Q&A with illustrator Joey Yu

Ahead of Sketchmeet next week we catch up with our guest host Joey Yu, who shares advice for recent graduates and explains how she developed her own multidisciplinary practice...

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  • Becky Brewis
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Joey Yu is a multi-talented illustrator, animator and curator. She was featured on both AOI’s ‘Ones to Watch’ and It’s Nice That's ‘The Graduates’ lists in 2017 and her clients include The New York Times, Girlboss, Tate, British Council and Ermenegildo Zegn.

How did you develop your multidisciplinary practice?

By being impulsive, carrying out whatever project comes into my mind, and by going through a period of saying yes to pretty much anything. If there was any sort of job that came my way, or if I saw that someone needed a hand, I'd do it. It's a good way of finding out what you do and don't want to do. I've helped with set design, fashion, producing as well as illustration and animation. I've found that I get sad if I'm not doing a million things at once. 

Tell me about the steps you’ve taken since graduating to develop your career.

Since leaving university I've been trying to be super broad in the sort of things that I'm involved in. I've done a couple of exhibitions, one of which was in Korea, and I've also been lucky enough to travel to a number of places using illustration as a live drawing tool. I recently did an art residency in Brazil which was very rewarding.

Whilst I'm taking on illustration jobs and commissions, I'm growing more interested in the idea of drawing as a performative thing, and how the very act of you drawing can be a piece of art in itself. There's so much to explore still.

Is there any advice you would give recent illustration graduates for making the most out of their final year at uni?

If you are sitting and thinking 'This idea would be nice... One day I'll do this... Next year...' my advice would be to do it right this very second – just get up and go! You have the time, the resources, and the people around you to help you.

Equally, there's pressure in your final year to leave with a huge explosion, but you have to remember everyone works at a different speed, and you are working to your own timeframe.

…what about for leaving the world of education and entering the world of work?

Nothing in any industry is super fixed and rigid. You have the power to make it what you want to be. Ask nicely! And accept that you'll make mistakes.

Your use of colour is distinctive. Tell me how you go about making an illustration.

Generally when it's reportage drawing, I will spend a couple moments observing the scene and imagine the main sort of mood I want to convey, and the colours will tend to reflect that. 

There are great books to look at when studying the interaction of colour: Interaction of Colour by Josef Albers; The Dictionary of Colour Combinations (a Japanese publication) and The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia st Clair. I also watch the colour palettes from films a lot. But when it comes down to the real movement and act of it I try to be as instinctive as possible without any real rhyme or reason. Mistakes and strange colour combinations and all. 

Join Joey at Sketchmeet on Wednesday 1 August for an evening of quick-fire drawing challenges designed to get you thinking creatively. The perfect night out for any adult or group of friends who love to draw. Find out more and book.