Illustrator reworks her old book with new inspiration

Updated 2018-08-29 08:48:00

Illustrator Ye Luying seeks to share the beauty of traditional Chinese culture with everyone.

When illustrator Ye Luying happened to read again the well-known work An Ode to the Goddess of Luo (Luoshenfu) she immediately decided to illustrate the classic story.

The story is about author Cao Zhi from the Wei Dynasty (220-265) and a nymph of his imagination.

In the work, Cao uses beautiful language to describe his encounter, admiration and love for the nymph, said to be the daughter of Emperor Fuxi from prehistorical legends.

According to legend, the girl became a nymph after she drowned in the Luo River.

Cao calls her a nymph of peerless beauty and says she is "as elegant as a startled swan and supple as a swimming dragon".

A scene from Ye Luying's new picture book Pictures of An Ode to the Goddess of Luo.

Artists afterward have used the nymph as a source of inspiration for paintings.

And the most famous among them was painted by Gu Kaizhi of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), who portrayed a ritualistic ceremony to revere the nymph.

"I believe it's an ideal subject for me," says Ye, 26, who has been teaching illustration and cartoon drawing at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, since she graduated from there. Ye says the story attracted her because it is a legend that involves a fairy beauty, a romance, and the universal loneliness of craving for something but not getting it.

Ye threw herself into the creation, going to libraries to look for all possible references, such as books on mural paintings in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu province, to learn about ancient attire, history and mythical creatures.

She also referred to a copy of Gu's masterpiece by a Song-Dynasty (960-1279) painter to learn more about his way of painting waves.

In her work, Ye combines traditional skills and modern techniques.

So she first drew fine lines in the traditional way-on rice paper with an ink brush.

Later, the sketches were scanned, before she colored them on the computer.

"Unlike the calm feel of ancient paintings, my version has more emotion as I have added my own feelings," says Ye.

Besides the divine figures and mythical creatures that were mentioned in the story, Ye has used her imagination to make the pictures more vivid.

Ye has added a lot of detail from her imagination "to create a world where everything has a spirit".

When it comes to the nymph's dress, she shows tiny spirits born from shells, who hold a long pearl lace and dance around her.

Ye's work has won many awards. The honors include the best illustration award at the 13th Golden Dragon Award for Chinese Animation and the gold prize at the 2nd Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition, both held in 2016.

The work was also exhibited at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

However, many new ideas came to Ye after she completed her work, so she decided to redo the illustrations.

The new set of paintings have resulted in a picture book titled Pictures of An Ode to the Goddess of Luo, published recently by Citic Press Group.

Separately, Yu Zhiying, an author and editor of children's books from Taiwan, was invited to adapt the original ancient prose by Cao into modern Chinese for the book.

Yu praises Ye's illustrations that "creatively combine traditional elements, such as mural painting techniques and decorative patterns, with modern reconstruction and innovation to fully show the beauty of the nymph to modern eyes", adding that she was impressed by Ye's ability to describe the scenes.

Ye has produced other picture books over the past few years.

According to Ye, she decided to focus on traditional Chinese culture and art after she returned from doing her master's degree in Norway in 2016.

There, she was inspired by how local artists illustrated northern European legends and myths in popular and modern ways, and believed the traditional Chinese culture could also be a treasure house for Chinese artists.

"I want to share the beauty of traditional culture with everyone through art," says Ye, adding that illustration is a good way to introduce traditional Chinese culture to foreigners.

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