Where do you live/work?
Z.O.: I am currently based in Singapore. Before the pandemic, I used to travel back and forth to LA and I hope to be able to go back there again soon!
Do you have a studio routine?Z.O.: I like to make a list of things to do before winding down from each work day. That gives me a plan to focus on when I wake up the day after.I schedule a couple of hours to try to catch up with emails and other admin work in the day, and then jump into my actual art and painting. I make sure to do some daily exercise/fit in a walk as a way to rejuvenate myself mentally and physically. It's a good opportunity for me to leave my table/house. That is also a way for me to take an active break, which gives me time to reflect on the things I have done/need to do next. In terms of actual work, I aim to complete at least one painting a day, be it a current cover project, sketches for the next one, commissions, or my own personal paintings.
Were comics your main entry into art?Z.O.: Comics is a relatively new medium/industry for me, which is what makes my job so exciting and refreshing as I'm learning all the time.
I have a background in fine arts (traditional oil paintings and photography) and did my degree and MA in digital animation.
Some of your pieces include embroidery which seems like a new medium for the work of cover art! How did you decide to start incorporating this as a technique?Z.O.: Including embroidery in my works is not new to me, and is something I'd already done prior to making covers. I've always loved mixed media and experimenting with all kinds of material in my work.
I enjoy the tactility of different materials and how they can come together physically, almost like sculpting onto a piece of paper.
As I still do work in digital, incorporating something tangible onto paper is to me a great way for me to bridge mediums and keep the intimacy of texture in my process.
Though I love working with embroidery, I do try to be sensitive to how it can work into a piece of art. Not every piece I do includes the technique and sometimes it might not even fit conceptually. (And to be honest, since it's quite time-consuming as well, I don't always manage to add that into everything, though I wish I could!)
Is it important in your practice to challenge traditional methods in comic art? If so, what methods or mediums do you use in this effort? (Including any non-comic related work)Z.O.: As I've mentioned above, I like to bridge mediums when it comes to my work as it is a way for me to make my own process fun and it also allows me to experiment and be open to everything.
I respect the traditional methods in comic art as there is still a lot for me to learn. Instead of challenging them, I prefer to adapt to them in a way that gives me room to also include materials that I'm already familiar with.
Those include mediums like paint, collage work, embroidery, coloured pencils, charcoal, etc...
What’s the process like for collaborations where you’re coloring another artist's drawing? Do you approach the project differently?Z.O.: I try to work as closely as I can with my collaborator when it comes to us doing a project together, in order for us to present our styles seamlessly, so there's often a lot of discussion and getting each other's feedback on what works together.
More isn't always better, so I try to keep my process of colouring as simple as possible, as the other artist's drawing already tells the story efficiently.
I do approach the process a little differently in terms of not having a totally blank canvas to work on, so the challenge is to figure out ways to elevate the existing art without overwhelming it with unnecessary details.
How do you “research” a character?Z.O.: Google Images is usually the first thing I go to. :P After that I like to read up as much as I can about the character. It's even better if I'm able to get a copy of the issue in which the character appears, just to get more context/knowledge on how the character works in their story setting. Since most of my work is for covers, I also like to look up how the characters have been interpreted by other artists.
My art manager, Annabel Kirby, and most of the editors I work with will also usually send me the character design/concept and story-line for me to work with (which I'm so grateful for!) - I then utilize the information as a foundation for further research if needed.
What types of characters or story-lines are you typically drawn to?Z.O.: Although it might not reflect too much in the works I produce, I'm a huge fan of the psychological horror genre. I like to be scared. I also enjoy fantasy and characters that have some relation in different cultural mythologies.
I am drawn to characters that are grounded, who are written sensitively with their personality flaws and weaknesses in mind, in stories that can boldly mirror issues that we are currently facing.
Have you noticed any kind of effect that the Pandemic has had on your practice?Z.O.: While I have tried to maintain a healthy work schedule, the last year has also taken a lot of opportunities especially in terms of having a proper social life. I had gone through several periods of throwing myself into a lot of work (because it was seemingly all I could do with my time), and then feeling burnt out and unmotivated for days after.
I wish I could say that I've completely thrived under these circumstances and been the most productive during this time, but truth be told, it has sometimes been challenging to keep a balance.
I truly miss the energy of comic conventions and being able to interact with my art family in the industry and meet new people, as that had been a way for me to take a break and activate myself in a different way while also being productive.
However, I'd been very fortunate in that I have been able to participate in some online conventions and e-events in the past year, which are important for me to feel like I'm still part of something.
Do you have any projects currently in the works?Z.O.: I do have some covers with Marvel and Valiant that should be revealed soon, as well as a couple other exciting titles.
I also will continue my colouring work (and maaaaaybe some interiors) in the sequel to Brian Bendis and David Mack's Eisner-nominated COVER series (from Jinxworld), so that's something that I'm really excited about. For those who are interested, do also look out for other projects from Kirby's Comic Art, by which I'm happily represented. We have done some portfolio and print works together, and you'll be able to get the latest updates about what I'm up to through their social media and website.
I may also have some new pieces for the Comic Art Live (hosted by Comic Art Fans) e-show happening this weekend, so do look out for that!
If given the enchanted Monkey Paw and allowed three wishes with possibly hellish consequences, would you tempt fate and make a wish, or play it safe?Z.O.: Oh, this question is hard. I'd like to think that I'm a (mostly) sensible person, so I probably would do the boring thing and play it safe. However, if I could wish for something I'd sincerely like for this pandemic to finally be over.
What would your wish be?
I'd always thought being an extra in a zombie movie looks quite fun, so if the worse scenario leads to that, maybe I will tempt fate after all.
Check out Zu's work at Kirby's Comic Art