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Meet Yingyi(Connie) Zhu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yingyi (Connie) Zhu.

Yingyi (Connie), please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I made a major decision in 2018 which is to leave a Fortune 500 company in China and go to the US to study Graphic Design. It was a hard decision. I had worked for the company for 18 years, long enough to have grown with it through its ups and downs from a junior employee to a senior manager leading a MARCOM team in Marketing.

Almost everyone was surprised by my decision – my colleagues, my family and my friends. They didn’t understand it because I was not seeking a better company or a higher position but was quitting a good job and going abroad to study something new and challenging. They wanted to know why I was ending a promising career path in order to pursue something seemingly far and beyond and full of uncertainty. Three days after the company farewell party, I boarded the flight to Los Angeles. I still vividly remember my mixed feeling of excitement and anxiety as I envisioned the new life I was about to live. I never regretted it though. I would say that I am an adventurous person with some can-do spirit that one can’t easily tell on the outside.

Looking back at this juncture of my life, I couldn’t see much closely related to visual art in a long span. Things started to change as a result of a mishap I had in 2013. I was returning home from Spain but was trapped in Barcelona Airport for 16 hours due to some odd misfortune. I felt bored and helpless and even scared until I had a sudden urge to draw. Perhaps that was because I visited many museums across the country including the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. I doodled on my iPad with my finger. Time went by fast as I was lost in drawing. Later, when my friends heard about my experience at the airport and saw what I drew on my iPad, they encouraged me to study drawing seriously. Back at home in Beijing, I indeed started to draw and paint regularly. I learned various styles and techniques including sketch, watercolor, oil painting, pen with ink, pastel painting, contour drawings, and more. On weekends, I would go to a studio to practice painting for a whole day. Although I didn’t know it, my quest for artistry had begun.

At work, my job responsibilities allowed me to be exposed to commercial design as I collaborated with design companies. This coupled with my management experience in a multinational company brought me insight and inspiration and also deepened my understanding of the design industry and the difference in viewpoints between the designer and the client. In 2017, I made up my mind to study graphic design in the US. It took me nearly a year to get prepared for the application. I did everything I could to increase my knowledge and hone my skills in the area of graphic design. All the effort paid off. I received offers from Calarts and several other art schools the next year. I did not hesitate to choose Calarts as I was attracted to the cheerful sunshine of California and the unfettered style of Calarts.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As a person with a very different cultural and educational background, I inevitably had a lot of things to get used to when I first came here to study. Even going back to school itself would seem to be challenging considering the fact that I had not been a full-time student for about a decade before walking onto the campus of Calarts. The school’s aesthetic and approach to creating was such a departure from what I was accustomed to. As a person who was used to doing things logically and orderly, I’ve often needed to give myself permission to break the established rules, and embrace a flexible and creative spirit. Calarts encourages students to outdo themselves by thinking out of the box and coming up with experimental innovations. I was excited about our conceptually-driven projects which allowed me to experiment with innovative concepts.

What else should our readers know?
That I am a Chinese woman studying western arts in the US is a blessing in my artistic endeavor because I can judge one thing from different perspectives – oriental, western and female. The clash of cultures and values can bring interesting new ideas if managed properly. As a graphic designer, I love exploring subjects like culture, ideology, future and childishness. I am seeking ways to integrate Eastern and Western elements and put them into my work in a harmonious and meaningful sense. I am a curious person willing to learn new techniques and put new thoughts into my design. When working on a design project, I pay a lot of attention to detail as well. I am also thoughtful, cooperative, and empathetic.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
In my memory, my parents were always busy when I was a child. But whenever possible, mostly on the weekend, they would take my brother and me outside and sometimes to a park, for fun. Mind you, they only had one day off every week in those days. My mom would bring extra clothes for us to put on when my dad took pictures for us. One day, after returning home from a park, my mom told us she would show us how to develop the film and print the photographs. I was so excited. I helped my mom transform our bathroom into a temporary darkroom. We put up a thick black curtain to darken the room and replaced the only light bulb in it with a red one.

I remember watching my mom conjure bottles and cans of various sizes, and then trays, clamps and chemicals out of all sorts of places. While we were doing this, dad placed a big heavy enlarger on a table. For an 8-year-old child, all this was fascinating, like a magic show. The tasks that followed kept us busy for a whole night. But when the photos finally came out, my eyes lit up and my weariness was gone. Although I didn’t become a photographer, later on, I do enjoy serious shooting with a camera. The origin of this hobby, I guess, can be traced back to the fun activities in the parks and in our makeshift darkroom.

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Yingyi (Connie) Zhu

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