Yuke Li's 'pencil' drawings are entirely digital

New York-based Yuke Li graduated from the School of Visual Arts only this spring, but has been working as a freelance illustrator for eight years.

Her pencil-like style is employed across animation, editorial work and picture book spreads, with Yuke hoping to become a full-time book illustrator with her practice.

"I believe making children’s picture book is my life-long mission, but at the same time, I enjoy doing editorial works from time to time as a break," she tells me. "I like doing both, but of course picture books allow me to do more artistic experiments, due to the longer process involved."

Find out more in our interview with this promising new talent.

How has work book helped develop your style?

I used watercolours in a realistic way when I worked with authors in China, but I always wanted to do something more interesting.

I started to do my own story called Wonderful Picnic, and I explored lines a little bit. Then I moved onto The Tiger in my Yard, a Brooklyn-based tale about how a stray tiger and a little boy learn to understand and love each other.

This story was inspired by my Choubao, an orange cat who used to live with me in China. As for Body Rescue, this is another exploration of returning to traditional drawings.

You're great at capturing animals! How do you draw them so well?

Reference helps a lot, about skeleton and muscles. Also if you think of an animal as a human being, you will understand the character and their expression more.

How did you discover your style?

At first, I wanted to identify myself among all the other talented illustrators, so I decided to do something I have never done before, like 'embroidery-'style.

I made a sketch in Photoshop, and then I made my first embroidery piece with my mum’s help. However, it turned out the sketch looks much better than the final embroidery. That’s how I started drawing this way, using mostly line in the picture.

Later on, I was asked by friends if I used colour pencils for those illustrations. Then I realised it looks somehow very close to colour pencils drawings. I guess the usage of line work confused people.

How important is colour in your work?

Always important. It represents emotions, atmosphere, sometimes even background information. We are so lucky to have computers to adjust colour. It helps even for traditional works. 

How do you vary your editorial work for adults and your book art for children?

From my perspective, I don’t distinguish one from another, but since their subjects are different, what’s in the pictures is different as well.

Also, time matters a lot in editorial art, so most of the time I work digitally for editorial works, and I use the style that is easiest to capture the idea. As for children’s book projects, I have more time to explore materials and style.

What are you working on now and what will you work on in the future?

Now I am working on The Tiger in my Yard again. There are some picture book ideas in my mind I am planning to get published in the near future. I've worked with an author as an illustrator before. which still inspires me to this day. I haven’t published any stories yet, but I have several stories on my table that are in progress.

I'm also doing research about the origin of mankind online these days. It all started with some whimsical videos on YouTube. It would be fun to make a series of illustrations about it.

Check out Yuke Li's 'yard' of work at yukeliart.com

Related: Escape your four walls with illustrator Liang Yong Yi Nan

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