Meet illustrator Jocelyn Tsaih and her friendly gang of amorphous characters

Born in Taipei but raised, for the most part, in Shanghai, Jocelyn tells It’s Nice That she went to a very traditional, academic school that didn’t really value the arts as a legitimate career choice (sounds familiar…) “I had always been very interested in art but the way that art was viewed by my immediate community made me really conflicted about considering it seriously for my future.” Luckily her parents supported her to pursue her passion, and she landed a place at the School of Visual Arts in New York where she studied graphic design. Then, after seven years in New York, she moved to her current hometown of Oakland, California.
As a whole, Jocelyn’s artworks stand out for their simple compositions; “I like the boldness and clarity of only having a few elements within an image,” she says. But this simplicity is a result of lots of rumination. She certainly isn’t one of those artists who thinks through sketching. Rather she takes a long time to “marinate” an idea in her head before putting anything on paper. “Sometimes these ideas come from intense feelings or experiences that are hard to articulate, so I want to make sure I really consider how to translate it into visual imagery instead of rushing through it.” When she’s ready, she does rough sketches until she’s “captured the spirit” of her topic – something that often takes longer than the final execution. “The important part for me is making sure I’m simplifying an idea down to its very core in a visually effective way.”
There’s more than one clear link between Jocelyn Tsaih’s works for clients (Apple, The New York Times, W+K), and her murals and paintings, but the obvious one is her charismatic amorphous figures. Prancing, lounging, quietly pondering, the character pops up in all of the illustrator’s work in various forms, a universal, genderless every-being to bring personality to any scenario. But look closer and there’s other consistencies across her portfolio: a distinctly calm atmosphere and softness that is just lovely to look at.
It was at SVA that Jocelyn’s idiosyncratic character first turned up in her sketchbook, a vent for her illustration flair while studying graphics. “While I really enjoyed design, I felt there were too many rules and limitations for my liking. I needed a separate outlet that provided more freedom, so I started drawing on my own time.” Ironically, she says, her design education still influences how she draws her figures, in the way she restricts them to a self-imposed set of visual guidelines. They began in pen and paper, then became digitally painted, and finally jumped off the page into murals, paintings and, this year, 3D figures.

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