Illustrator David Huang on why not being productive has helped to improve his craft

So far, 2023 has been a quiet year for New York City-based illustrator David Huang. But far from being a bad thing, he reveals that a bit of downtime has been a surprisingly good way to sharpen his creative output.

It's been just over twelve months since we last caught up with David Huang when we talked to the Taiwanese American illustrator about the struggles he's experienced in order to carve out a career as an artist. Since then, it sounds like he's taken some pressure off himself by purposefully having a quiet year, and he's been using that time and energy to invest in himself.

If you're unfamiliar with his work, David creates beautifully tactile illustrations for clients such as The New Yorker, Bandcamp, Quartz and The Verge, to name but a few. But as a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, it's surprising to learn that illustration was not his first creative ambition.

"I went into RISD as a painting major not knowing any other disciplines, but during the foundation year, I learned about illustration as a practice and a potential career path," he tells Creative Boom. "I ended up pursuing it for a lot of reasons. Part of it was the expressive and collaborative nature of illustration that really fits with how I work."

With a focus on tactile, textural qualities, David's illustrations are instantly recognisable thanks to his striking use of colour and unique eye for detail. A huge influence on this look is the work of Josh Cochran, who David studied at school. "I still follow his artistic path today," he adds. "His work grew and evolved a lot, and no matter where he is in his path, I admire that he seems to always be exploring mediums, colour palettes, and mark making."

As for his own path, David's creative approach often involves learning about the client and their needs when working on professional projects before jumping in to do lots of loose sketching. "For personal pieces, it's the same, but it requires maybe a bit of self-reflection, like a stroll in a quiet place, to dig deeper within my own inspirations."

Sometimes these moments of self-exploration can yield surprising results. For example, David discovered that he loves drawing cars and human heads in particular. "I'm not sure why, but sometimes you just have these forms that your brain and hands immediately resort to," he ponders. "Kind of like a catchphrase or filler words."

These forms end up in David's print illustration work very frequently, but it's his imagery that appears in physical spaces that he's most proud of. "For example, I did some drawings for a restaurant in Brooklyn, and it's nice to see the smallest touches in a physical space embellished by my illustrations, such as a poster or the bathroom sign."

The remarkably analogue feel of David's illustrations not only makes them compelling to engage with but also assists him in terms of production. "I still prefer drawing on actual paper; there's something very immediate about it," he reveals. "I can use my hands to smudge the ink or pencil, for example, and that's not something computers could replace. I love the unexpected mistakes that come with it as well."

Another key component of David's work is his inquisitive imagination, which veers to researching random historical facts. "I'm naturally curious, so I take my time to learn about different art and practices from different eras, such as Medieval or Renaissance art," he says. "There's a lot to learn from what came before us.

"With the same curiosity, I also go out of my way to search for hard-to-find foods from different parts of the world. I would say that this hunger for new information definitely feeds into my work and artistic exploration; maybe not in a super direct way, but it probably influences my workflow and work ethic."

Speaking of his work ethic, David has shaken things up in 2023 now that he is represented by Grand Matter under their future makers programme. "I've spent a lot of time travelling this year, and I've had the pleasure of meeting many new illustrators," he reveals. "I'm also doing a remote certificate programme on type design to complement my illustration practice.

"I would say I haven't been as productive this year in terms of my illustration output, but this is a transitional year for me, and quite a lot of changes have been happening in my life. I've been reflecting on my past works, taking a break to learn a new skill, and seeing where that could take me."

But this doesn't mean fans will be deprived of David's work for very long. "In September, I'll be showcasing some of my drawings and prints at LUSTR fest in Prague," he concludes. "If anyone is around there, they should definitely come by and see!"


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