'Art is a way of life': Illustrator Hanyu Mu on leaving an emotional mark on her audience

Atlanta-based illustrator Hanyu Mu specialises in creating visually captivating and emotionally evocative artworks which invite the viewer to join her on a journey into the imagination. We caught up with her to learn more.

Originally from China, Hanyu Mu is an award-winning illustrator and animator whose work has been recognised by the Society of Illustrators and Creative Quarterly. As a master's graduate of the Savannah College of Arts and Design, her art spans multiple mediums, including illustration, traditional painting, 2D animation and storyboarding. At the core of all her work is a shared focus on constructing "immersive narrative worlds" where she can express her emotions and untamed imagination.

Like many artists, Hanyu first discovered her love for drawing by doodling on walls. And rather than discouraging such behaviour, her parents supported her and envisioned a future where she would become an artist. "They understood the importance of finding fulfilment in one's work and supported my various interests, from painting to music and various other pursuits," Hanyu tells Creative Boom.

"In high school, I realised my true passion lay in painting, and my parents took my aspirations seriously. They sent me to an art high school, where I have received professional art education ever since. It felt like I had chosen this path from the start, and I'm immensely grateful for my parents' unwavering support."

A defining moment in Hanyu's creative journey came in her junior year of studies when she was tasked with creating an animated short film. She describes the process as "gruelling", with many students struggling to manage their schedules, but the results were worth the effort.

"The exhilaration and tension surrounding the final presentation on the big screen was captivating," she explains. "It made me realise that every art practitioner becomes addicted to creation. The passion and enthusiasm that brings art to life is why I embarked on this journey, although it would certainly be advantageous if it could provide a livelihood."

To make ends meet, Hanyu focused on a career in design and illustration. And despite her previous experiences, she was keen to transfer these skills into animation. "I envision myself as a concept designer, but my aspirations extend beyond that," she reveals.

"Creation is not merely a means of making a living for me – it is my salvation. I strive to infuse my favourite works with my emotions, all with an understanding of the profound impact art can have on others. These works are more than commodities or sources of entertainment; they hold the potential to deeply resonate with readers and viewers."

A prime example of this is Good Morning, Hanyu's concept animation inspired by familiar childhood experiences. "It depicts the fear and resistance children face on their way to school," Hanyu explains. The clip available to watch on Hanyu's site evokes this sense of unease through dramatic camera angles and oppressive signage, which seems to ban all fun. "Through children's views and realistic details, I convey personal emotions and narratives."

This isn't to say that all of Hanyu's work takes a negative emotional approach. In fact, her personal experiences and educational background have fostered an overall sense of respect when it comes to the art industry. "It is a realm that constantly presents opportunities for exploration and learning," she adds.

"My journey began as a viewer, captivated by artworks that evoked powerful emotions and inspired me to participate in the creative process. The satisfaction derived from a work of art is often spiritual. In the case of animation, it offers narratives, adventures, and worldviews — an escape to alternate realities within our own.

"These fantastical realms provide solace and boundless possibilities, offering respite and joy amidst life's challenges. The fascinating aspect of art is its ability to resonate with viewers while simultaneously transporting them to unimaginable experiences."

Any creative will tell you their journey is not straightforward, and Hanyu has encountered obstacles and setbacks. "During such times, I revisit the animations and games that ignited my passion as a child," she explains. "Despite their imperfections compared to contemporary works, they evoke the same emotions and excitement within me. This sentiment fuels my determination and serves as a reminder of my artistic purpose.

"My goal is clear: to create work that brings me immense satisfaction. However, this goal is ever-shifting as standards evolve. My ideas must always surpass my current skill level, keeping me in a perpetual state of growth. Even when I seem to be on the cusp of achievement, my aspirations push me further, demanding continuous improvement. Rather than comparing myself to admired artists, I measure my progress against the person I used to be, acknowledging the transformative power of artistic pursuit."

Hanyu concludes that art is not merely a career path for her but a way of life. "Guided by my parents' support and fuelled by my passion, I embark on a constant journey of self-discovery, exploration, and creation. Through my artworks, I seek to evoke emotions, transport audiences to new realms, and leave an indelible mark on their hearts and minds."


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