Visual Development Student Wins Illustration Award
On April 12, Academy of Art University first-year student Shuangjian “Jimmy” Liu donned a tuxedo, fastened his royal blue bowtie and headed to the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. Though far from his home in Guangzhou, China, Liu found himself in good company. That night, he shared the spotlight with two fellow award-winning artists at the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future awards ceremony, the grand finale to a week of workshops led by esteemed science fiction and fantasy artists like Cliff Nielsen, Dave Dorman, Larry Elmore and Liu’s personal favorite Nathan Fowkes.
“I did not think I would win,” said Liu, who completed his first semester at the Academy this past May. “When I submitted my portfolio I just picked my art randomly from my desktop, then I got a phone call and found out that I won. I believe that if you can draw good enough the judges in the contest will find you.”
Success seems to be coming swiftly for Liu. Last winter, he was studying computer science at Folsom Lake College outside Sacramento. But his heart wasn’t in it, so after two years, he started looking at art schools.
After only one semester at the Academy, Liu says he has “learned a lot and made a lot of friends.” He especially enjoyed his figure drawing class taught by Adam Caldwell. “His class was small but super relaxed,” Liu said. “Students just draw in the class and enjoy drawing. That was exactly what I wanted.”
Though he just started art school, Liu began working as a freelance concept artist three years ago. Inspired by the fantasy and science fiction imagery in video games like World of Warcraft, StarCraft and the Korean fantasy martial-arts game Blade & Soul, he creates powerful, nymph-like warriors. Lithe, long-legged ladies are set against blazing mountain landscapes with broiling storm clouds, or emerging from a dreamy atmosphere of colorful smoke.
“I love concept art and environmental art, because I love designing something new, something out of this real world,” Liu explained. One of his favorite pieces is Black, a character he designed “for fun,” depicting a raven-haired goddess clad in gleaming ebony stockings. “I like the color black, so one day I had an idea—I’ll use only black to design a cool character,” Liu said. “I love it because the color is simple and the design and texture came out really cool.”
As an L. Ron Hubbard Illustrator of the Future award winner, Liu took home a trophy, a $500 cash prize and a publication in the contest’s annual anthology. His untitled piece illustrates author Auston Habershaw’s story, A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration. It’s a dramatic painting pulsating with dangerous undercurrents. Hot blue fire surges from the head of a massive mechanical monster whose iron fist dominates the foreground, while a smoldering city is shrouded in shadows and fog. It’s a sophisticated image that showcases Liu’s talents and confirms he’s on the right path to one day landing his dream job as a concept artist at a film studio or video game company. Until then, he’ll continue practicing and improving his art, fast-tracking his course load at the Academy for a 2017 graduation. “If you want to be one of the best artists in the world, the only way is to keep practicing,” he said.