Ziang "Jadedice" Her
by Evan Miller,
December is upon us, along with the shopping mall-driven insanity that goes with it. Personally, giant retail complexes still freak me out. Sure, it's nice to have everything in a nice, convenient place, but every time I leave the mall, I feel like I've committed some kind of crime for participating in the shopping rush. However, without fail, things like this always cheer me up:
Custom banner = happy columnist.
This week's featured artist is known for the graphite/pencil look you see in the banner here. The style has earned her fans and fame at conventions and on Deviant Art, where she goes by the handle jadedice. However, she's got skills to spare with multiple mediums and styles, and is hoping that her skills might be enough to break one of the most daunting glass ceilings in the working world today.
|Fave traditional artwork: Honestly can't say that I have one specific piece...|
|While drawing, I listen to: random background noises (i.e. tv/radio/etc.)|
|Guilty pleasure: Ice Cream in winter|
|Pet peeve: Not replacing the toilet paper roll|
|Spring or Fall? Fall :)|
|Chocolate or Mint? Mint Chocolate|
Most exciting tourist attraction in Fresno: Underground Gardens
|jHack: Track 10|
Like many artists, Ziang Her is rarely without a sketchbook of some kind. Besides, one is never sure when inspiration should happen to strike; why limit your artistic impulses to the few moments in a day when you're in front of a canvas or lightboard, right? For Ziang, the sketchbooks she brought along with her to movies, classes and other outings became more than just an outlet for her ideas. "I had pencils with me, so I figured, 'hey, I'll just detail and shade my drawings in pencil as well.' Even when I learned techniques with pen and ink, crosshatching and the like, I still liked how working in pencil let you blend things together," says Ziang, who's work with a simple pencil has evolved to the point that the style has become her calling card.
Ever since she first started attending conventions and posting on online forums like Gaia Online in 2003, Ziang Her - or "jaded ice" as she is known on Deviant Art - has built a base of fans and admirers thanks to her detailed graphite/pencil work. Her Deviant Art page has garnered hundreds of thousands of viewers and she has experienced a great deal of success with convention sales, even though the majority of the pieces she sells are originals, not fan art. Although she is proud that she has essentially created her own style, she admits that the success of the style has brought a host of pressures with it. "Sometimes I feel like I'm expected to produce graphite art because of the fan base," says Ziang, who also admits that it can be difficult to convince people to pay more money for a graphite piece than they might for a color one. While it is impossible to ignore the popularity of her graphite work, Ziang's abilities as an artist extend far beyond the reach of a simple "number 2." With a history in graphic design and numerous other mediums, her work is that of an artist who has produced a wide variety of pieces and, in the greater scheme of things, is just beginning her journey as an artist.
Ziang came to the United States and settled in Fresno, California at the young age of five. When she arrived, she was eager to learn but had a big barrier to overcome: she didn't speak English. Spurred by a desire to communicate with others, she began studying sounds and letters through the language of pictures and images. The young Ziang often used doodles and pictures to help her get point across to others, and even when she grew comfortable with the English language, she kept doodling in her free time. A few years later, she became a big fan of anime like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, although she wasn't drawing as much as she once did. However, when she was introduced to the American comic series Witchblade and the art of series co-creator Michael Turner, the dark fantasy look of the comic inspired her to start drawing again. From that moment forward, Ziang would begin juggling American and Japanese influences in her work - a balancing act that she admits she is still continuing today.
As she approached college, Ziang continued to follow both American comics and the world of manga while simultaneously expanding her knowledge base in the world of art. She took a strong interest in late 19th century Art Nouveau works, specifically the work of famed Czech painter Alphonse Mucha. Stylistically, Takehiko Inoue's manga Vagabond and the rough, unfinished look to the lines in that series appealed to Ziang, who saw Inoue as a fellow artist who is also juggling western and eastern influences in his work. Epic works, role-playing video games such as the Zelda series and fantasy storylines continued to influence Ziang's storytelling sensibilities as well. "I picked up Bleach for a while," admits Ziang, "but the story didn't quite catch me. I like to be able to relate to manga on a storytelling level as well as an artistic one."
Although she kept drawing as a hobby through high school, due to skepticism over whether art could be feasible career, Ziang enrolled at California State University - Fresno with a declared major in biology. It wasn't until she was working on her Senior research that she realized something about herself: "I just knew that I would end up doing art anyway. That's what I wanted to do." Although it meant two more years of school, Ziang changed her major to graphic design - and found herself a whole lot happier for doing so.
Around the same time, Ziang began to register for Artist Alley tables at conventions and post her work online. Although her pencil-based style earned her praise from early in her career, one of the biggest reasons she continued to pursue it has far simpler origins. "I think I stayed with graphite [pencil] because one of the first pieces I sold at a convention was graphite. That was a huge boost and inspiration for me," says Ziang, who admits that her time at conventions have become perhaps a little too business-focused: "I'd like to go to a convention once just to enjoy myself!" She also credits her convention experiences for her professional development after college. Because she already had a knack for promoting her work and communicating with clients, it wasn't long after graduation that Ziang found work as a graphic designer and staff illustrator for a newspaper company. Her professional work differed a great deal from the look of the work she is known for at conventions and online (see the holiday card set at the end of this article), but it wasn't completely divorced from it either. "Some people actually want parts of my illustrations included in the work I do for them," says Ziang, who is currently working as a freelance graphic artist and illustrator.
jHack: Back to Basics
Perhaps one of the touchstones of Ziang's work is her own series of characters known by the moniker jHack. While doing some character design work one day, she settled on two enigmatic looking characters that not only relate to some of Ziang's unpublished work, but also to her personality. The artist herself puts it best: "I think they're my poster children. They represent aspects of my personality - perhaps more stylish and free. I think if people actually knew the story behind these characters, they might not like them as much." The jHack characters carry a lot of history for Ziang, who has been writing her own storylines for them for over a decade. "It's kind of like an RPG in my head," she admits with a laugh.
Although school, work, and freelancing has seen Ziang Her work with a dizzying number of styles and mediums, according to the artist herself, she has only begun her journey. She intends to pursue a masters degree in the future, or perhaps use her know how to influence one of the most male-dominated areas of the art world: character designs for video games. "I'd love to get my foot in the door there. I think it would help me experiment with something a little different at the same time," says Ziang, who to this day continues to research manga and American comics on her own time to develop her style. If her success until now is any indication, Ziang has a pretty good shot at shattering that glass ceiling - and it is certain that her fans and supporters will be backing her up the whole way.
One Fish, Two Fish
Ziang Her: Muse was designed to illustrate what my inspiration was. The choice of organic flowers and the circular motif were both based loosely on Alphonse Mucha's work and the style and characteristics of the Art Nouveau era. As you can see, it's a big influence on my work and I love how they implemented organic forms into everything, from everyday things like furniture and jewelry to art and architecture. Fishes were used in One Fish, Two Fish because when we see people with fish, it's usually with people in fish environments. There's something fantastical about fishes being able to swim in air. I also used them as a directional element to direct the eyes of the viewer from one element to the next. If you look at the direction of the lines of the fish tails, the cloth folds and the hair, they lead to one other.
ANN: You've mentioned your desire to get into the game design industry. Considering the current lineup of video games on the market, is there a certain kind of character or trait that you think game producers are overlooking? What kind of characters and character designs would you like to produce?
Ziang Her: It seems that a good amount of video games that have come out recently are first person shooters or similarly oriented. I'd like to see the reemergence of good role playing games (RPG). We get a couple of them here now and again. I'd like to see implementation of a more interactive combat system with regards to turn based RPGs. One example is the battle system used for the Shadow Hearts franchise. The battle ring is customizable to maximize character damage on enemies and characters can combo with each other to attack enemies, and it's all dependent on successful timed button executions.
Another example that comes to mind is the battle system used in The Legend of Dragoon. In order to master a character's list of unique moves, each distinct move is a series of timed button hits that have to be successfully implemented. I think elements that help to keep the player interacting with the game can make a game more challenging. Being able to start a new game with a saved file increases the game's playability, for example.
In response to what kind of characters and character designs I would like to produce, I can't walk away from fantasy based RPGs. Stories and legends of yore, steeped in magic and dark sorcery, still captivates my imagination. There's just so much that is possible with that. When it comes to ideas and imagination, it seems that the limits are still boundless, built on the foundations of the past.
ANN: You've spent a lot of time researching manga and North American comics to keep your style fresh. What are some of the aspects of your work that you have been most critical of? What aspects have you been trying to develop most lately?
Ziang: We all know that an artist is their own worst critic, and I am no exception. I'm highly critical of the anatomy, perspective, movement, color and composition of my pieces. With these in mind, I'm working on integrating my characters into environments and adding movement and direction for the viewer by using directional lines and colors as well as keeping in mind the composition and the relationship between elements on the page. I know that the only way that I can improve with my art is to practice and work for it. What usually happens is that the improvements are gradual and won't be noticeable right away, but hard work and dedication are key.
ANN: Was there a particular inspiration you had for the character designs in Siren, and is there a story behind the personalities of these characters?
Ziang: Yes. The Siren was developed out of the idea of broken dreams and heartache, that if the hurt is deep enough, it can stain the soul and prevent it from passing on smoothly. A character from my fantasy based Cyan: OS series, The Siren is a creature that, once a young girl full of hopes and dreams, now dwells in the Fountain of Eternal Youth deep in the Forest of Illusions. She haunts the fountain, luring men to their deaths, continuously searching for the soul of the man who had promised her the world and given her only the cold emptiness of a restless death, doomed and lonely in her quest for vengeance.
ANN: The jHack characters are clearly a pretty big part of your history as an artist, and you mentioned how they're tied to your personality as well. As you've grown as an artist, how do you think your image of these characters have changed? Is there anything specific about them that you draw differently now than you did before?
Ziang: As I have grown as an artist and matured as a person, I feel jHack has changed with me. Five years ago, they were nothing but a couple of school kids. The transition has been gradual, Hack now needs a hair cut (although I think fans have grown accustomed to his shaggy head of hair, and may even like it) and J has lost the choppy layered locks of youth. Their wardrobe and their personalities have been affected as well. But no matter how much time as passed, jHack will indefinitely still remain somewhat of an enigma to me, maybe more so to the jHack fans out there. I think it is that very characteristic that is the lure of jHack.
To see more of Ziang Her's work, check out her extensive gallery on Deviant Art here.
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 mashed into bits and shaped to resemble Rodin statues), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Ziang Her.