The vibrant and joyous illustrations of David Huang have won him accolades across the world. But, he reveals to Creative Boom that getting here has been quite a challenge.
David Huang is a Taiwanese American illustrator based in New York City. With clients including The New Yorker and Quartz, his work is typically colourful, expressive, vibrant, and loud.
"I'm a very curious person," he says. "So naturally, my illustrations range in medium, subjects, and colour. I am interested in exploring different approaches to expressions by playing on size, shapes, texture, and composition. Subject-wise, I love building stories by drawing characters interacting with fun, lively environments and including objects that I'd find throughout my daily life."
David graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2017 and has now been freelancing for five years. But his love of art and desire to create goes back much further.
"For as long as I could remember, I've been drawing and building worlds out of lines and shapes," he explains. "Before social media existed as a way of procrastinating, drawing was my distraction from my homework. I had a stack of paper under my bed, and I would go through it like a wildfire burning through a stack of matches. That's what gave me the idea to pursue art."
His view of the art world back then, though, was narrow. "I thought that to have a successful artistic career, I'd have to paint realistic vases, figures and landscapes for galleries," he explains. "I applied to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] as a painting major, thinking this was the track I was heading on."
But then, in Freshman year, when he took a class called 'Intro to Illustration', his teacher encouraged him to draw in whichever way made him feel most comfortable, rather than in an academic and regimented manner. "I suddenly feel like I could be a kid again, going through that stack of paper under my bed," he enthuses. "From then on, I fell in love with illustration. It freed me from all the previous limitations I'd imposed upon myself."
In his last year of college, he secured a few editorial jobs and got a foretaste of working with clients and art directors. "I enjoyed working with clients and the collaborative effort of reaching a visual solution with each article," he recalls. "So I decided to go into freelancing, mostly focusing on editorial illustration."
His client list today is impressive, but it took a while to get there. "I didn't have many jobs starting out: it was a bit sad how quiet it was," he remembers. "I'd send out a lot of cold emails with no response, which I think is a very common thing that happens to everyone."
But he didn't give up nor stop working. "Whenever I have free time without assignments on hand, I'd go through my portfolio and figure out what was missing," he explains. "Then I'd give myself a personal assignment that fills the missing gap. It also allowed me to experiment further and mature my own voices in illustration, so when I get a breakthrough and am contacted by a client I want to work with, I'd be more ready than I've been."
Alongside his client work, he continues to create personal work today. "In my non-commercial work, I'm inspired by childhood memories of growing up in Taipei, and the snapshots of my travels, having traversed through many cities and bonded with a diverse group of friends," he says.
And there is a lot to draw on. "Growing up in Taipei, I have lots of memories taking the bustling subway and walking through the lively streets as I was coming back from school," he says. "I'd stop by a fried food stand and order a few snacks with the remaining coins in my pocket. The street was vibrant and lined with giant banyan trees hanging down to the height of my head."
"There were sounds of cars honking and people cheering from the religious parades passing by," he continues. "Workers pushed their street carts to sell bowls of noodles or fruits, ringing their bells and yelling the names of the items they were selling. At night, I remember going to the night market at the end of a hot, humid day and eating skewers that had just come off of the hot grill. A few times a year, my family would drive around the island for vacation. I have fond memories of looking out the window of the car and watching the rolling green hills pass us by."
All of that now seems like a lifetime ago. "Some days, I forget how far I've come," he says. "When I first got a New York Times job, it was on Thanksgiving Eve, and I remember how excited I was. And when I saw my drawing printed in the paper, it was truly a surreal experience."