An Inside Look into Los Angeles-Based Illustrator- Kejun Zhao

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Kejun Zhao is a Chinese illustrator living in the US. She is passionate about painting and drawing and has enjoyed doing it since her early years. Zhao joined Shanghai University to pursue graphic design and equally polish her inborn talent. Immediately after college, Zhao relocated to the USA and enrolled at Syracuse University for her MFA – majoring in illustration. After that, she moved to Los Angeles as a full-time freelance illustrator and currently lives there. Zhao works both on commercial projects and her illustration series as an illustrator.

Zhao suggests that the most interesting part of illustrating is using painting/drawing skills to tell stories. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The adept illustrator adopts her style to visualize and convey a feeling, a complicated idea, or a dramatic scene with practical use. Her illustrations are mostly adapted for paper media, the production industry, advertisement campaigns, etc. “Regardless of the type of illustration, the keyword is always story-telling, and that’s also a major difference between fine art painting and illustration. The illustration is always narrative, regardless of it being abstract or conceptual. Seeing ideas come true is always a great fun and accomplishment,” Zhao says.

Zhao’s career highlight is finding the balance between commercial needs, keeping her style simultaneously, and matching the class with various types of projects such as animation features, films, TV series, ad campaigns, etc. “The delicate part is keeping deadlines and delivery dates within the frame. When I’m drawing up my project, I endeavor to be as creative as I can. Sometimes, it entails going back and forth on composition, color, and more details.” shares Zhao. However, it is a little different when working on commercial illustrations, such as concept drawings and storyboards- the timeframe is more limited, as the style demands a more realistic approach since there’s a need to retain the likeness of the actors and actresses.

An enthusiast artist, Zhao draws up more realistic characters and environments to keep the likeness and depict action and expression more clearly for commercial projects. Besides, she applies dramatic light to them to give the image a livelier atmosphere. But conversely, she somehow retains dramatic light but generalizes the shapes much more for her project. This way, it retains a more graphic style, inspired and influenced by art deco, with flowing lines, contrasting colors, exaggerated lights, generalized shapes, and patterned composition.

Although talented, Zhao struggled to build a unique style at the onset of her career. According to her, achieving this is a revelation of her personality, influenced by her lifestyle and mood and is projected to increase tremendously throughout her career. She tried various ways to speak for herself, learning different skills, attempting multiple painting tools and media, learning from other great artist’s works, and even reflecting deeply on herself until she gradually identified what she likes/is good at and then coined her style.

When asked about any important lesson she has learned along the way, Zhao quickly added, “While pursuing an art career is challenging, I believe that the path continually gets better only when you keep at it.” Being a force to reckon with in Los Angeles, Zhao aims to keep working in the entertainment industry, be a better storyboard and concept artist, and keep working on her book illustration series, “The Moth.”

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