In celebration of Lunar New Year, we chatted with Bay Area-based artist and illustrator Janice Chuang about tradition, heritage, and the role of observation in her artistic process.
Do you have any favorite Lunar New Year traditions?
When I was little, getting red envelopes from all my relatives was of course the best part of Chinese New Year! Unfortunately, I’ve aged out of being a recipient, but I still love Lunar New Year for the aesthetics: the festive colors, the over-the-top decorations of fruits and fruit trees, and flowers and gold everywhere!
I love seeing the community take such pride, joy, and comfort in their traditions. Chinatown (where my art studio is) is abuzz with dressed-up pomelos and shiny red decorations, and people take the time to visit their friends and family with gifts and red envelopes. Everyone has a different way to celebrate the new year, and as they share their rituals with me, I’m excitedly building my own soon-to-be-traditions. So far, my favorites include decorating the house with the longest quince branches I can find and eating lots of Blue Jay mandarins!
We are huge fans of your work. What inspires your art and process?
Thank you! I love finding beauty in the seemingly ordinary. Observation is key to my process, and I spend a lot of time looking at things like a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, the color of a shadow, the slouch of someone's posture. It's not important to me to get a photographic likeness of the subject, but I do want to capture the essence of it in a way that looks spontaneous and fresh. This often involves thoughtful mark-making and allowing the media, whether it’s watercolor, pastel, or pencil, to shine through in its purest state.
I’ve always loved drawing flowers, food, and fashion, and it’s also important to me to be thoughtful in who and what I represent in my art. I’m quite connected to my Taiwanese heritage, but growing up in San Francisco, I didn’t know a lot of other Taiwanese Americans. When I do meet someone else who loves Taiwan as much as I do, I get really excited, and giving us some representation in my art has been a great way to build those connections as well as give us some visibility in a world we’re not often recognized in.
What are you seeking more of this year?
Slightly earlier bedtimes (I go to sleep at 4!), and more fatty fish and exercise!
What's one of your favorite Lunar New Year dishes?
This is not specific to the new year, but 紅豆湯 Red Bean Soup is one thing that brings warm, nostalgic feelings:
- Azuki beans (red beans)
- Simmer the Azuki beans in water until soft (about 1 hour). Add water as necessary so that the beans always stay covered. Some people like it thicker, some more soupy—it’s up to you!
- Add sugar to taste.
- Toast a block of mochi in the toaster oven until it puffs up and turns golden brown on the top (keep an eye on it—it can burn in an instant!)
- Serve the soup in a bowl with the mochi on top.
Janice on IG: @missjanicechuang
Photos by Chloe Ng