On first seeing Whooli Chen's illustrations, I was delighted by her unique interpretations of the subject matter and organic, surreal style. Based in Taiwan, she has a MA degree in illustration field from University of the Arts London and has worked on a number of books, newspapers, and magazines.
Whooli very kindly took time to answer a few of my questions.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a freelance illustrator based in Taiwan. I do editorial illustrations for newspapers, magazines, graphic books, and collaborations with a variety of companies in different fields. I also run a studio with my sister.
Your work are reminiscent of folk tales and children's stories. Would you agree with this and what stories have influenced you?
I do like old-time atmosphere, and also trying to take that as a key visual element in my works. I love literature. Dream of the Red Chamber, an 18th century Chinese novel, is my latest amusement. Angela Carter’s quirky stories are always fascinating.
Would you explain the concept behind "The Travelling Project" and "The Diary Project"?
Don’t have much concept behind “the travelling project” really. It’s created when I was in London. Although stay there as a student, I always felt like as tourist. So detached from the locals, seemed the days they’re living can be called a day-to-day life, rather than mine. So what we did, my sister and I, was travelling and exploring the city. The drawings were send out as postcards, described our journey in London.
“The diary project” is a collaborative project with 集日美工(365days.tw). A cover of 365days calendar notebook and entitled “Room of one’s own”. It’s about collecting, people collect leaves, coral specimen pieces, oak fruits, and childhood hair. Treasure them as they reflect our memories. Until rooms are filled. However, with a filled room, we ourselves still dream about being collected, in someone else’s room.
Editorial illustrations are for magazines and newspapers. After I got a story form editor, I’ll read it thoroughly then pick the elements out and give the connection between them, story becomes the frame, and hopefully the relation of every little elements can be depicted and reveal the story, therefore illustrate the frame. I am always trying to find a new approach to every story, a new way to construct, to express, or, even an interpretation. As long as the illustration meets the gist of the story, and understandable. I’ve been completely trusted.
How did you develop your skills and what would you say has been the most important thing you've learned in your career?
I studied fine art before I got a MA degree in illustration. There is a fine line between these two disciplines, in training and in the way of expression as well.
When you were in school, especially in Taiwan, every assignment was about to improve your technical skills, and your capabilities to manage all the tools. However, when you are twenty, that was the whole thing you’d sniff at, ... conventional, academic,... If, there were any heritage left, I’d say, it has made “the career” much approachable.
What is the significance of animals in your work? You have mentioned missing a fox that you knew in London.
“Whooli” is the pronunciation of fox in Chinese. I was living in the top floor of a 19th century yellow brick house in west London there was a red fox living across the street, sometimes I can see her sunbathing in neighbour’s back yard. I miss her, so take Whooli as a pseudonym name, it’s kind of remind me the London times.
What materials do you use to create your illustrations and why do you use these in particular?
Hand drawing, and digital colouring. Digital can be adjusted easily, which save some labour for low-paid commissions...
What have been some of your favourite responses to your work?
Poetic, is one of the compliments I enjoy most.
Do you have any favourites or pieces of special importance among the work you've done?
Favourite is always the next one. And, I think my MA graduated project “Land and Tales ” plays the role as a small milestone.
Who is your favourite musician, film maker, painter and writer and why?
Marc Chagall, Rene Magritte, Egon Schiele, Francesca Woodman, Sarah Moon, Sophie Calle, Angela Carter. They are all inspiring and have a remarkable vision in their field of art.
What are you currently working on and what future projects do you have planned?
I’m in the half way of a children’s book. And, some secret projects under the name of our studio, hopefully will come true this year.
Thank you, Whooli.