Today we’d like to introduce you to Kejun Zhao.
Hi Kejun, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I’ve been loving painting and drawing since childhood. I can’t remember how it started, but it’s natural to me. So I keep doing that, learning skills and growing my own style up gradually. When being enrolled in college, I majored in graphic design. At that time, I learn the skills of digital painting, computer programs and how to communicate with clients. As a graphic designer, I have to suffer from pretty strict disciplines and requests from clients, so I couldn’t really “create” or “build-up” something. When I was in the junior year, I did some illustrations for my book and package design, and then a door of the whole new world opened in front of me! It is the type of art I was looking for and I really enjoyed. Then I started doing my own illustrations and enrolled in Syracuse University pursuing Illustration MFA. After getting my MFA in 2015, I moved to Los Angeles and work as a full-time freelance illustrator until now.
As an illustrator, I work both for commercial projects and my own illustration series. The commercial projects include concept sketches and storyboards. For concept sketches, I illustrate some key art illustrations for movies, TV series and conceptual photo shooting, which may end up as physical posters, billboards, bus wraps, bus shelters, etc. The key point of my job is to follow the general direction of the creative department and use my own creative way and style to visualize the concept and meets the client’s request. (For example, the direction from art director says “2 people stand back to back in front of the house, grumpy. ” And then I’ll try to figure out the accurate poses of 2 people, the angles, the expressions, the outfits, the environment, the vibe, etc., and then draw these out.) The storyboards are usually for advertisement, music video, animation, trailers of games, films and TV series. The key point of storyboarding is to figure out the angles, the actions and the number of frames needed in order to help the director and the production crew to visualize the whole video and calculate the budget as well. Besides these commercial projects, I also worked on some series of illustrations for myself. I did some children’s book illustrations and working on my own graphic novel now.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
When I started illustrating, the big challenge is to build a unique style. It didn’t come out at one night obviously. “It’s like extraction of my personality, so it will be influenced by my life and mood, and keep growing up throughout my whole career.” I tried various ways to speak out for myself, learning different skills, trying different painting tools and media, studying other great artists’ works, or even rethinking profoundly about myself, so I gradually realized what I really like and what I’m really good at, and then form my own style.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
The most interesting part of illustrating is using painting/drawing skills to tell stories. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As an illustrator, I can use my own way and style to visualize and convey a feeling, a complicated idea or a dramatic scene. And it has a practical use. Most of the illustrations are using for paper media, production industry, advertisement campaigns, etc. (No matter what type of illustrations is, the keyword is always story-telling, and that’s also a big difference between fine art painting and illustration. Illustration is always narrative, even we illustrate something abstract or conceptual.) It’s always a great fun of accomplishment to see the ideas come true.
The highlight of career for me is finding out the balance between commercial needs and keeping my own style at the same time and match my style with various types of projects such as animation features, film, TV series, ad campaigns, etc. The tricky part is that you have to keep the delivery time in mind. When I’m drawing my own project, there’s no client, so I can go back and forth on composition, color, and more details. But when working on commercial illustrations, such as concept drawing and storyboard, the time will be more limited. Moreover, the style will have to be more realistic since we need to keep the likeness of the actors and actresses.
For commercial projects, I usually draw the characters and environment realistic in order to keep the likeness and show action and expression more clearly. I also apply dramatic light on them to make the whole image with more dynamic atmosphere. For my own project such as children’s book illustration, I keep the way of dramatic light somehow but generalize the shapes much more, so it’s more graphic style, inspired and influenced by Art Deco, with flowing lines, contrasting colors, exaggerated lights, generalized shapes and patterned composition. Every element works for the story in the picture.
(Welcome to see my works at www.kejunzhaoillustration.com!! It may show my styles more clearly.)
How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
It’s always easy to work as a freelancer honestly. 🙂 The relationship between me and my client are really simple and comfortable. As long as clients give me a clear brief and enough time, I always do my best to deliver good pieces for them.