You may be sitting in bed or at your desk with hands resting on a keyboard, but when you view artist Nancy Liang‘s GIFs, you’re instantly transported elsewhere. Nancy’s artwork is, essentially, a comfortable journey filled with magic and light and poetic visuals.
If one were to describe her work in terms of a specific place and circumstances, it would go something like this: the GIF-maker’s art is the equivalent of a cozy cabin in the middle of a snowy, December woods. You’re curled up with a great book on the familiar couch that’s been passed between family members, while a cup of homemade hot cocoa is resting nearby. You feel safe. You feel at home. You are ready to take a transitory trip to another land.
Before we take a peek inside this brilliant creative’s mind, there’s something that we must mention – Nancy created a GIF exclusively for HelloGiggles and it’s absolutely breathtaking:
Now that you’ve gotten just a taste of her talent, let’s proceed…
HelloGiggles (HG): Who, or what, inspires your phenomenal work?
Nancy Liang (NL): I draw inspiration from almost everything and everyone around me. But if I must be specific, my primary inspiration is the night.
The night is a foreign world where the familiar become mysterious. Unlike the day, it’s still and uncoloured, as such it feels flat like a diorama. Strangely, my most memorable encounter with the night was through artist Thomas Spence. He found delight in the nocturnal – he was the type of artist who would draw portraits by the moonlight. At the time I thought – why the night? What can you possibly see to depict it in artwork?
My opinion changed when I saw his piece The roofs of Oxford Street (Taylor Square). He captured the mood of the night in such a delicate way; it piqued my interest to pursue this subject.
HG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
NL: I am an illustrator and art teacher who hails from the western suburbs of Sydney. I am surrounded by lots of hills and bushland and live on a relatively mundane street. I consider myself to be very ordinary, but also lucky enough to be doing the things I love!
I have two mentors who are always stepping on my heels. They are very critical, but always looking out for me. Without them, I am sure I would not be where I am in illustration today.
HG: How would you, personally, describe your work?
NL: I’ve had people describe my work as ‘dark’ or ‘gothic’. While I accept different people identify with my work in different ways, I personally would not place my work into that category. To be honest, I find my work very difficult to describe!
My GIFs are brief experiences where I invite my viewers to share a fleeting moment, emotionally and visually with me. My pieces explore my fascination with the night, and takes emotions from the deepest depths of my heart. They are travel expeditions into places we would not consider visiting or look twice at, and here I am encouraging you to look again to find magic and the unexpected in every corner.
HG: Each of your pieces is intricate and full of beautiful details. I can sense that you put a lot of time and effort into your artwork. What is your creative process like?
NL: My creative process is very time-consuming. A lot of people ask me how I work: Do I use a tablet? What programs do I use?
To be honest, it would probably be much more efficient if I did use a tablet or adopt other programs, but I work very basically. My process involves a lot of planning, paper cutting, sore hands, drawing, scanning, and finally animating in Photoshop (the only program I use).
From what started out as one week to make my labour-intensive GIFs, it now takes a couple of days — but I don’t particularly mind if it takes longer than that. Over time, I’ve learned to be patient and I enjoy spending time with one piece and giving it the work it deserves. I remember one of my tutor’s lines during a class in university: Working on a project is like the loving relationship between a parent and child. We all thought he was crazy at the time, but I think I can understand it now.
HG: What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a similar artistic path in life?
NL: Lately, there are a few points I’ve been running by in my artistic endeavours. Here goes:
(1) Be patient and persevere. The road is long and it will be hard, so take the time to find and understand yourself and your work. You never ‘finish’ being creative, you are always evolving and progressing.
(2) Make sure to respect fellow artists and their styles. While not everything will be your cup of tea, you should try to accept and understand. This really is one of the best ways to develop yourself as a person and also creatively.
(3) Quality is always better than quantity. Due to the lengthy process of my work, I tend to feel depressed when I see my peers creating work at a faster rate than me. I learn not to be intimidated by this as it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working harder. You should treat each piece like a project and give it the time, planning, and the respect it deserves.
HG: The light that you incorporate into your illustrations is absolutely incredible. Between the stars, house lights, and glow emanating from a string of fairy lights – it is all stunning. Is adding light sources important to you?
NL: Yes! Due to my use of a limited color palette, lighting in my work is very important so I can emphasize clarity in my subjects and bring out richness in tones.
My use of lighting is over-exaggerated and at times ‘logically’ incorrect — but I do this on purpose. In order to evoke a certain mood, or to highlight certain subjects, I manipulate light in a way to justify my intentions.
HG: I love it when you add animals and insects to your work. Do any of these creatures/critters have a symbolic meaning?
NL: Always! To me, creatures/critters are incredibly rich metaphors.
Apart from being what they actually are, they are also surprisingly symbolic. They are statements and can represent culture, mythology, the taboo, and the otherworldly.
HG: Do you illustrate scenes that you’ve witnessed in your own life? Or, are all your GIFs the work of your imagination?
NL: A bit of both.
I contemplate and observe my surroundings a lot. I tend to think of odd things or scenarios that I wish could happen at that split second we don’t pay attention to or when no one is around. These events can happen in ordinary places and settings we can relate to. I usually ask myself: “Imagine if…?” “What if?” Imagine if boats can also fly through the sky? What if human souls can really materialise as moths before departing into the next world?
HG: What is your favorite GIF that you’ve created? Why?
NL: I’ve grown rather attached to the ‘giant moth GIF’ that is a part of my personal project The Forgotten Sydney. It was inspired by an event at home and based on a Chinese belief.
The Chinese believe if a moth or butterfly enters a place, it is the spirit of someone visiting. I was helping mum put away the laundry and a moth flew out from a shirt. She watched it and then said: “Oh, look family is visiting.”
HG: And just for fun, what’s your favorite color?