drawing emotions with taiwanese illustrator debby w∞

Debby W∞’s heartfelt illustrations are here to guide you through the ups and downs of life. We spoke to the Taiwanese artist about releasing her emotions through illustration, and how she demonstrates this vague yet subtle sensation.

Taiwanese artist Debby W∞’s illustrations are the visual manifestations of negative feelings associated with relationships; in love, social media and our everyday lives. Debby first started sharing her illustrations on the internet while still in high school, and since then she has gained a large following for her heartfelt designs that touch on the complexity of love and relationships, whether they be romantically or the ones we have with social media. Her first collection of works titled Debby W∞ Love Encyclopaedias was published in 2013, with Debby W∞ Handbook for Healing a Broken Heart released last year - a self-explanatory collection of drawings based on the sense of insecurity often found in relationships, as well as a number of illustrations from her series Insecure Asian Girls. For Insecure Asian Girls, Debby asked four women she discovered on Instagram questions on their relationships and then drew their portraits based on their responses. These four women include Chinese model Cheni Xue, Taiwanese artist Yuyi John, half-Japanese actress Lauren Tsai, and Taiwanese model Ju Ho, each chosen for their depth and individuality.

Where does the inspiration for your illustrations come from?

More often than not, love. Whether it’s my experience of it or that of my friends. I am especially inspired by the feeling of heartbreak and releasing the feelings that come with it. I often try to ensure that such a gloomy subject is inflected with a touch of optimism in my creations.

How would you describe the language of visual art?

I think it’s like some kind of word game, a smart way of expression. It’s subjective - everyone has his or her own way of understanding. Whether you have an explanation already set out, sometimes people will still have their own understanding anyway. For this reason, visual art is often considered a form of psychotherapy, inspiring each viewers to search their subconscious for the answers. It’s a magical thing.

In what way does love play a role in your life most of all?

It’s really hard to say. At this point in my life, I’m experience a relationship that feels like it is is definitely more than love itself. It has a balance between friendship and kinship, an unexpected unison for me. I don’t celebrate things like one month anniversaries or anything like that because we have already been together for one year now and you reach a point where you  stop doing trivial things. For me, love is the greatest impetus in becoming a better person.

No matter what kind of love it is, for me, love is always giving and trust is the only solution to doubt and fear in a relationship.

Your book Love Manual of Self Healing touches on the sense of insecurity found in a relationship. What initially inspired you to explore this subject?

As an only daughter myself, I have been prone to feeling more afraid of being apart from someone, but at the same time very hesitant about pursuing the idea of forever, doubting the existence of relationships that can last for a lifetime. Because of this fear, I feel I have often given too much of myself, or have been over obedient in past relationships. This unilateral excessive emotion can often make the other partner become complacent. In touching on this this issue in my book, I used illustrations as a means to get to the root of the fundamental problem that is the bad habit of destroying love or pushing away the people you like away all in the name of feat. Everything doesn’t have to be sensational or tragic in order to be valuable.

What is your definition of love?

The definition of love is something I feel like I need a lifetime to learn - it is infinite.  Around three years ago, I had an existential crisis where I kept regularly asking myself, “What is the purpose of life?” And I soon came to my own conclusion that the answer is giving. No matter what kind of love it is, for me, love is always giving and trust is the only solution to doubt and fear in a relationship. I constantly remind myself to trust.

How do you express your emotions through illustrations? Where does this process begin?

It has always been easy for me to relate words to pictures. I first write down the words that naturally flow from my thoughts, then I extend my thoughts around related words to a story or a key item, then I draft a very rough sketch. The next step is drawing and then colouring.

Thinking about your series Insecure Asian Girls, do you think there’s any difference in how Asian girls express feelings or emotions compared to other cultures?

As an Asian girl, there is definitely a difference in culture. In terms of communicating, we are usually described as “shy”. For example, Asian girls are often too shy to ask about things like previous relationships to a potential partner for fear that that will be infringing on their privacy. When they start going out, it’s even more difficult to ask. It is often the case that we still don’t know our partners values about certain things, even after after seeing each other for a long time. Compared to Westerners, Asians are more implicit in expressing their feelings and more low profile in communication. That’s the reason why there are so many Asian songs that touch upon the depth of our hearts. Those songs are about guessing, not daring to ask, wondering, hesitating, missing, and misunderstanding. If we remove all the restrictions on ourselves, those complicated feelings would not be necessary then.

If love had a scent, what would it be?

I think chicken soup would be most appropriate, or any warm food served in large pots. For me, it’s a scent that makes me feel excited, secure and warm.

From your own personal relationship experiences, what are the key things you have learnt?

Do your best, take responsibility, remember that the past is past and what’s done is done.

What other projects are you working on?

I’ll soon be preparing an illustration series focused on girls from or currently living in Beijing. I stayed there for two weeks last summer, and I hope this coming summer or next year I can have the chance to stay in that city for a longer period, meeting some local people who I talk to about being in and out of love. I cannot wait to start it.


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