Julia Kuo is a Taiwanese-American illustrator. She currently works out of Chicago for most of the year and Taiwan in the winter. Julia illustrates children's books as well as editorial pieces for newspapers and magazines. Her clients include Science Friday, the New York Times, Hachette Books, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan Publishing. When she's not drawing, you might find her running around in a national park and looking at moss.
-Does your identity or how you identify yourself inform your work in any way?
Yes! It’s only natural to draw things that reflect who I am, or what I’m obsessing over at the moment. Sometimes it’s very deliberate. I'm a second generation Taiwanese-American female, and I remember deciding right out of school that I would draw medium-skinned, dark-haired females into my projects whenever possible.
Other times, the manifestation has been more tenuous. Recently I’ve gotten a few comments about my work resembling Japanese woodcuts. I’ve never intentionally modeled my work after Japanese art, but I grew up surrounded by different types of classic Asian art and still admire Hokusai and Hiroshige’s landscapes. I guess I can’t deny that connection, but it makes me wonder.
-When making your work, do you have certain expectations or do you aim for a specific reaction in your audience and the viewer? (Do you care about how the message of your work is received?)
As an illustrator, I care that my images are received in a way that’s appropriate to the content. Lately, I’ve been into creating images that share my love for the outdoors - so I’ve been working with clients that are also looking for the same mix of discovery and education!
-Does art serve a purpose for you outside of just beauty or aesthetics?
When I first started out, I was drawing cute and pretty greeting cards. I was surrounded by friends who were going through med school, working at non-profits, and just about any other job that would make the world a better place. It made me really think about how I could do something more meaningful with illustration. In the 8 years since, I’ve come to a place where I can say that my work has purpose and meaning. But thankfully it doesn't mean that the prettiness has to go away! I've also realized that greeting cards help people, too =)
-How do current events affect your practice?
I recently wrote and illustrated a story on an event involving bison in Canada. My agenda has been to make art that shares my love for the environment, whether it’s about a current event or my own personal experience. By encouraging people to find personal connections to natural places, my hope is that they’ll act to protect them via ways that best suit their careers and abilities. This bison story is part of a larger group of stories about my artist residency in Banff National Park at meetusinthewoods.com.
-Do you feel you are more reactive or more reflective when you create?
Maybe reflective, but most likely neither? If anything I’m pretty slow and deliberate; I have probably already reacted and reflected long before I’m ready to publish something for everyone to see.