Annual No.19: Gary Powell Young Illustrator Award Winner: Peilin Li

Peilin Li is a recipient of this special award given to one of our student show winners who has demonstrated the exceptional qualities of originality and content. All student winners are finalists for this distinction.

View Peilin’s winning project→

Interview with Peilin Li

Tell us a bit about your background?

When I was a child, I read a lot of children’s books. I was attracted by the beautiful illustrations, even just a smallest illustration I could look at for hours. I developed a strong interest in art, often doodling with my 12-color Crayola set. When my mother saw my interest in art, she signed me up for an art class where I got to explore a lot of different types of art, i.e. collage, pottery, sculpture as well as drawing.

Who were some of your early influences? Artists, animators, designers, writers?

The early-20th-century French illustrator George Barbier and the Czech painter and graphic artist Štěpán Zavřel were my early influences.

When did you decide that illustration was something you wanted to pursue?

In my high school art class I mainly learned the basic skills and since the focus was more on technique, I often felt bored. I realized that the art I admired was more creative and personal like the work I was seeing around me in books and magazines. I started following these artists on social media and learned their profession was called illustration.

Who are some of your current influences? Illustrators or designers you admire?

Illustrators Tatsuro Kiuchi and Paul Cox are my current influences. I like how Kiuchi tells stories entirely through color. I also like Cox’s handling of textures as well as his simple graphic expression.

Why did you select School of Visual Arts?

I was not only attracted to the school but also that it was in New York City. The school is noted for its faculty of recognized illustrators which helps give students guidance in their majors. New York is a metropolis where various cultures converge, as a result the content of my works will be richer and more interesting.

What was the genesis of the idea of your winning piece?

I very much like drawing people—I think human expressions and human body movements are full of information. So I decided to focus on character design, but I thought it would be too boring if it was just a single character design. So in the end, I built my characters around a larger theme.

What was the process?

Each character has its own topic. First, I research the topic to have a better understanding; then there's lots of thumbnail sketches, choosing my favorite one to take to finish. When drawing each character, I develop a specific character trait that is shown through the details in the illustration.

Other accolades, other than the award from 3x3?

Yes, Communication Arts Illustration Annual 63, American Illustration 41; Society of Illustrators Student Competition 2022 and the World Illustration award longlist.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten?

Currently I am working as a freelance illustrator. After a few more years in the field I'd like to work towards a MFA degree in digital media and eventually work as an art director or creative director. At the same time, I hope to continue working as a freelance illustrator pursuing animation and 3D design, making my work less one-dimensional.

Illustrator Gary Powell (1962–2017) established a significant national and international reputation working on numerous projects spanning across editorial, design, advertising and multimedia. His work was selected for the Royal Mail’s Millennium Stamp Collection alongside 48 top image-makers of Great Britain that included such luminaries as David Hockney, Peter Blake, Bridget Riley, Ralph Steadman and Howard Hodgkin. His commercial clients included Hewlett Packard, Royal Mail, New Yorker magazine, Peter Gabriel Limited, Penguin, Siemans, Diet Zeit magazine, GQ, Saatchi & Saatchi to name a few. He received recognition from the D&AD, Creative Review, Design Week, Illustration Now and Amnesty International.

As an esteemed educator he was an instructor in the master of arts communication design illustration program at his alma mater Central St Martins in London for more than 20 years, and served as the head of the first year bachelor of arts illustration program at the University of Brighton for nearly 25 years. Gary had also served as an external examiner at the Royal College of Art, Chelsea School of Art, London College of Communication, Camberwell College of Arts, among others. In recognition of his achievements Powell was made a patron of the Association of Illustrators in 1999.