Taking the Pulse of 2021 Young Blood Award Winners

Q&A with 2021 Illustration Awards Young Blood Winner Lu Xu

May 18, 2021


feast, cat, dinner, illustration, applied arts, china, culture, death, funeral, food

Lu Xu, DEATH AND CELEBRATION OF LIFE, Young Blood Illustration - Series, 2021 Illustration Awards winner. 

Lu Xu is a creative polymath having worked as a copywriter, marketer, creative director, translator, illustrator, and graphic designer. Her work is infused with magical realism, and her life is infused with her creative work. She was gracious to answer some questions for us about her process and influences. You can see Lu’s work at her website here and on her Instagram here.

What is your creative process (from idea to finished product?) What inspires you?

I value the concept very much. I draw inspiration from books, movies, or observations of real life, and then record these fragments of thoughts by simple sketches and words, where the ideas gestate. If there is no deadline I have to meet, this process might be surprisingly slow sometimes.

It also takes time when I start finishing a piece. I always want to try different drawing approaches and I like experimenting with the composition (fortunately, the computer makes it much easier). Generally speaking, I am the type of person who probably gets inspired during the drawing process. Especially if it is a personal project with no restrictions, even if I myself am not sure what the finished piece will look like until the end.

Can you walk us through the specifics of creating this piece (specific winning piece)?

The idea of this piece comes from my personal experience. This custom of turning a funeral into a celebration of life is what I have experienced when I attended the funeral of one of my family members in my hometown. The attitude towards death left a deep impression on me when I was young. After a few years when I started learning illustration, I strongly wanted to tell this story via my visual language. My imagination and exaggerated expressions are also mixed inside regarding the finished piece.

In the process of drawing, I deconstructed almost every element in the image and hand-drew them, sometimes the outline and the clothes’ texture were drawn separately, which helped me to move their positions freely on the computer so that I could experiment with different compositions easily.

Where did you go to school? How did your scholastic experience shape your creative career? How would you describe your artistic style?

I studied in MA Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts in London. Before that, my study and work experience were more related to the word. I have worked as a translator, a copywriter, and also a creative director participating in short film shooting and graphic production, but at that time the execution of visual parts was responsible by other colleagues. Gradually, I came up with the idea of creating visuals by myself and started to learn drawing.

Camberwell’s postgraduate course is the only time I have officially received professional illustration education (however, it is a pity that it was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for much time). The university owns all kinds of art equipment. Although I was a student of illustration, I often went to printmaking, pottery, and other studios; also I liked seeing artwork made by other students who were studying graphic design, theatre design, etc. Later in the semester, my tutors told me that they could see the influence of etching and graphic design in my works. I think it is these free explorations that keep influencing me subtly and forming my own artistic style.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in your field?

As a freshman in this industry, it may not be very suitable for me to give advice. Maybe just “believe in yourself.” I think creating something will inevitably suffer a lot of setbacks, sometimes from external doubts, sometimes from your own confusion. But as long as you don't stop, these doubts will disappear over time, and then you will have more strength to meet the next setback.

What are you working on professionally? Anything outside of the usual?

My experience in the past has extended my career possibility a lot. For now, besides an illustrator, I am also working as a graphic designer, an exhibition curator, and a writer. Well, it seems I am never able to concentrate on one field…

Who is your creative hero? If you could buy any work from any artist, who would it be?

Definitely David Hockney. He has created many kinds of art forms and all the artwork was added in his unique atmosphere. I really like his etching series, such as “A Rake’s Progress” and “The Blue Guitar.” Besides, he is so productive with endless ideas. I respect him very much and at the same time am jealous of him.

What is your dream work environment?

It may be as what Virginia Woolf said, “money and a room of her own.”

How do you stay creative/inspired?

I like freshness. I will look for life that I may not be able to experience in books and movies, and I like trying new things in daily life. But in reality, there is not so much time and money to go out so often, so I have to practice my imagination in the mundane.

Tell us your biggest art world pet peeve?

I think I’m too slow. It would be great if I could draw faster. There are many ideas in my mind and I hope I can have an AI to help me realise them all.

What are your interests outside of work?

Now my work and interests seem to be mixed together, which is creating and appreciating others’ creation, whether it is text or visual. I hope I am interested in sports, but unfortunately, I am not.