Hi everyone, my name is Yingda Dong, I am an illustrator from China and now studying in Belgium. As a drifter in between different cultures and societies, my research interests focus on how the experience of drifting influences the illustration practice of myself and other Chinese illustrators who have a similar background, and how Chinese visual tradition is presented in contemporary illustration within the globalization context.
During the ADMA program, I was mainly working on the development of my graphic novel. This story is about how my practice and my life is changing during my transition process from China to the West.
In China, the first subject for almost every art student who wants to get into an art academy, was to learn how to draw realistic black and white portrait. This training follows the Soviet realism tradition. Everything is correct and accurate under the rule of linear perspective. Shape, color, texture, light…everything presents objective, realistic and practical information. There was always a clear ‘rule’ for me to follow with, therefore I could get a good score in the exams.
When I came to study in Belgium, the ‘rule’ has completely changed. The model drawing class here has no similar standard for everyone’s work, students were guided to develop their own ways to observe and draw, making mistakes were encouraged.
Suddenly I became very confused, I asked my drawing teacher Goele, ‘now, without any rule, how can I find my direction to make drawings?’
Goele said to me, ‘You should just observe, and look for how emotions and feelings look like. What is the state of this person’s body? Is the back arched? Are the eyebrows raised? Is she happy or sad? What do you see in her?’
In the main time, I asked myself, I grew up in another culture and social background, how I could find my own position in the new environment, and how to integrate better into the society that I’m staying in now?
One day, the owner of a Chinese restaurant I knew invited me to have a taste of the soup she made, I was curious about the decoration of the restaurant, which is now present as the stereotypical look of other Chinese restaurants here. Then I started a conversation with her. She told me about her story to come here, the reason she made the Chinese dishes mainly for the tastes of the local people. I started to ask myself again, should I also follow the tastes of the people here, to make my Western look drawing?
During the master, I had a class from my teacher Volkmar, about reverse perspective. During his class, I made a drawing to record the whole afternoon. Looking at the drawing, I suddenly realized, as an artist who come from China, but strongly influenced by Western visual traditions, It seems the perspective I use in my drawing, is neither Chinese perspective nor Western perspective. I need to figure out my own perspective, for my drawings, and for my life.
There is a song I like called The subway on 10h30 (十点半的地铁), I was touched by the picture this song showed me about the people on the last subway. Therefore I also brought my sketchbook to draw on the subway in Beijing and the train in Belgium. I gradually understood, what I need to do to make choice for my practice and for my life during my drfting life, was to experience, to observe, and to feel, how my body react to what I was facing at every moment, and to draw it.
Yingda Dong is an illustrator based in Ghent, he holds a BA in animation from Communication University of China (2016), an MA in Visual arts from LUCA School of Arts (2021), and an Advanced Master of research in art and design from Sint Lucas Antwerpen (2022). Yingda Dong is currently doing his PhD research at LUCA School of Arts and KU Leuven. His publication entails children’s book, artist zine, editorial illustration on newspapers and magazine, and animation short film.
Yingda Dong’s practice and research focus on the intercultural integration of visual language in illustration practice, his work explores the experience of being an ‘other’ in the transition process from China to Europe. Yingda Dong’s working approach starts from the sketchbook tradition of art school, by applying various materials and techniques, playing with diverse visual features and traditions, Yingda Dong records his life experience in between different cultures and societies through diverse styles of narrative and abstract drawings, his drawing forms a pictorial space of collision, fusion, and confusion of different cultures.