26-year-old Debby Woo explores heartbreak and security within relationships through a series of ‘computer screenshot’ illustrations. Four women openly explain their thoughts and values of love infiltrated through Asian culture: Taiwanese artist Yuyi John, half- Japanese actress Lauren Tsai, Taiwanese model Ju Ho and Chinese model Chen Xue. We talk to the artist about modern day social media, Asian culture and security within relationships.
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What initially influenced you to illustrate about heartbreak and relationships?
At first I just wrote about what I learnt from going through my first breakup, I suppose that one heartbreak can give you an endless amount of inspiration and since I like to draw and was majorly into design, I started drawing illustrations. Almost like my own personal journal, the drawings represented the things I wouldn't write. I like my illustrations to represent a discussion of love, the little things that bother us in relationships, I find this kind of pain interesting.
How has your aesthetic evolved from when you picked up your first pen and pencil to now?
When I was kid I was really into collaging and diary writing, stuff that you can find from books that essentially teach you how to make a pretty diary or photo book. I think my style has slowly evolved ever since internet appeared, as I didn’t really follow any particular artist or style. Recently I have been into Ukiyo-e (浮世繪) and traditional Chinese drawings.
Also, have your illustrations always been inspired by relationships and love?
Before not really, I have been writing about relationships for a few years on media now, but I focused more on portrait and daily life with my current drawings, and it wasn’t until last year that I published my second book – Debby Woo's Handbook for Healing a Broken Heart – in which I talk about insecurities in loving relationships, so I did a series of illustrations for that.
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What is your latest project about?
My latest project is called Asian Girl Insecure, it’s an extension from my book, and I have always wanted to draw the people that I’ve been following for a while on the internet. However, doing singlehanded portraits doesn’t interest me, so I did an interview with four girls from Instagram; where I gave them a list of questions about their current relationship, how they feel when going through break ups and what makes them feel safe and insecure and so on. Since it was a project based through the internet, I also asked them what software they use the most and asked them to screen shot their screens. I then finished the series by illustrating their computer screens to delve into their likes and dislikes and to allow followers to get an insight into who they really are.
Do the materials and use of monochromatic colour juxtaposed against bright colours aim to convey a particular message?
I would say I am trying to shape the atmosphere rather than form a message. There are usually multiple abstract scenarios going on in one drawing, so the overall message is a collection of things; but from the use of different tonal colours, you can feel the different situations within love.
Why did you pick these four girls?
The four girls are John Yuyi (Taiwanese artist), Xue Chen (art school student and model from China), Ju Ho (Taiwanese model) and Lauren Tsai (Japanese actress). Firstly, I find them very attractive and I love their personal style. Secondly, I was intrigued by the way they represented themselves in social media and I felt there was an interesting story behind each girl. I could tell that they weren’t just ‘young and cool’. The answers they gave me became elements of inspiration for me to finish my initial drawings. Therefore, it was essential that I picked girls that had substance to their personalities and had a deeper level of that I could investigate. I also tried to find distinctive girls so that I would have contrasting results.
How did they respond when you asked them to be a muse for Asian Girls Insecure?
They all said yes within one day, I still feel lucky that they agreed to collaborate with me, without them I wouldn’t have finished this project.
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How did each of their ideas of safety and security within relationships differ?
Each illustration reproduces what they each told me in their interviews, the drawings act as visor to their thoughts and feelings. They all gave answers from a different perspective. For example, John Yuyi said she has 0% security in relationships, and Ju Ho said sometimes she is not that confident when faced with her loved one. However, Xue Chen explained that she just didn’t feel insecure and that she would rather focus on herself more and Lauren Tsai said she is “emotionally invested” in her current relationship. You can see these answers unfold within the detail of the drawings. I later noticed that there is a correlation between the amount that someone dresses and their security levels.
Your aim to grasp the psyche of Asian girls is illustrated through screenshots of their computer screens. Does social media and the significance it holds – to the millennial generation – have an impact on your work?
I always say to my friends that you can basically see my life through my Instagram or Facebook, so I will say yes, it definitely does have a huge impact on me, and my work too. I find myself often drawing things like computer windows, screens and software. I think through this demand with technology people can feel more and understand situations much faster.
Do you believe Asian girls have a different concept of relationships compared to girls of other cultures? Or do you happen relate more to their feelings and emotions?
The Asian girls I have spoken about here are not a representation of all Asian girls, or the ‘Asian girl look’. I am definitely focusing on more of a cultural perspective, and growing up in an Asian culture has some differences. What I have noticed with friends and myself is that, when in relationships we are too ‘polite’ (or nervous) to talk about our feelings or something that bothers us.
We prefer guessing the answer rather than asking or talking to the person, and that’s where these insecurities start to arise. However, this doesn’t mean that we are always insecure or never communicate, just a lot less compared to other cultures. Yet I think this painful feeling has been influenced from trying to understand all the lyrics in love songs – which I love!
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