The Gallery Shilin Huang
by Evan Miller, Jan 17th 2009
This week's Gallery is brought to you by the numerous classical, acid jazz, hip hop and drum 'n bass tracks I listened to while writing. Beethoven isn't the only kind of music that promotes mental development, let me tell you.
This week's artist has worked in two areas of the arts, and although she's currently earning a degree in one of them, she hasn't given up on improving her skills in another.
In the loosely defined world of "the arts," there's an old saying that has been beaten into the heads of suffering art students everywhere: practice makes perfect. Although the saying often elicits groans from the students who are forced to play musical scales thousands of times or redraw a piece, it speaks to the reality that a life in the arts isn't easy, and a lot of the effort has to be something you decide to invest yourself. For Shilin Huang, who is currently in college studying to be a music teacher, life as a music student has been as stressful and time consuming as it is for her peers, and she admits that she might not spend as much time studying as she should. However, when you consider that she's managed to produce an impressive amount of artistic works, an intricately detailed webcomic, and a respectable online fan base - while still handling all of her school obligations - it becomes clear that she's had very few problems with devoting a lot of her skill and attention to all the artistic mediums she's chosen to pursue. She admits that the list of things she has had to put aside because of her busy schedule is long, but by giving herself a "creative outlet" with her art, Shilin has her skills at the level where a career involving art may actually become a possibility.
Born and raised in Guangzhou, China, Shilin took an early interest in the world of art through anime broadcast on television. Shows for a younger audience, like Doraemon and Chibi Maruko-chan, captivated her, as did shōjō classics like Saint Tail and Sailor Moon. However, unlike many girls, her favorite anime were shows involving robots and mecha, which appealed to her love of the intricate, detailed designs that mecha anime feature. Although she has never sketched mecha herself, the attention to detail in the mecha anime she watched served as an early inspiration for her to constantly refine her own work. As a result, she spent a great deal of time at a young age sketching and drawing in the hopes of getting her skills closer to the level of artistry in the anime she loved. However, art was not the only passion for Shilin when she was growing up. She also had an ear for music, particularly the piano. She mentioned that she wanted to try playing piano to her parents, who in return got her one. There was a catch, though: the piano came with the expectation that she would practice and take lessons on a daily basis so she could build her skills. Although Shilin occasionally regretted asking for the piano in the first place (and even tried to quit the lessons a few times), practice indeed made perfect. By the time she was twelve, Shilin was playing at an advanced level while also balancing her art hobby in her free time. Things began to change again when her parents dropped a bombshell that was far bigger than the piano lessons: they were moving to Canada.
When her parents led the move to Canada, Shilin found herself pulled away from the anime and manga that she had grown up with. Since most of the anime and manga that reached North America was old compared to what was available in China, Shilin poured more of her efforts into her music, where she continued to excel as a pianist. Although her priorities shifted, she still maintained an interest in art, going so far as to design a few original characters for a story. Soon after, her art hobby came to life again through a somewhat unusual source of inspiration: the internet. "I was addicted to Neopets," admits Shilin, who soon got into the habit of experimenting with digital drawing tools, software, and online art communities. Friends introduced her to online galleries of work by aspiring manga artists from around the world: Korea, the United States, and Japan. Inspired once again, Shilin began to produce and publish her own work online. At first, she aimed to have her art look more like the style of the artists she viewed, but it wasn't long before she decided to have her art reflect more of her own style. "I'm more focused on making my art convey what I want it to," says Shilin, whose work on character designs led her into bringing a new sense of emotion and atmosphere into all the elements that are part of her work.
One particular area of focus for Shilin was the world of her original characters. After brainstorming ideas for their looks, attitudes, and personalities for years, she eventually brought them to life in her very own webcomic, a fantasy manga entitled Blackbird. "I developed [the characters] before the story, and it was the attachment I had for my characters that made me want to make a story for them," says Shilin, who describes the characters and the story as her most important creative outlet. At first, she developed her characters around an appealing, "bad ass" image - something that she admits was a byproduct of her young age at the time she created them. As Shilin developed her style, her characters and Blackbird developed as well. In total, Shilin has been developing, drawing and refining Blackbird for almost eight years. She admits that the story has grown far beyond what she ever imagined it would, and feels bad that school has hindered her ability to add to the story much. One thing hasn't changed, however: she still shows the same level of devotion to her creation. Whereas other artists might scrap a project and move on, Shilin wants her creation to keep taking shape: "I wish I could make it my masterpiece. That's how much it means to me."
Today, Shilin is a few months from finishing school and getting her degree. She has a promising future as a music teacher, where she knows there are jobs for people with the qualifications. However, her post-graduation plans show that she isn't planning on leaving her art behind. "I want to try my hand in art, develop my skills, and see where I can go," says Shilin, who admits she has a long list of artistic mediums and projects she wants to try out. As to what keeps her going, she is quick to point to the support of her friends and fans online, many of whom have been following her work for years. At the time this article was written, her online gallery boasted over 1.5 million hits, and although she once expected some of her support to wane when she experimented with new styles, more people follow her work now than ever before. "The same people that liked my old art were nice enough to be supportive of other styles, and it motivated me to continue doing new things," says Shilin, adding, "that helped my growth a lot." Even now, she retains a certain shyness about her creations, saying that she is "lucky" that so many people have discovered her work. Considering that she has produced work of this quality while handling a tough academic schedule, there is one thing that will be certain when Shilin Huang tries her hand at a professional art career after school: the fans will be the lucky ones.
ANN: You draw your comic Blackbird in a "right to left" order, much like the standard Japanese manga. Why did you decide to go with this kind of format, and what kind of challenges have you faced doing sequentials in this way?
Shilin Huang: I decided to use this format because when I began Blackbird, one of my goals was to make it as "authentic" a manga as possible, and following the traditional manga format was one of the ways I could achieve that. If I were to start it again though, I would use the western format, because one of the challenges was to order left-to-right text in a right-to-left manner without making it confusing.
ANN: Your first original character is the centerpiece of the work seen here. What are some of the "key traits" of this character, and how do you allude to them in this piece?
Shilin: At this point of the story, the character has grown into an emotionless warrior and has given up her dreams. She is still sensitive, but she doesn't care about what she experiences anymore. I tried to convey her coldness through her expression as best as I could, but I also gave her soft clothing, included flowers and used very soft contrast and coloring to show that she is still delicate.
ANN: Many of your works feature wings prominently. What inspired your use of this element in your work?
Shilin: I think it's just one of the few elements I enjoy incorporating into my works out of pure personal preference, despite how overused it is nowadays. I like Renaissance religious paintings and sculptures a lot, and wings were common features in religious works; that might have influenced me to use them.
ANN: In this piece, you have a woman superimposed over a background where her dress becomes part of the cloud line that separates a sunny backdrop and a starry night sky. What part of this piece did you work on first, and how does the background tie in to the personality of the character?
Shilin: The woman's name is Luna, and according to the person who this character belongs to, she is related to the moon. My idea came from the fact that moonrise leads the dusk into the night as it travels across the sky, and I thought it would be interesting to portray that motion. Her robe helps make her seem like part of the celestial rather than an unrelated object. I lay down the background first to help myself see the palette I'm working with, then I lay down rough colors for the woman in relation to the strange lighting I'm using before detailing it, so the whole image would seem unified.
ANN: Aside from art, you've also composed your own music. If you could compose a musical score for any single piece of your work, which would it be and why - and what would it sound like?
Shilin: If I could compose a score for a piece, it would be a very old piece named Gotterdammerung in my gallery. I'm a sucker for the atmosphere and sentiment music can create, and if I were to write music, it would have to be for that piece as it is one of the most emotional (yet detached at the same time) pieces I've done. It would probably sound calm, static, and hollow, with chaos and movement in the distance.
Interested in seeing more of Shilin's work? Here's where to go:
Are you an aspiring manga artist looking for some extra page views? Do you have a friend or loved one who draws extremely good original manga but needs a boost? Don't just sit there! Submit two links to your work, including one original piece (no file attachments please! File attachments will be designed to look like one of twelve human "models" and sent to spy on the human race), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Shilin Huang.
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