Time to color outside the lines and get creative with young Qingdao native Yvan Deng (邓依凡 in Chinese), the one and only live illustrator at Shanghai Fashion Week. As models rock to the 10 minute runway rhythm, Deng’s magic in motion, too, shines bright.
Yvan Deng may have started his art career in Chinese painting, but the first thing he did when he decided to show his drawings to the world in 2014, was to open up an Instagram account (@yvan_deng). Deng subsequently has kept grinding his skills and sharpening his ever-polished pencils thanks to the culture-rich Chinese surroundings, as well as those of the online realm.
The fashion enthusiast’s artwork nowadays is crossing borders: From Lane Crawford shop windows to Instagram posts and the pages of fashion magazines including InStyle (China), Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. Is this illustrator mixing and mashing Oriental ink and Western social media? Is this live sketcher repainting western design using Chinese brushstrokes? Or does Deng simply express his feeling and being at large through art?
In this interview, Deng talks about his working styles and sources of creative inspiration. Time to break out (of) that crayon case!
Back to basics. Favorite color scheme?
Deng: The colors that I like are the colors that I’m feeling in the moment. I may at times follow a seasonal trend or mood, but I simply love all the colors in the scheme and will never limit the work to one specific color pallet.
Your art strongly features rough brushstrokes. Style source?
Deng: I have been practicing Chinese painting since I was five so I’m naturally inclined to follow many a different brushstroke style. I paint with my fingers, my hands, crayons, pastels, carbon, and I also use different media to create a different perspective when embarking on a new piece.
The wide and slanted eyes, sometimes crossing the contours of the face, are the Yvan Deng trademark. What say you?
Deng: After being in the painting plot for so many years, I find that people’s eyes can tell you many things: The right and the wrong, the deep, down and “dirty” reflections of the soul. I find that each eye has a special streak of its own and that’s what I want to show: One specific personality for every character I put on paper.
Where does your overall sketcher style stem from?
Deng: My style and imagination come from anywhere: Trips, fashion, personal experiences, but most of all from what I’m feeling in that very moment of painting. The style stems from both the past and the future, from how we first saw things and how we will perceive them. It’s simply a general idea of what things look like from my point of view, a mix of all concepts and inspirations.
What goes through your mind before you start crayon-ing away “front row”? Plus, aftermath?
Deng: My working style, hmmm… To be honest, live illustrating is a different way to express a notion from the artist’s or fashion designer’s perspective. Fashion has been always a deep inspiration for me and what I do when sketching live, is in fact creating a piece of art within the 10 to 15 minutes a show takes to run from opening design to closing model. Inspired by the music, the ambiance, the colors, the shapes, the textures and a designer’s collection, an unexpected and new take on art comes to live.
I think live illustrations should be incorporated into fashion shows as a fundamental part of the side show because there are so many different ways to express one designer’s disposition. When it’s lights come on on the runway, it’s all about letting myself go with the flow and the feel of the show, taking in the music, listening to the crowd’s hushed hubbub, spotting the lights, tackling the textures, the lines, the accessories, … It’s about spine-tingling imagery catching my eye. And I just start sketching away; a look, a face, a movement at a time.
When drawing: Strategized or spontaneous — buildup, colors, proportions,… ?
Deng: I don’t strategize, the live sketching game is about trying to catch the designer’s viewpoint and get inspired from thereon out. I don’t know anything in terms of colors or proportions before the show starts; I just choose a piece of paper and get all my tools ready. The main ingredient is “emotion”.
You dig 1960s and 70s fashion photos. Does this period of time particularly influence your art?
Deng: I do indeed love 1960s and 70s fashion photography and Brigitte Bardot, Twiggy or fashion magazine covers from that era can inspire me any day. Nevertheless, I do not follow a specific trend or inspiration from any specific era.
I can get inspired by the 1920s, 50s, 80s, Chinese culture, Mexican culture, food, flowers, Indian culture, a Caribbean beach or the colors of the French Riviera. At a show, then, what inspires me is what the designer is trying to convey to his or her audience. And then I just come up with my own interpretation of that. Sometimes I’m actually surprised by the amount of inspirational sources the brain can gather and “transpire”, so to speak!
Fashion Illustrations And Positions
How did you get to where you are now?
Deng: Well, I think success is just a matter of perspective — I don’t consider myself successful because I think only through failure, will you perhaps be able to catch a glimpse of success. That’s just something we say in the studi. Hard work, education and doing what I like without thinking of other people’s likes or un-likes are all that matter. And, of course, the most important is that I have the trust and support of my partner, family and friends.
You entered the world that is Instagram back in 2014. Was this your first time unveiling your work to global onlookers?
Deng: Yes. Fashion has been always my passion and I have been posting on Instagram since 2014 as a fashion illustrator. It was that very same year when I finally understood that I possess a special talent to create this type of imagery. Even though I’d been painting using different techniques and styles since the age of five, I in 2014 started to venture out in pursuit of my own style.
From Influencers To Parental Influences
Did your pursuit of the arts cause any rifts with the rents?
Deng: My parents, too, have always been fans of the traditional Chinese arts and they early on realized I had knack for painting. So they enrolled me in classes when I was five. They were not overly confident when I told them that I want to study Fashion Design at university, though. I studied hard and did well in high school so the obvious parental wish was for me to become a civil servant or teacher — aka stable jobs. In sum, at first, they did not understand “fashion” and its surrounding myths and were very hesitant when it came to my future dabblings/ endeavors, but as soon as I showed my passion and love for the field, they accepted the idea of my doing “this”. Resulting in their major support today!
What experiences have affected your career and| or style?
Deng: I’m proud to say that because in China we have a widespread cultural depth (both in time and space), plus an array of ancient techniques and styles, we have much room for future fashion growth. Which is already developing now. This background innately influences my life and work.
Of course, everything we see and do will affect the direction of our lives, our characters, our wishes, our goals and our perceptions. I have thus far had the chance to see much of the world and this travel in turn serves as a source of inspiration. The best of times, the worst of times, failure, loss, love, all shape the human beings we become. Everything we do, read, eat, touch and smell, will leave its mark on our personal styles. My advice?
Do not tread carefully, but do touch carefully.
Chinese art is rich and varied, it is a complex concept to grasp. Deng always aims to show his roots via art; personal style, after all, is about pride, progress and revolution. All rolled into one pencil pouch.
Inspired by his grandmother, one fully self-taught folk artist, and her paintings, Deng is now exploring the clever cosmos of ancient Chinese ceramic vase patterns. A little hint of these here and there may be spotted in live beats to come.
As Chinese ceramics and porcelain in days of yore served as diplomatic gifts for trade, so do Deng’s live sketches now brave borders, cultures and times alike.