Zhigang Zhang is a Chinese illustrator who, after finishing a master's degree in the UK, decided to return to London and work as a freelance artist in the British capital. He describes himself as an observer of everyday life who likes to capture its moments of beauty. One of his favorite pastimes is to sketch what's going on around him or to draw portraits whenever he's not busy working on a project. We caught up with him as he was putting the finishing touches on the cover of our current issue, and we talked about the different opportunities for career development in China and Europe, as well as about the emotions behind his vivid palettes.
When did you start drawing and how has your style changed over the years?
I have been drawing since I was a child. When I was in school, I was really interested in the drawings for each song in the textbook for our music class. I became obsessed with them and I fell in love with painting. At first, I used a pen and I drew a lot, which I still do all the time.
Over the years, my style changed completely, especially after my master’s thesis, as I had been painting in a traditional Chinese style until then. I learned a lot from this degree and I am grateful to my professor who liked my thesis and encouraged me to continue working and developing.
You Are Not Alone / Zhigang Zhang
Why did you decide to move to London from China? What do you like most about the British capital and what do you miss from your homeland?
The first time I was in London was when I was doing a master's degree in illustration, and I have a lot of good memories from that period. I learned a lot about illustration, made friends with people from different countries and felt free here. What I like most about London is the overall atmosphere. There are so many good galleries, museums and great artists. And since I left China, I definitely miss the food the most.
Woman and her bag, 2022 / Zhigang Zhang
What are the main differences when it comes to opportunities for professional development in your homeland and abroad?
Britain is a better place to develop as an illustrator because there is a system set up here for this kind of artist to start working, and the profession is very respected. Clients pay illustrators a decent fee because they think we deserve it. Here, I can meet excellent illustrators from different countries and we can learn from each other. I think this is very important for freelance artists, and it is impossible in China.
Серията Malatang / Zhigang Zhang
What kinds of emotions do you like to capture in your drawings?
Emotions are the most important element of my work. I like to capture the most beautiful and fleeting moments as people go about their day and do their thing in a very natural way. For example, I have a personal project focusing on traditional Chinese cuisine called Malatang. I made a series of works for this project that recreate the emotions of joy, happiness and pleasure. The emotion might last a mere second, but it is significant enough to capture through my gaze.
Baby and Mom, 2022 / Zhigang Zhang
What are your favorite “observation spots”?
I like to be in busy places like the supermarket, restaurants or out on the street. People there do ordinary things as part of their daily lives, and those may be simple, but they are also fun. The supermarket is probably my favorite place, I go there almost every day and it is the busiest place I have ever seen. I feel like I am part of the crowd there and I enjoy people watching.
The pandemic has been a huge challenge for artists around the world. What lessons did you take away from this period?
The worst thing for me was that I couldn't go anywhere and had to stay at home. It was depressing, and most clients also cut their budgets because of it. My inspiration comes mostly from traveling, but the pandemic has destroyed that as well. I was furious. On the other hand, I'm lucky that I can draw to express my feelings, which made me feel better.
Vaccinate Day / Zhigang Zhang
What are your favorite projects you’ve done so far?
My favorite project is a recent collaboration with a Swiss client for whom I did two editorial illustrations. The article tells a touching story from China, translated by a Chinese author. When I was working on it, the creative director told me that the best thing an illustration can do is create a vision that is described by the text. I will remember this phrase, and I will continue to think about my work in the visual space.
Ляво: Accompany / Дясно: Mirror
Our current issue is all about design and comfort. What does comfort mean to you?
It is a time to rest at home or somewhere else. I would like to spend more time at home, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate on the sofa, reading a nice book together with my dog. Or laze around in bed all day.
What advice would you give to freelancers who are just starting out in your field?
I am very proud to be a freelance artist and doing interesting work. It makes me happy and brings me great satisfaction. Although it can be very difficult at first, you have to insist on doing what you want to do, and things will fall into place with time. My advice is to keep going if you love to paint, and don't let anything stop you from pursuing your dream. Success is only a matter of time, so take your time – it will come soon. You just have to work hard and believe in yourself.