Posts by Berny Tan

Intuition and Analysis: Interviewing Guest Artist Andrea Popyordanova

Sometimes the texts that impress me the most are the most difficult to work on.

Illustrator Andrea Popyordanova is Asymptote’s guest artist for the July 2016 issue. Her beautiful collages reimagined scenes from thirteen texts in our Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, Writers on Writers, and Multilingual Writing Feature sections. Guest Artist Liaison Berny Tan interviewed her about contributing to Asymptote and how she develops her unique imagery.

Berny Tan (BT): The illustrations you created for Asymptote have this wonderful effortlessness about them, even when they’re composed of so many elements within a single frame. Could you take us through your process of conceiving and executing each piece?

Andrea Popyordanova (AP): I usually look at the most powerful descriptions in each text. I trust my intuition—if I vividly remember a particular expression or moment in a text, I visualize that. I start by composing the image in color, and then lay down the details that complete the whole. It’s all very quick, all about recreating a feeling or a striking image in my head. There isn’t really a process; it’s more of trying things until there is an image that works.


BT: You have a great way of visually setting a scene that feels almost like a memory of the narrative itself. In your editorial work, what are the challenges of balancing image and text, especially when you have to capture the text in a static image?

AP: I try to be slightly more analytical. I focus on the point of the text, and emphasize or extend it with my piece. An illustration in a magazine functions as a highlight of what the illustrator thinks is important in the text. I also try to figure out what’s appropriate for the readers of the article, and to match the style of my work to the publication.


An Interview with Guest Artist Gianna Meola

Sketching is mostly about trying and failing and trying again.

Illustrator Gianna Meola is our guest artist for the April issue. Her effortlessly succinct images capture poignant moments in sixteen of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama sections, as well as the works of our Close Approximations Contest winners. I interview her about her experience contributing to Asymptote, and delve into her processes as an illustrator.

Berny Tan: I really appreciate how you were able to distill every text into one distinct image. Could you take us through your process of conceiving and executing each piece?

Gianna Meola: I’m pretty straightforward—I read the text and thumbnail any ideas that come to me as I go, and then add notes and corrections before moving on to cleaner sketches. I also like to do some research into what I’m drawing if I’m not familiar with it; for instance, I ended up learning some truly useless information about constellations while researching ‘Anathema.’ It was great.


The Seed for Images: Interviewing Guest Artist Jensine Eckwall

"I absolutely loved all the stories, and learned something different from every one of them."

Illustrator Jensine Eckwall is our guest artist for the January 2016 issue. Her beautiful watercolour illustrations, which manage to be simultaneously delicate and vibrant, illuminate moments in eleven of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama sections. I interview her about her practice, her experience contributing to Asymptote, and her upcoming projects.


Berny Tan: You’ve illustrated magazine articles, books, zines, and so on, in addition to the eleven texts in our January 2016 issue. Could you describe your process of conceiving and executing pieces based on existing texts?

Jensine Eckwall: If I can, when I receive a text to illustrate, I like to read the whole thing and pick out favorite phrases or words that are particularly evocative of the text’s theme for me.  Then, in the corner of the paper I’m sketching on, I write those words out, as well as other phrases to which I’ve drawn mental connections. That’s often the seed for images, and I extrapolate from there. For commercial projects, I send a series of sketches to the client for approval. For non-commercial projects, I usually run the initial ideas by a friend or the publisher, if there is one. READ MORE…

Savage and Strange: Interviewing Guest Artist Samuel Hickson

Illustrator Samuel Hickson is our guest artist for the October issue.

Illustrator Samuel Hickson is our guest artist for the October issue. His meticulous and haunting images, often composed out of thousands of small dots, bring to life eleven of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Multilingual Writing feature sections. I interview him about his influences and his experience contributing to Asymptote.


Berny Tan: Your work is usually inspired by “satire, horror, sci-fi and psychedelia,” but not all of the texts you illustrated belonged in these genres. How did you generate ideas for those texts?

Samuel Hickson: Most of the texts featured details or events which immediately conjured images in my mind as I read them. I’d sketch these initial ideas down and then develop the image which portrayed the overall atmosphere or emotion of the text in the most succinct manner.


Finding Quiet Places: Interviewing Guest Artist Cody Cobb

Berny Tan, Asymptote's lead graphic designer, in conversation with the artist behind our July Issue.

Photographer Cody Cobb is Asymptote’s guest artist for the July issue. His poignant snapshots—a departure from the breathtaking landscape imagery that defines his practice—grace nineteen of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Multilingual Writing feature sections. I interviewed him about his artistic motivations, his affinity for landscapes, and his experience contributing to Asymptote.

Berny Tan: I’d like to start with a question about your own photography practice. You describe your photography as “attempts to capture portraits of the Earth’s surface, devoid of human interaction and interference.” What motivates and informs this approach?

Cody Cobb: Finding quiet places to be alone on a planet with over 7 billion humans is my motivation. This seems to be getting harder, so I end up trekking way out into the mountains and forests. READ MORE…

Contributing a Voice: Interviewing Guest Artist Shuxian Lee

“I believe in at least making work about what I have felt or experienced or strongly believe in. Only then do I feel the urge to make art at all.”

Antwerp-based illustrator Shuxian Lee is Asymptote’s guest artist for the January issue. Her joyous, Escher-esque cover image is perfect for our 4th anniversary, while her beautiful, evocative, and often poignant illustrations accompany a total of seventeen texts. I interview her about her process and inspirations, and find out more about her graphic novels.

Berny Tan: I find your illustrations incredibly rich in both texture and colour. Could you take us through your process of conceiving and executing each piece?

Shuxian Lee: I’m quite a visual person—when I read something or feel something, I get these viewpoints in my head that are sometimes quite filmic and are related to a certain mood. Sometimes, when I come across certain expressions, I’m reminded of certain artworks or patterns that inspire me. I love to draw references to paintings because painters (mostly 19th- and 20th-century ones) are some of my biggest inspirations and first loves!

Once I get this image in my head, then I’ll sketch thumbnails of some of the ideas—though to be honest, I’m quite lazy about this part because I usually already have the finished composition in my head. Next, I look for reference images for colour, gesture or to get the perspectives right, then I start sketching. I usually make my own reference images too, and I rely a lot on my partner (or myself) as a model for my characters.

If the sketch works, I get started with the inking, then I scan it and colour it in Photoshop. I love organic textures of paint and dirt and brush marks, so I try to integrate that during the digital colouring too. In general, I work with non-digital mediums, but it’s nice to discover ways to replicate the non-digital look on Photoshop. I actually only started using Photoshop to colour a few years ago, so I’m still figuring out lots of things.


Who Is Long Muzzle? Interviewing Guest Artist Monika Grubizna

Asymptote guest artist Monika Grubizna on Naive art, the legacy of Polish poster design, and the importance of humor in her work.

Asymptote’s guest artist for the current fall issue is Monika Grubizna (a.k.a. Long Muzzle). An independent graphic artist and illustrator, Monika created a striking cover image, as well as thirteen brand new illustrations for our Fiction, Nonfiction, and Drama sections. I interviewed her about this experience, her influences, and her practice.

Berny Tan: First question: Why “Long Muzzle”?

Monika Grubizna: I’ve always been obsessed with animals. Ever since I can remember, the main motifs of my drawings have been dogs. I enjoyed drawing bad wolves with open muzzles showing big, sharp teeth. And then I got a dog. The moniker “Long Muzzle” came to be because of my dog, whose snout is really, really long. Plus it sounds funny—at least in Polish.



In Jazz-like Dialogue: Interviewing Guest Artist Robert Zhao

In conversation with Robert Zhao, Asymptote's featured guest artist for the summer issue

As the guest artist for Asymptote’s summer issue, Singaporean visual artist Robert Zhao Renhui contributed our cover image and illustrated 15 texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Latin American Fiction Feature sections. I interview him about this experience, as well as the relationship between image and text in his art practice.

I’ve been following your trajectory for quite a few years, but it’s safe to say that the Asymptote summer issue is presenting your work to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with your practice. How would you explain your art, and the Institute of Critical Zoologists, to our readers?

I am interested in both photography and nature, so in my work, I use photography to investigate our dialogue with nature. The Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) is an umbrella concept under which I create and present my work. The meaning of the ICZ takes shape with each of my projects and exhibitions, which create different realities and fictions.


Could you describe the process of creating/selecting images for this issue?

There was a tension between choosing images that were too literal a representation of the text, and pictures that encapsulated a very personal connection to the text that regular readers may not get. My guiding principle was that my images should be in a jazz-like dialogue with the text, and occasionally surprise the viewer. I submitted a few pictures for each essay, leaving it up to the journal to do the final selection. In some cases, I didn’t know what was chosen until the issue was published. READ MORE…