Victo Ngai, 2023 Golden Pinwheel Illustration Competition Jury, " Embracing the Beauty of Imperfections Along the Way"

This year's Golden Pinwheel Competition has a brilliant lineup of jury. A total of nine well-known professionals from home and abroad will form the jury of this year's Golden Pinwheel Illustration Competition. They will carefully review all submitted works from the perspective of their respective professional fields. (Full list of 2023 Jury). Before the start of the judging work, the organizing committee invites them for exclusive interviews. The judges will give professional suggestions and answers on illustration, publishing, business, competition and other aspects. In this issue, we specially invite Victo Ngai, the jury of 2023 Golden Pinwheel Illustartion Competition. Let's hear what advice she has for illustrators!

Q: When we are creating, we are often in a state of "not finished" or "not perfect". For example, if we finish a work one day and look at it the next day, we feel that it is not good enough. What are the criteria for completing a work? How do I develop a sense of "completion" of my work?

Victo:Perfectionism in art is both a blessing and a curse. Fortunately (and sometimes regretfully), external deadlines, like gallery openings and publication dates, often determine when a piece must be completed. I strive to finish my artwork a few days ahead of these deadlines. This allows for a break and a fresh perspective to make any necessary final touch-ups before submission.
In reality, a piece is never truly finished. Upon reflecting on my older work, I often find areas for improvement. This is good as it signifies growth as an artist. My advice is to give each piece your best effort while recognizing it as part of a larger creative process, embracing the beauty of imperfections along the way.

Q: How do you usually overcome a creative bottleneck period? Where do you get new inspiration?

Victo:Time can aid or hinder creativity. As the constraints of time tighten, it becomes increasingly challenging to overcome bottlenecks. It is wise to incorporate buffers, allowing for breaks to relax and rejuvenate. Our most creative moments often arise during periods of relaxation.
The foundation of an artwork is often unseen and predates the project itself. While "inspiration" is commonly likened to a serendipitous lightbulb moment, I view it more as a well-stocked library that can be tapped into when needed. The better our library, the better it can serve us. What we choose to include in our library depends on our tastes and interests, making the curation process vital in developing our artistic style.
Equally important is the cultivation of interests beyond our immediate field to avoid echo chamber effects. Having a broad spectrum of interests provides us with a distinct advantage in the realm of inspiration. By expanding our horizons, we invite novel ideas and fresh perspectives to permeate our creative sphere, providing the necessary soil for unique and thoughtful work. 

Q: Artificial intelligence has brought a sense of crisis to the illustration industry, and objectively speaking AIGC paintings do really well in terms of style and skill. When style and drawing skills are no longer scarce, what do you think is the deeper core competitiveness of the illustrator's profession?

Victo:To address this question, let's begin by defining and distinguishing between "Technique" and "Style." "Technique" refers to one's experience and knowledge of art mediums, encompassing the ability to effectively translate thoughts into visual form. On the other hand, "Style" represents an extension of oneself—an encapsulated and distilled visual manifestation of the artist's thoughts, preferences, cultural background, and upbringing. It serves as a window through which viewers can catch a glimpse into the artist's inner world. While "Technique" can be acquired through learning from others, style emerges from within.
One of the significant advantages of AI over human artists is its capacity to absorb vast amounts of information and effortlessly master various techniques. However, I would argue that this is also AI's greatest weakness. By indiscriminately ingesting information, AI may exhibit a semblance of style, particularly when prompted by artists' names. Yet, it can never truly achieve an authentic voice. It can imitate and reproduce, but genuine invention eludes it. 
Furthermore, generative AI is closely intertwined with language, but visual art encompasses much that cannot be confined to or described by words, nor consciously expressed. These nuances cannot be replicated by AI, as they are inherently human. 
In my experience, after looking at hundreds of AI-generated images, the initial dazzling effect wanes, leaving me desensitized, not unlike the flat aftertaste following excessive consumption of fast food.

Q: Some of the commercial projects are urgent, while others are short-term projects. How do you optimize the workflow of different clients?

Victo:I am typically booked a couple of months in advance, which allows some leeway in planning which projects to undertake. There are usually a few projects happening simultaneously, but rush deadlines have become increasingly challenging due to other longer projects and my family obligations. Although there may be exceptions for truly exceptional projects.
When considering a new project, I have two fundamental criteria that must be met. Firstly, I seek projects that pique my interest. Secondly, I value the opportunity to exercise creative freedom and bring my vision to life. Beyond these two criteria, my priorities may vary based on the different stages of my life. Factors such as financial considerations, diversifying my portfolio, gaining publicity, or supporting important charitable causes come into play. I prioritize those that align with my preferences and goals.

Q: More and more new illustrators are interested in picture books, maybe this is an industry trend, what advice would you like to give to new illustrators in the industry?

Victo:Follow your passion, not trends or market. Passion can propel you forward, fueling persistence and laying a solid foundation for your career. Also, passion is often contagious as it infuses authenticity and depth into our work. On the contrary, trends, and markets are uncontrollable and transient.
Considering the unpredictable nature of a book's success, it is essential to find joy in the process of creating it. Harper Lee and J.K. Rowling's experiences are good examples. Despite rejections and warnings of a potential lack of sales, they remained passionate and persevered, ultimately achieving great success with their books.
This is particularly true for picture book artists, as the creative process is involved and time-consuming. To sustain a career in this field, it is essential to genuinely love the industry and be selective in accepting manuscripts to preserve that love and maintain artistic integrity.

Q: Currently, picture books have become very diversified in terms of story content, picture presentation, technique, design and layout, and so on. Do you think there is still room for improvement for original picture books?

Victo:The heart of picture books resides in their stories. A great story does not require excessive embellishments but rather the right art and design treatments to complement it. A notable example that comes to mind is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, which demonstrates that sometimes less is more.
It is an important reminder, particularly as technology advances and production costs decrease, that the focus should remain on the storytelling itself rather than getting caught up in distracting "cool factors" or gimmicks.
Every era deserves its own books that reflect and capture its unique zeitgeist. Therefore, there will always be space for good stories.