We love Yi Pan’s work, and when we started to think about The Grammar of Art, she was at the top of our list. Her work uncovers whimsy and inspiration in the everyday, inviting us into bold and surreal worlds. It’s both quotidien and entirely unexpected. In the following interview, we talk to Yi about her influences, process, and dreams.
Can you tell us a bit about you—where you come from and how you got here?
I am Yi Pan, a New York-based illustrator and graphic designer—originally from Taipei, Taiwan. In 2016, I came to the United States to study graphic design at MICA, where I received an MFA. Now, I work full-time at I&CO, a business invention firm. Whenever I get a chance, I love to spend my time illustrating and animating original works.
How did you discover art? Was there a moment or event that set you on this path?
I discovered my interest in drawing and handcraft very early. When I was four, my mom started taking me with her to work. To keep me quiet and stay in one place, she gave me a pen and unwanted documents so I could draw until she finished her work. During the long solitary hours in a bank lobby, I started to enjoy the time with myself and drawing. Since then, drawing has naturally become a very big part of my life. It’s something I love to do, so art seems to be a really clear path to me.
"I am envisioning a gigantic geometric landscape with hallucinatory patterns, and on top of that, a lot of animals abnormal in size, half-melting creatures, and stick-leg men all interacting with each other."
If you could organize an event—dinner, show, party, barn raising—with five artists, who would they be and what would happen?
I would love to invite some of my favorite artists Luigi Serafini, Matthew Palladino, Milton Glaser, Sara Hagale, and Ryan Travis Christian to build a surrealistic theme park. It would be a great chance to see what crazy ideas they have in their mind. I am envisioning a gigantic geometric landscape with hallucinatory patterns, and on top of that, a lot of animals abnormal in size, half-melting creatures, and stick-leg men all interacting with each other. I really want to see how they turn their surrealistic visual approaches and dark humor into a real experience.
What ideas define the way you work? How would you describe your process to an outsider or brand? Is there a moment in your process that defines your work?
I have a sketchbook that I use to document all the random thoughts that pop up in my head. They are mostly inspired by little things in my daily life, something as random as split hair ends, a mole on my wrist, or a dead fly in my drawer. Because of this, a lot of scenes or creatures in my work will have this surrealistic feeling to them.
When you think about your work, what emotion are you looking for? Are there certain ideas that you hope shine in every piece?
It is empowering when I see people resonate with the work that I create. It doesn’t need to be super inspiring or life changing, it can just be a small “ah.” I am always looking for ways to insert more personality or satisfying moments into the characters in my illustration—not only the animals, humans, and creatures—but also the still-life pieces. I think these elements help the audience relate to the character of a piece. One of the spot illustrations I did for 696 is about how ceramics can become a vehicles of tradition—a reminder to celebrate each meal. Instead of depicting a dinner scene, I was thinking these ceramic cups and pots are probably like humans, have memories, and perhaps, love sharing stories with friends. With that idea, I illustrated three ceramic containers holding each other’s hands and dancing in a circle, just like humans.
Who are your favorite people to work with and why? Is there a way of working that attracts you to them? What’s their vibe?
I love working with Potch Auacherdku, a freelance typeface designer based in Bangkok, Thailand. We have collaborated on type specimens in the past. He gives me enough freedom to explore the experimental. There’s a great working rhythm, and we are always inspired by each other’s work, generating something unexpected. A lot of my favorite pieces have come out of our collaborations.
When you create artwork for a brand, what are you trying to achieve? What do you need to know? What brands, in your opinion, use art to elevate their meaning and importance in our lives?
When it comes to illustration for the brand, I always want to add my personal touch—amplifying a voice that is unique to the brand. I think Gucci’s spring/summer 2018 campaign, “Utopian Fantasy,” is a great example. The artist Ignasi Monreal illustrated an imaginative world based on the classic surrealistic paintings. In the campaign, we can see the models and magical creatures with Gucci clothing wandering in between different scenes. The campaign drags us into the world of Gucci, while also elevating the role of imagination for the brand.
If you could work with any brand, which brand would you choose? What would you do with them? What does the dream outcome look like?
I’ve always wanted to work with a fashion brand, like Shrimps
. I absolutely adore the brand, not just because of the product and cute design details on their website. They have some really fun collages that use their products, models, and super random objects. Collage is also a technique that I love to use when executing whimsical ideas. It would be cool if we could collaborate on a series of murals that use collage.
What’s your dream project? Who does it involve? Where is it unveiled?
Something like concept art for the video game, or giant public sculptures would be cool. Most of my illustration works are made for editorial purposes or packaging design. These types of projects are fun but usually have a very linear workflow, and they are only used one time. I always think about being involved in a bigger team, creating a project that has longevity and impact. What I love about working collaboratively in a large team is that you can see people from different fields contribute their strength to push an idea forward, and when all kinds of creative efforts weave together, it brings more impact to the audience.