Catch prolific illustrator Zixi Tan as she opens up about her profound illustrations, story-telling work ethos, and how she inspires bright young minds.
Zixi Tan was exposed to the creative world from a very young age; her own father being an artist devoted to Chinese paintings and silk carvings. She spent her childhood following him to exhibitions and museums, and she initially dreamed of becoming an artist like him, but found that she preferred something that had slightly more structure. It was only while studying Visual Communications at Temasek Polytechnic did Zixi uncover her strength and passion for illustration. She then attained DesignSingapore Council’s (Dsg) 2006 design scholarship, and pursued her Bachelors in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins in London, graduating with Honours. She’s currently a freelance illustrator with multiple accomplished projects under her belt, and teaches illustration at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Zixi uses illustration as a tool to tell compelling and deep stories that touches hearts. Her first project, entitled Teri’s Most Beautifuls, is an illustrated book telling the story of waste. Told from child’s point of view, Zixi used the metaphor of cutting cloth to make clothes as a parallel to how we use resources unthinkingly. In her story, the child uses up all the cloth to make clothes without much concern for how fast her resources were depleting. It was only upon reaching the end of her resources, and even using her own hair as thread, did she realise that careless use of materials led to this outcome. For Zixi, this project – done during her days at Temasek Polytechnic – marked the start of using her illustrations to convey deep and poignant narratives. She even printed the work on pieces of fabric to be bound as the book, extending the metaphor to be the final product itself – a book that can be repurposed for other uses.
While there is a rise in technology being incorporated into the design space, such as virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence, the core ethos of being a good designer remains the same.
Zixi’s subsequent works carry a similar theme of profound storytelling and messaging. Working with curator Shirley Surya, Zixi prepared an exhibition entitled Out of Hand, Out of Mind. The exhibition marked her first foray into sculpting, where she created a 124 metre long cloth sculpture that filled the exhibition space and personified her 2D illustrations in 3-Dimensional form. Drawn to darker themes and stories, Zixi created an exhibition that delved into pensive and depressive moods. The sculpture featured quotes sewn on in nude thread that were dark thoughts of self-doubt, or insults she had heard throughout her lifetime. These quotes sewn on the sculpture complemented her illustrations on the wall. To her surprise, many people who attended the exhibition resonated with these thoughts and feelings, and approached her afterwards to share deeply personal stories – an experience that she would never have on a day to day basis, working mostly in solitude as an illustrator. Zixi felt grateful for the experience, and through this realised the potential of her work to truly create an impact in people’s lives.
Apart from creating meaningful personal projects, Zixi has also worked with prominent commercial clients to create beautiful concept designs and experiences. When working on an ad for Mini Cooper, Zixi collaborated with advertising agency Kinetic Design & Advertising to create exciting concepts where the car was escaping from various sea monsters and other adrenaline-filled scenarios. Particular to this project was the strong art direction she’s received from the art director, from whom she’s learnt a lot and had a smooth collaborative experience with. Zixi has also collaborated with global brand phenomenon Muji, to paint floral and animal decals on customers’ purchases as part of a Mothers’ Day pop-up session. She painted these decals on-site, each one taking up to twenty minutes to complete, for mothers to have a truly customised and personalised shirt from the famous brand.
Building on her experience conducting live workshops, Zixi also worked with Hermès to create a live demonstration and class on making collages with Hermès’ signature wallpaper. The experience was vibrant and lively, with people creating their own unique origami foldings and collages communally. Zixi’s works have also appeared on the Esplanade’s PIP’S Playbox – Cabinet of Curiosities. Commissioned to fill this children’s Playbox with vibrant illustrations, Zixi chose to continue expanding on the theme on environmental awareness present in past works. She re-imagines a quirky and changed world where animals have been affected by human-induced disasters such as the Chernobyl accident, and what they would look like in 2200 AD. Other unique and inspiring clients Zixi has worked with include Melissa Shoes, Kiehls, SMRT, and Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School.
When talking about the future of design. Zixi explains that while there is a rise in technology being incorporated into the design space, such as virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence, the core ethos of being a good designer remains the same. It is important to master and understand the basics before making use of these new technologies to enhance one’s design, and emphasizes function over form (the form however, should also be complete enough to serve the function). If the role of the illustrator is to bring across a good story, this ethos can be carried into any project, with any medium.
Teaching illustration at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts is a much-needed step in Zixi’s life. She is constantly inspired by the young voices of today who is up to date with the latest technologies, and have a great many fresh ideas. She sees her engagement with the younger generation as a way to keep herself going and be steeped in a creative community who always strives to be better. To those aspiring to a career in illustration, Zixi advises that one should be prepared for many hours of hard work and dedication – however in the end, the tenacity you would have built will see you through.
To learn more about Zixi and her works, visit her website: http://www.messymsxi.com/
To find out more about the DesignSingapore Scholarship, click here.