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Interview with Helen Huang

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Helen Huang, a.k.a. CQcat is an illustrator from the US, who is originally born and raised in China. She is a full time designer at an interactive ad agency and has the passion for illustrations. Through her beautiful illustrations, she tries to capture every inspiration she has and shares her vision with the world.

Helen says, her heart always desired to be in a creative field which motivated her to change her career choice from being a lawyer to a designer. Read on this interview to know about her work, her future goals and how she enjoys creating art, learning new things and pushing her style forward.

1. Hi Helen, Give us a little background bio of yourself; tell us where you're from. What is a typical day for you?

Hi, my name is Helen Huang, a.k.a. CQcat. I was born and raised in China and currently living in Los Angeles. Since I have a full time job, a typical day involves 10am to 7pm in the office, working diligently.  As for the rest of the time including weekend, I try to spend as much time as possible on my illustrations. 

2. You were all set to be a lawyer, then you decided that you want to be in the digital art field. When did you make this decision? Was it an easy choice to switch career paths? What was your first experience in the digital art field?

I always have passion for art. I grew up drawing and doodling. However, when I was in high school, artist/designer was not a "decent occupation" in China. I went to college with a law major instead. After graduation, I started working at a leading law firm in China. Everything looked perfect except I knew I desired more.

I wanted to explore all my options before it was too late and I was very lucky to get a visa to come to the US a year later for my Master's degree in Advertising. My focus in graduate school was branding, not designing though.

I got an office job after graduate school.  The job was not challenging enough for me after awhile. Next thing I know I started making a Chinese language learning Flash site with some friends in my spare time. That was when I had to pick up drawing and sketching after many years and start to learn all the design software needed to create graphics for the project.

That, I would say, was my initial contact with digital art. I have been learning and creating digital art ever since. From lawyer to designer, it sounds random. I know how I got here was anything but random. It was a lot of dedication and work.

3. Did you take any formal education graphic design or are you self taught? What tools and applications do you mainly use? What does your workstation look like?

I didn't have any formal education in graphic design. I am self-taught.

I do most of my work in Illustrator. I am hoping to experiment with more Photoshop in the future. I use a PC at home and a Mac at work, both with dual monitors. Once you go two, you cannot go back to single monitor.

4. What is your workflow for creating a typical image, how long does it take?

My typical workflow starts from pencil sketch on paper, to scanner, to Illustrator. The time spent on each piece is really varied. Some take 5 or 6 hours. Some take 20 to 30 hours.

5. Females seem to be a central focus for most of your illustrations. Why is that? Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork?

I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer when I was young.  I've always had a passion for it. So my illustration can also be viewed as fashion illustration for women. Fashion or art, there is no line drawn.

As for future plans, I am currently illustrating a children's book. My next goal is to get into professional fashion illustration for magazines, clothing or cosmetic brands. In the meantime, I am just enjoying creating art, learning new things, pushing my style forward.

6. Your illustrations have attractive color scheme. What is your technique for using colors, how do you go about choosing colors schemes for your illustrations?

I love colors. I love closing my eyes facing the light and see all these beautiful colors and shapes. Whenever I see a nice color scheme, I try to have it imprint in my head. Sometimes I already have colors picked in my head when I am doing a pencil sketch.

Sometimes, I simply enjoy spending a lot of time experimenting with different colors, shades and blend modes. Once in a while, I end up having 2 or 3 different color schemes for one illustration. I remember having 3 color schemes for The Woods.

7. What is your day job as a full-time designer in ad agency? How long have you been working as a full-time designer?

I am a designer at an interactive ad agency that specializes in film marketing. I love my job and I enjoy working with all the super awesome and talented people there. I've been working as a full-time designer for two years. My day job uses a different skill set than my illustrations.

I mostly work in Flash, Photoshop and After Effects at work. Ironically, both are creative and involve design, but very different at the same time. It feels like I have a double identity, day and night.

8. Would you like to share with us your favorite vectoring tool, tip or technique?

I love the Pen Tool!  I know it's very basic. But I cannot give it too many credits personally. I create shapes with the Pen Tool for each little thing in my artwork. This way it's super easy for me to go in there and modify anything.  So one piece may have hundreds or thousands of shape layers.

I also love inner glow. It gives a very natural and subtle effect especially on the skin.

9. What do you consider your major influences to be? What are your favorite sources of inspiration? Do you find yourself browsing any online design community or website?

I consider manga, fashion, and my Chinese heritage the major influences on my work.

As for the sources of inspiration, it actually comes from everything in daily life.  I take memory photos in my head whenever I see something so incredible. I also carry a small sketch book with me all the time, to back up the memory photos just in case. I had inspirations coming from movies, music, folk story, or even dreams.

I browse design sites very often. I love looking at other artists' work for style inspiration.  I also love taking new tutorials and learning new tricks. I am a member on deviantART and Flickr.  It's a great feeling to share work and passion with the art/design community.

10. Which is your favorite piece of work that you have created so far and why? What was the inspiration and idea behind it?

Each piece is unique to me and has its special place in my heart. This may sound cliché, but I really cannot pick one as my favorite so far. I always hope my next piece will be my new favorite. It's very rewarding to see yourself grow and evolve.

11. And, now a little tricky question, if you were a guy and if you were to marry one of the beautiful girls that you have illustrated/created, to whom would you propose?

Can I have them all? If I really were a guy, that probably would be my thought! But if I have to choose only one, I think I would propose to the girl in Dark Wings. She is confident, attractive, and playful.

12. Thanks for the interview Helen. Would you like to give any tips or advise to aspiring digital artists and designers?

Keep learning and challenging yourself. Love what you do and have fun with it!

Helen Huang on Web

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