range of clients such as Perry Ellis, Bergdorf Goodman, L'Oréal, Theory, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale's, just to name a few. She has gained attention across the continent, and finding herself be approached by Manhattan Cosmetics and advertising Agencies from Germany that usually books photographers for their advertising campaigns. This time though, Lily was the exception, and it made her be nothing but thankful for the present and hopeful for the rest of her future career.
Staying true to yourself while finding the right audience for one's work is also an important working process. As a freelancer it takes time to find the right clients. But when you are being true to yourself, the right job will come along. She does believe it’s important to dedicate time to experiment and explore personal projects. In cities like New York, "there's always something to do, there's always something to be working on, and therefore it’s hard to find the time," she continues, "it’s better to invest time improving your craft and developing your work, then the right people will find you."
As her work defines nothing but true modernism with softness, curves and layers, allowing accidents and elements of surprise; lines continue to flow with incredible details. The more complex projects some times requires her to work late nights and over the weekends. But she knows the importance of when to make time for yourself to keep up a balanced lifestyle. "Sometimes, when you're stressed about a project change, you should take a short break and it will help you realize it's really not a big deal and everything always gets done well on time." she said.
Late nights working and making sacrifices has made her realize it's hard working as an artist but "it’s OK, it’s part of being a professional, getting things done, staying positive and building the life you want.”
"I feel like I’m finally doing what's right for myself,” she says cheerfully, “before, I was searching for something else, but it was always in front of my face. It was just hard to figure out.”
To gain more knowledge about the illustration industry, she participated in her local creative community event such as artist lectures, life drawing sessions, demonstrations, and exhibitions. This helped her realize all the different career possibilities in commercial illustration.
As she tells stories of others through her drawings, she also includes her own life interests and experiences. The sketches she paints live at fashion shows, the creative people she is surrounded by, drawing beauty in everyday objects and places, and the nostalgic memories she carries all contributes and allows her to grow as an artist. She truly appreciates the value of these experiences, as they have influenced her own persona and work, making her stand out as a unique curious individual, always eager to learn more.