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Hui Min Liu: An Interview with a Truly Unique Artist

By Jav Rivera

Several years ago, I was looking for an artist to illustrate a children's book that I had written.  I posted a calling and received nearly one hundred responses from artists all over the world.  I read each email and viewed all of their artwork.  And in doing so, I noticed that many of these artists, as talented as they were, appeared to have very similar styles.  Many, that is, except one: Hui Min Liu.  Her use of color, composition, and endearing character design stood out among all these talented artists.  Without any doubt, I knew I had found the perfect style for my children's book, and I would later discover that not only had I found one of the most brilliant artists, but I also found a perfect collaborator.

Hui Min Liu
Hui Min Liu was born in 1980 in Taichung, Taiwan, where she would eventually receive her Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at Tunghai University.  She later received her Master of Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she majored in Illustration.  During her time there, she was awarded the Combined Honors Fellowship, an award given to students who demonstrate both academic and artistic achievement through a presentation of outstanding portfolio and above average grades and test scores. Since her graduation, she has worked as a landscape designer, freelance book illustrator, and art instructor.  Her paintings have been exhibited internationally in Italy, New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle, San Francisco, and of course Taiwan.

"A Blowball" from Hui Min Liu's "I Have a Dream" series
Among her many talents, Hui Min is an artist, painter, illustrator, and photographer.  Her background in landscape is clearly apparent in her work, but more importantly it's the heart within each stroke of her brush.  Whether it's the main focus of the piece or the little creatures among the background, she breathes life in each character.  But it's not just her ability to create life that amazes, it's also how she can do it in such a unique style.  She can make something dreamlike seem plausible.  The worlds she creates, be it within a painting or a digital creation, can best be described as awe-inspiring.

I have had the honor of working with Hui Min on several projects and for that I am honored.  Our first collaboration was for our children's book, Sometimes I'm Sad, in which we also produced a film.

When we began work on this project, I remember sharing with her the words to my story and telling her the goal of the book.  I never suggested any character designs, nor anything relating to the look or style of the artwork.  A short time later she sent me drafts of her designs and I could only stare in wonderment. How could this artist create such wonderful ideas from so little amount of information?  It's been several years since we first started working together and I still wonder.  I recently asked her if she would participate in an interview.  Humble as she is, she was embarrassed at the idea but was still willing to take time to answer my questions.  Perhaps this interview will help bring us inside the mind of this incredible artist.

When did you know you wanted to create art?
Creating art didn't seem like a must when I was younger; it was like a lollipop that could satisfy a young heart easily. As I grow older, I realize there are only few things able to occupy my heart as a childhood lollipop, and creating art is probably my favorite one. “When did I know I wanted to create art?” is like a tricky question as “When did I find the satisfaction from a lollipop?”; the answer is a mystery.   

Where do you get inspiration?
I usually don't know where my inspiration comes from, but I feel my visual experience is like a database where the most inspiration to create art is stored. Once, when I watched the movie Immortal Beloved, there was a scene making a great impression on me. Young Beethoven swam in a mirror-like lake which reflected the beautiful starry sky; with a sudden twist, young Beethoven seemed to look like swimming above the Milky Way. Years later, when I found my old drawing depicting the floating figure of my cat, the database in my brain functioned immediately and the inspiration to create my painting "A Stolen Night" just flashed through my mind. I've never tried hard to seek inspiration; inspiration comes to me often. 

old drawing
"A Stolen Night"
What kinds of projects do you like to do?
I think both the contents and the client of a project are important to me. I can only do a project that the subject matter interests me and the client gives me the space to develop my ideas freely.   

How much of your work is experimentation, and how much of it is pre-planned?
The composition of my art is usually pre-planned. Before I start a piece, those pre-done outputs of images produced by my imagination factory are always imprinted on my brain deeply. Nevertheless, during the process of coloring, I like to experiment on the combination of colors and the mix of different media; while holding a brush, I can feel all my emotions stirring on the fingers, taking over my painting, and searching for something unexpected.   

How did you develop your unique style?
My undergraduate major was Landscape Architecture, I hadn't enrolled in any formal art class until I pursued my graduate studies in Illustration. Even when I was studying in Illustration, the graduate level classes didn't  focus on drawing skills at all. These conditions gave me diverse viewpoints on my work and also allowed me to discover my personal style by refining it through trials and errors.    

Which artists (current or past) do you appreciate the most?
Alexander Calder is my favorite artist; I love his kinetic sculptures and wire figures. "Cirque Calder" is one of my favorite works of all time; I'm captivated by the chemistry that Calder created as he performed the handmade miniature circus. I believe a great artist, like Calder, must be deeply in love with his or her own art, otherwise a viewer's heart would never be unlocked.

Do you try to emulate any style or artist?
I've never tried to imitate any style or artist, but I believe any work of art, which has ever made a profound impression on me, does have partial influence on my work.

How do you begin your pieces?
I usually draw sketches on grid paper to start my pieces. On grid paper, I can easily see the whole composition, the places for every elements, the hidden pattern, and the relationship between spaces. To sketch on grid paper not only helps me to trace out the images in my mind rationally, but also encourages me to seek out some interesting connections in a composition.  

"S910 and His Puppy" (sketch form)

"S910 and His Puppy" (final version)
In what way do your methods differ, depending on digital versus tradition art?
I think there's not much difference for me to create art by digital or traditional means; it's just medium change. Different medium has its own properties, to know how to play with a medium is the technical problem. However, to bring out the soul of a piece depends on the aesthetics of an artist. I like the preciseness, efficiency, and easy-adjust functions of digital media; I also love the actual texture and happy accidents on the works by traditional techniques.

Digital art created in Illustrator software
What would be your dream career?
Working while traveling would be a perfect dream career. I love to travel, visit different places, and meet other cultures; if there's a kind of job that I could make a living by creating art and also be able to travel to many places at the same time, then it would sound like a desirable career to me.

What advice would you give to other artists?  
I think it's not my position to advise any artists. But I always tell myself to open my mind to see what is happening in the contemporary art and yet not to lose my way creating what I want; true to myself, and never go with any trend against the voice in my heart.

Hui Min Liu is an artist of her own design, and in my opinion, she is the best living artist.  To know her is something I cherish every day, and to work with her is beyond words.  In this article, I hope not only to learn of her technique, but also to share her work.  And I do this both as a sign of gratitude, and out of respect for someone's work that whole-heartedly deserves to have more attention.

To Hui Min: I thank you.  To anyone reading this, please take some time to discover and study the artwork from a truly unique artist.

For more information, visit Hui Min's official website: www.huiminliu.com

TRIVIA: Hui Min Liu's piece entitled "Invasion - Tree From the Backyard" from her Beyond the Mirror series was the inspiration for the window in page three of Sometimes I'm Sad.  Furthermore, the artwork in her Beyond the Mirror series showcase hidden figures within the background images.

"Invasion - Tree From the Backyard"

Page Three from Sometimes I'm Sad