Vancouver-based illustrator Key Xin specialises in depicting people hurrying around in their busy worlds and imbues them with their own intricate backgrounds and stories.
Originally from Beijing, Key Xin's flourishing artistic career has taken her from New York to Vancouver. And it's this mixture of different cities and cultures which have informed her story-based art style that ranges from traditional illustration all the way through to surreal abstraction.
It's a journey that reaches right back to Key's childhood, as she often kept herself occupied by scribbling down drawings in her textbooks. This caught the attention of her family, who supported her and enrolled her in painting classes.
"The Chinese painting curriculum is highly structured though, and it wasn't until I was preparing my portfolio before moving to New York that I began exploring my own preferred style," Key tells Creative Boom. Inspired by the works of Satoshi Kon, Key was determined to make art with commercial value that resonates with an audience. "I try to make my works more colourful and joyful and make an honest expression."
In its many forms, Key's style is recognisable by its striking use of colour and composition. Inspired by everything from manga to Disney cartoons and traditional Chinese paintings, Key was most profoundly influenced by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hockney.
"After receiving a systematic education in Chinese painting, seeing Basquiat's paintings for the first time was a shock to me," she explains. "The evolving and emotive nature of his artwork freed me from my preconceived notions of painting. On the other hand, David Hockney inspired me with his use of colour and his unique perspective on the world. I believe my artwork falls under their luminescent style."
Moving from China to New York for her education also opened Key's eyes to the diverse possibilities of illustration. "During college, I became obsessed with black and white pencil drawings," she reveals. "I enjoyed depicting busy people, hurrying about in their own worlds, and imbuing them with their own stories."
She adds: "Before graduation, when the department chair and assistant came to view our artwork, I noticed the assistant was particularly captivated by the characters I had drawn. This gave me confidence.
"However, after graduating, I realised that I had completely overlooked the process of becoming an illustrator. Later, I moved to Los Angeles, where I studied business due to family reasons, but I continued drawing. I added colour to my works, and after graduation, I followed my family and moved to Vancouver."
Although Key did not immediately start her career as an illustrator upon moving due to immigration paperwork, she did have time to appreciate nature. "I enriched my ideas through photography, film, and even fashion," she says. "However, I always enjoyed drawing people.
"When sketching, I would create a story for the person in the drawing, giving them their own actions and emotions within my artwork. People's lives and relationships with society and culture are often reflected in simple things, and that's my main theme."
It's an approach that is already reaping the rewards. In 2021, when she moved to Canada, Key started entering competitions for the first time. And during the pandemic, one of her illustrations was crowned an American Illustration winner.
"At that moment, I felt like the post-graduation version of myself had finally embarked on the path of an illustrator," Key concludes. "I was no longer just fumbling in the dark, which gave me confidence. After arriving in Vancouver, I started building my website and social media platforms and engaging with other illustrators."