12 illustrators chart a creative Chinese Zodiac

The first project from new art brand Soyu sees 12 illustrators designing posters based around the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. We spent some time with its creator.

Ruben Ireland

Brought together by Mike Ng, the illustrators include Digital Arts contributors Stephen Chan and Alexandra Zutto (who took us the process of creating their type art for The Renmen Project last year), plus Killstudio, Natsuki Otani, Robin Boyden and Ruben Ireland.

Each print is available as an A2 poster, produced on 315gsm cotton uncoated rag by Ripe Digital. All are limited editions of 10.

We spoke to Mike to discover how he set up the project, and what his future plans for Soyu are.

DA: Tell us a bit about yourself.

MN: “I'm a seasoned print and web designer from Merseyside, one of the Thunder Chunky crew and a newly crowned father and husband.”

DA: What made you want to set up Soyu?

MN: “There were multiple reasons really. One was to build a bridge between Eastern and Western culture through art and fashion. I'm British-born Chinese, and I'm at that age where I feel the need to investigate and explore some of the 'mysteries' and beauties of the Far East and to retrace my roots. I thought I could involve this in my work and hopefully share my findings with others.

“On another note I've also noticed a trend of 'upload and order' websites, where people can make low-brow art relatively cheaply – which, although convenient, is also diluting excellent quality artwork. So I wanted to make special things that people would hopefully cherish in years to come.

“Finally, I just wanted to add value and offer something positive at a time when there is so much negativity in the world.”

Dog – J3 Concepts

Rooster – Natsuki Otani

DA: Where does the name Soyu come from?

MN: “Soyu derives from the Cantonese translation of 'necessity'. I chose it as this was basically something I had to do, and the letterforms just seemed to evoke an Asian sensibility.”

DA: How did you choose the artists and how did you match them to the 12 signs?

MN: “I had worked with some of the guys last year on The Renmen Project and have been a fan of a few of the artists for a while. I sat down and drew up a shortlist with Stephen Chan and chose the elite gang for their individual styles – I wanted to ensure there was breadth and variety but also an equal level of technique and skill.

"As for the animal selection, it was first come first serve for the artists. You snooze you lose! Luckily it worked out fine.

"I am truly grateful for their time, effort and craftsmanship they have applied to each piece and I know the Creative Zodiac, would be nothing without their contribution. They're family for life! It's 95% about them and only 5% about me really."

Horse – Stephen Chan

Pig – 24EXP

DA: Which is your favourite artwork and why?

MN: “I really couldn't say. It's actually the question that I love to hear other people's answers to [which you can do in the comments below]. It's been really interesting to see which ones like, depending on the year they're born and the illustration styles. It's caused debate each time!

"I'm a Monkey year myself so that's a beauty [see the top of this article], but we're huge Rabbit lovers in our house and the Dragon is such a lovely piece, The Rooster is so bold… Do you want me to go on? They're all great!"

Rabbit – Kill Studio

Dragon – Robin Boyden

DA: Why did you decide to use RipeDigital for the printing?

MN: “With the quality of the artwork being so high, I wanted an equally exceptional printing partner. [RipeDigital] have been at the heart of some great creative projects in the design world and seemed the obvious solution. Rik [Penny from RipeDigital], was also a legend to deal with and understood what I needed from day one. Props up to him and his team."

DA: What do you get, personally and holistically, out of running SOYU?

MN: “There is just one special reason I'm doing this all for, and that's my young son who is almost 1. I want him to grow up in an inspiring environment that is influenced by a multitude of cultures and so he can understand and appreciate the diversity of the world. If I sell a few things along the way that's a bonus."

Ox by Okayboss

Snake by Short

DA: What's next for the project?

MN: “I've been overwhelmed with the quick success of this project, having sold most of the prints in just days. I'll be concentrating on getting the prints out to their new happy owners, and moving swiftly onto our next project. We hope to go down the fashion route next, and hit the streets with some Soyu goodness."

Soyu is just in its infancy with so many ideas and dreams, so I hope to take Soyu places and execute some of those dreams along the way. We'll hit obstacles, but we'll keep smashing them down."

Tiger by Tarin Yuangtrakul

Sheep by Travis Price

Rat by Zutto

Elsewhere on IDG sites

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