Ruohan Wang makes beautifully simple illustrations that say more than at first meets the eye. She sometimes turns them into tongue in cheek GIFs, letting her style free from the static page to bring her thoughtful creations to life. Hailing from Beijing and living in Berlin means she's taking on international work already, having founded her own studio earlier this year. She might be young, but don't think that hides any lack of know-how and ambition. We'd definitely say Ruohan is one to watch, so we caught up with her to chat about German culture, GIF making and what's next on her agenda...
Could you give us a quick low-down on who you are and what you do?
I am Ruohan Wang, from Beijing, China and I'm a in Berlin-based illustrator. In 2013 I finished my Master Degree at the Berlin University of the Arts and currently I am pursuing as a Meisterschüler under the supervision of Professor Henning Wagenbreth. This year, I founded my Studio R, and from here I'm working on various projects between China and Germany.
You work a lot with GIFs - what appeals to you about that medium?
The power of the GIF is that it turns flat into a vector space. No matter large or small the playground you put the drawing inside, one little motion can make the vector space full.
What does the movement of the GIF add to your work that static illustration doesn’t capture?
When people make eye contact with every frame of the GIF, they already begun to establish connection and co- emotion with it. In this way, the GIF brings a more profound memory than static image. To put it simply, it’s easier to build up a relationship between the human and a more cold, static art style.
Any particular favorite medium to work in?
Most of the time I use mixed ways to paint, including pencil, brush, crayon and so on. I also draw or make different elements and textures according to different themes. Sometimes I also record or produce some sound as raw stuffs. Then I would use photoshop or flash to integrate them altogether.
Studio R is based in Berlin - does the city influence your work? What is it that drew you to Berlin to study?
In my middle school years I’ve already begun to watch German movies and listened to German electronic music. Before I started learning German, it sounded very neutral and industrial to me, and felt pretty cool to me. Then as I came to Berlin for the first time, I felt no delicateness, but rather neutrality, flexibility and diversity, these are also conditions which I want to have and keep in my illustrations.
I feel like there's a playful element to your work, is that purposeful? Does the playfulness also contain a serious message?
My works are mostly without a specific purpose, except those which I did for contracts. But I’m sure that there are something common among them. During working on the illustration or GIF, I gradually realize what I want to express. I hope it’s something not “soft” but “dull“, with humor but without specific nationality. In this scene everyone finds his or her desire and definition to it.
What are the most important influences in your work?
Enthusiasm and concern. My enthusiasm comes from my communication with people from different areas. I feel that mathematical concepts, chemical equations and physical experiments can all work with illustration. By the way, I’m going to work on my graduation project with a student of sound experiment. This excites me a lot. My concern, or in another way of saying, anxiousness, began as the first time I looked at a globe, and I was afraid that I would fall away from the earth, and that feels lasts till now, even though I have learned the physical laws about gravity. In my college years I was anxious about war or disaster, and if this happens, how I can help as an illustrator. So I constantly need to find things that can comfort people.
What’s your perfect working environment? How’s your desk looking at the moment?
My perfect working environment: a huge desk, a computer screen large enough, all kinds of dictionaries, pencils and paper. Besides those, I prefer to hear some regular noises like the sound of subway passing through, and also see those water bubbles on the ground when it rains. I also like a comfort chair and enjoy the time sitting in it while chopping pencil.
How would you describe your approach to design?
If I was given a theme, I would take much time to think about it, might even need to look something up in the dictionary. Then I draw some drafts, chop my pencil and choose one of my favorite draft to refine. Then I color it and scan, or scan into computer and color it. Sometimes I cannot convince myself about some ideas, I would go and find some non-illustrators and talk to them, this usually has excellent effect.
If you could land your perfect design/illustration jobs, what would that look like?
My ideal job is to work as a freelancer but with enough things to do, and those things better have long-term meanings.
Illustration: Ruohan Wang