Ran Zheng, a.k.a Tracy, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a BFA in illustration. Born and grew up in China, She also lived in Zimbabwe for 3 years. Her biggest hobbies are traveling and experiencing different cultures. She currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a freelance Illustrator.
What is the creative process behind your art?
I used to make pencil sketches first, color them digitally, and draw a final colored-pencil drawing on paper according to my tight designs. I’m a bit of a control freak so the drawing and color would be very carefully planned before the final drawing, so I don’t make big mistakes or end up with an ugly color palette. Then I got an iPad, and now I do all of this digitally, where I have the freedom to change any color anytime and have the precious option of undo. But I do miss drawing with an actual pencil where the unpredictability plays a role in the making of the art. I hope I’ll get to go back to it sometime and see where I can find a middle ground.
Tell me how it all began. What inspired you to start on this creative journey?
I’ve always loved drawing since I was young. When I was very confused about what to do in the future at the age of 15, I was a really cool design magazine cover at a kiosk and thought I’d love to be able to make something like that. And I’ve been working in this direction ever since.
Are you noticing a positive change in your industry?
Yes definitely. I’m really happy to see that there are more and more applications of illustrations everywhere. Although print publications are having a bit of a difficult time, there are many new places appearing on all sorts of new platforms. And as a Chinese illustrator, I work with some clients from China as well, where the industry has been thriving. Illustrators and taken more and more seriously and there are always lots of opportunities.
How do you dismiss all the conflicting thoughts in your head and focus on the singular process of creation?
This is always a tough one. Even after I start working on a piece, I always get distracted by thinking about all the different ways I could change it up. One teacher back in high school once said that my works always turn out good when I was struggling with a painting. Although it was just to comfort me and definitely wasn’t always true, I just think about it when I get too distracted or frustrated and just focus to finish whatever I’m working on.
What do you feel when you stare at a blank page before your art takes shape on the whiteness of the sheet?
I tend to feel very anxious every time I start a new project. I would be afraid to make a wrong mark, or not coming up with good ideas. But seems like it always turns out better than I thought. It might sound cliche, but the key really is just going out our comfort zones and making something not being afraid of mistakes. It’s easier saying it, but I try to remind myself of it every time this happens.
What are the challenges you currently face?
As I get busier with work, I have less time to focus on myself. Due to the nature of my profession, I take on topics chosen for me by my clients and the contents are already set. So at times when I do have a break, it’s become hard to reflect on what I want to say as an artist and what I want to personally communicate with my viewers. After a busy period of working, I like taking a break to relax, go out to see nature, or do something completely irrelevant to art so I can use this time to focus on myself.
If someone issues a search warrant through your tools and sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble into?
They would probably think they were looking at some art supply store’s shelves because I love buying different materials. I love trying things out, but usually, I quickly realize that they don’t work out for me. So under my desk, there are drawers and boxes full of different types of paint, markers, and tools. And I get so attached to them thinking maybe I’ll come back to them someday and put them to good use.
What are your can’t-live-without stationery essentials?
I love some good colored pencils and fountain pens, and I can’t live without my laptop and iPad because I’ve been making lots of work digitally.