'Drawing is like therapy': illustrator Jun Zhou on creating delightfully satisfying puzzle pictures
Haiti-based illustrator, motion media designer and children's book artist Jun Zhou channels her love of maths and logic into creating maze-inspired work that helps develop children's problem-solving skills.
Maths and illustration might intuitively feel like opposite disciplines. For instance, you might have pursued an artistic career to get as far away from maths as possible. But Chinese illustrator Jun Zhou not only brings the two skills together, but she's also using them to aid the next generation.
Originally from Wenzhou, Jun has worked for a Chinese children's magazine called Pupil's Guide for the last three years. By bringing her background as a children's comic book artist and game designer to the publication, she aims to expand the boundaries of children's education by using mazes and puzzles to stimulate their mathematical thinking.
It's an innovative approach to illustration, but one that appears to be working. Jun's work has already scooped several awards and been selected for several exhibitions, including New York's Society of Illustrators. By exploring topics from a weird perspective, Jun hopes to strike upon unexpected solutions. "Getting these unusual visual strategies is the most exciting thing in my career," she tells Creative Boom.
Like many artists, Jun's love of art goes all the way back to her childhood. "My enthusiasm for drawing began with Japanese manga," she explains. This led Jun to design her own comic books and draw animation frames, but she wasn't purely interested in the arts. "Besides drawing, I liked maths and science. I enjoy thinking logically and seeing the rules behind the scenes."
It makes sense then that Jun would go on to study game design as an undergraduate. However, she soon spent too much time talking to programmers and wrestling with game engines instead of getting down to the drawing she enjoyed.
"I looked into the illustration field to see if I could find a place for myself and focus on drawing rather than coding," she reveals. After graduating from the Savannah College of art and design, she found the perfect balance between technicality and artistry by creating paper games for children and designing motion media.
But just because Jun approaches problems logically, that doesn't mean she is oblivious to her gut instincts. In fact, when creating work for an indie game, she decided to ignore the feedback of people who didn't understand her concept and relied on her intuition. And she was thankful for doing so, as an editor found her and asked Jun to draw maze puzzles for children.
"I felt it was a perfect opportunity for me," she explains. However, even then, friends approached her with concerns about the project. "But I believed in my intuition and took the job. Now the mazes have won several awards and taken my work to a brand new level."
Currently, Jun is working on finishing her children's maze-based game book. Quality and fun are the two priorities she looks for when working on a project, so it sounds like this book will only find its way to us when she's pleased that it's ready. It's a respectable attitude that has seen her overhaul past projects.
"Once I made a lyrics video for Lagoona Bloo," she reveals. "I didn't like the design of the chorus part, so I spent a night remaking it again. I guess such an attitude towards my work is my biggest source of pride. I don't see myself as a unique artist, but I believe that hard work is the foundation of my personality."
Creating puzzles doesn't just extend to helping her audience, though – as coming up with beautiful ideas and solving visual problems sounds like it benefits Jun as well. "I feel a dopamine hit in my brain," she says. "But most of the time, happiness comes from peaceful working. I always think that drawing is like meditation; I don't need to worry about anything else, and it lets me focus on the present."
She concludes: "In reality, a lot of things bring pressure. It includes concerns about how good I am compared to other artists, where I should go in the future or if I satisfy anyone. Drawing is like therapy, and it cures all these worries. It brings me stability and happiness."