Made of Sfumato and Water -The Remarkable Illustrations of Taiwanese Artist Cinyee Chiu


Cinyee Chiu Stone of Youth

Cinyee Chiu’s elemental illustrative style evokes that delightful feeling that one has come upon some sort of secret, as if a friendly yet shy artist has opened her notebooks to you, an intimacy that is momentary yet immensely rich. The young artist was born in Taiwan and holds her MFA Illustration Practice, Maryland institute College of Art, 2016 where she worked on a number of particularly striking projects such as Pongo with fellow student and artist Ricardo Nuñez.



Pongo by Cinyee Chiu and Ricardo Nuñez, Image courtesy of Maryland Institute College of Art

Before this time of considerable growth and experimentation, Cinyee remembers making paper dolls as a child, and being afraid of drawing in front of others.

Today the artist has developed through a precise series of self-imposed lessons and experiments, a signature way of working; a kind of manner of combining digital techniques with hands on materials.


Cinyee Chiu Various details, and Editorial Art Green Energy


“I tried to learn drawing skills systematically, analyzing the areas where I needed to improve, and looking for resources online, and assigning myself “homework” to practice the skill. For example, I had a figure structure month. For 30 days, I practiced sketching 90 seconds poses every morning before I went to work. I also worked on idea and composition practice.  A friend and I assigned topics to one other and we each had one hour to brainstorm, research, and finish our illustrations.”



In general, the artist’s process begins with small studies made in a sketchbook as a way of developing composition, followed by digital sketching. Cinyee draws and paints directly on paper in watercolor, pencil, ink, and gouache and charcoal, noting: “If I am lucky there will be some beautiful accidents.” She scans her final image and finishing additions are made digitally.




Stone of Youth

The illustration series Stone of Youth is autobiographical, a secret story drawn in the vocabulary of folktales, the sense of mystery achieved through the use of a charcoal sfumato, the drawings digitally colored during the final stages. This visible brushwork and transparent layers of medium is something one often finds favored in illustrations, particularly children’s books, a sort or romantic atmospheric way of working. The pictures are always narrative, but open-ended enough to allow the imagination to enter, a moment of contemplation before the story is told, a visual world often lost on adults, but always present in the minds of small children who are read to at night.






Sleep in Spring

Of course, not all of Cinyee’s work is all about veiled watery mythologies, take for example, Sleep in Spring . A vibrant picture of beauty this is a depiction of a tantalizing encounter; from a feminine point of view. A nude couple lies among flowers symbolizing the generative potential of this season, evoking a sense of the peacefully calm, the colors adding an element of opulent eroticism.

RB: Many of the pictures have an element of self-portraiture I think. Can you elaborate a little on this motif?


CC: I did not realize I have self-portraiture in my drawings. Now you mention, I might have done that inadvertently…very interesting.



Illustration from Stone of Youth

RB: Water is an important motif for you, mystical, powerful, complex, secretive.

CC: I often will feature lakes or areas of water, although it is not intentional. Water for me is a neutral and flexible medium, as you said, it can be mystical, powerful, and has many different characteristics, this is perhaps why I love the motif for such possibilities. I feel moving in water is almost like dancing slowly, just like how water can apply a poetic layer to many topics.” Just think of the Chinese proverb –


 “The water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up.” 



A Night Out

In a Night Out (above) two changelings meet for a rendez -vous of sorts, a mermaid reveals her ability to transform herself by simply removing her cloak, this beautiful night with its mix of the profane and the mystical ends unexpectedly when the man take out his “bird cloth” and flies away.


Learn more about the artist in her website

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Pretty Violence


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