Raina Jia's colourful and quirky illustrations tell stories in unconventional ways

Orange County-based illustrator Raina Jia puts emotions first in her drawings, aiming to tell stories that connect with audiences from diverse walks of life. We caught up with her to learn how her background in graphic design informs her style.

Like many artists, Raina Jia knew she wanted to pursue an artistic career early on. But as she grew older, she saw it would be more difficult than she first realised and decided to turn her attention to graphic design instead of illustration.

Art has a way of pulling people back in, though. As Raina developed emotionally and learnt more about herself, she remembered the tranquillity that illustration provided. It wasn't long until she realised that illustration was not something she could set aside. "I recognised its ability to heal, express oneself and connect with others," she tells Creative Boom. "I've not stopped illustrating since then."

Raina would go on to study Fine Arts at the Artcenter College of Design, but this doesn't mean that her foray into graphic design was a waste of time. Everything she learned about it continues to be useful. "Design has influenced my illustration style and vice versa," she explains.

"I value concepts more than techniques and believe less is more when conveying an idea. It has provided me with fresh perspectives when composing an artwork from beginning to end. I love using dots, lines, shapes, collages and high contrast colours in my work and enjoy exploring new and unconventional ways of telling a story."

A prime example of this creative approach in action is Small Town Memories, a project that Raina is particularly proud of. This artist's book series is an ongoing project based on her early childhood spent in Qingdao, a coastal city by the Yellow Sea.

"Even after many years apart, after the city went through rounds of remodelling and the removal of old infrastructures, I can still recall the narrow streets, seaside breeze, the elementary school bell, roasted chestnuts in the winter, and musk melons in the summer from long ago," she reveals.

For this project, Raina explored the flexibility of paper craft and learned more about Qingdao. "Most importantly, there was a lot of sentiment and creative freedom during the process, which made it a very fulfilling and rewarding experience."

Through careful research and beautiful visualisation, Raina has not only created stunning work, but she has also fostered a connection with other artists. And for an introvert like herself, building a community is incredibly important. "I enjoy lots of time by myself," she says. "But I love to listen and be there to support anyone in need."

She adds: "Connection to me means building genuine relationships, and genuine relationships form naturally. If anyone is interested in what I have to say or vice versa, we can connect emotionally.

"I also participate in art fairs and gallery events and mentor young artists/students thinking about pursuing an art career, sharing my experiences and knowledge and the mistakes I have made in the past. Helping and supporting each other is my way of building long-lasting relationships and connecting with other artists.

"It is a very humbling and precious experience to learn about others' stories. I will continue to grow and become better at giving back to the community that has also supported me along the way."

As well as mentoring other artists, Raina wants to further connect with the world by travelling after her graduation. "Being present and learning with my own eyes about different countries and cultures broadens my vision and understanding," she says. "This is important to me because I want to experience and better document our world.

"Connecting with artists from diverse backgrounds is not just limited to hanging out with people of similar interests my age. I believe we are all artists, have unique experiences, and have things to say, and I want to be there to listen. Whether visiting museums or walking down the street, I feel a connection to art and the people around me.

"Genuine connections and being a part of the diverse world brings me so much joy, knowledge, and encouragement to keep going."


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