Yuchen Lu creates dreamlike illustrations inspired by Greek mythology and Chinese folklore

New York-based illustrator Yuchen Lu specialises in creating poetic artwork influenced by all things unreal, especially the ancient tales of Greek mythology and the eerie mysticism of Chinese folk tales.

Born and raised in Beijing, Yuchen Lu grew up surrounded by an art-loving family. Her grandfather is a master of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, and her family home was always decorated with Chinese paintings, ceramics and vases. She even lived very close to China's top art school, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, which further nurtured her appreciation. In fact, when she was older, Yuchen would even spend a year at the very same academy studying oil painting.

"I was lucky to have more access to art than most Chinese children," she tells Creative Boom. "But I guess the most important thing is that I really like drawing. After I graduated from the School of Visual Arts, I stayed in New York. Now I'm a freelance illustrator represented by the talent agency Artistique International."

Yuchen's work is instantly recognisable thanks to her tempestuous, flowing shapes and dynamic use of colour. Whether she's illustrating a rocky outcrop being battered by the sea or a bouquet of flowers, he ethereal influences manifest themselves in striking ways.

"I get my inspiration from nature, mythology, fairy tales, and dreams," she explains. "To me, unrealistic things are more interesting than realistic subject matter. My favourite inspiration of all is Greek mythology. I read many comic books as a kid, and my favourite was a set of Greek mythology. I remember being so drawn to it that I could read it repeatedly.

"I'm also influenced by traditional Chinese mythology and folktales. Chinese stories have a strong emphasis on the pursuit of immortality. Most Westerners think Eastern culture is obscure, mysterious, and even eerie. I agree with that myself, and I am very drawn to it. They all affect my personal thinking and are reflected in my work. They just have so much cultural significance.

"I think mythology is the purest form of human imagination. Themes of love, desire, life and death are expressed unabashedly. I also like later European stories, but they may have too many religious overtones."

While her inspirations are firmly established, Yuchen's creative process is more abstract. Her ideas usually start on a whim and can be triggered by random things. "I never have a hard time coming up with new ideas; it's just kind of hard to organise them," she explains. "When I think about certain ideas for a long time or feel the picture I imagined is particularly pretty, I'll get started. Otherwise, most ideas get killed.

"When I draw a piece, I create a folder to collect all my reference imagery. As for the drawing process, I sketch in pencil and then outline the drawing with pen and ink. Colours are then added digitally."

The result is a style that people have described as dreamlike and poetic. And it's not hard to see why. But how does Yuchen feel about this description? "To be honest, when I create, I don't have any specific message for the viewers. It's more like self-expression, a culmination of my dreams, memories, and imagination. But I hope my work could evoke certain feelings and touch viewers, rather than just making people think it's merely a nice picture."

One piece that Yuchen feels sums up her work perfectly is The Moon, which can be seen directly above. She felt that she has settled into a comfortable pattern of using certain colours and that this piece represents her exploring different palettes.

"This piece turned out so colourful and not too saturated and pretty," she enthuses. "The moon is a quite commonly-depicted object. I've seen many paintings of it, but for this piece, I feel like I've come up with a unique depiction."

The boundary-pushing doesn't end there. Yuchen is currently working on a series of drawings involving more space – in a physical sense, not astronomical. "I feel like the use of space will add more depth to my drawings visually and in terms of storytelling," she concludes.

"It's a bit self-challenging because drawing architecture and interiors isn't my favourite. It takes time and is complex, but I still want to explore."


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly