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Work by He Zhu
He Zhu's impulsive decision to study at ECA stemmed from the desire to connect her childhood love of drawing to an industry profession. While at ECA, she was able to explore a range of subjects, drawing styles, techniques and genres which led to her discovery of a love for children's picture books.

Since graduating, she has been able to continue her studies on picture books, participating in a joint art and design exhibition in Shanghai with her graduation project. she has is also one of the founding figures of an independent collective comic group, Distant Connections, which aims to reflect on people’s experiences during the global pandemic. Her future ambitions include combine a love of drawing, research, and storytelling to create picture books that are more engaging for early readers.

Why I chose to study Illustration - MFA

I come from a non-art background and the decision to apply for an art programme was a spur of the moment thing. I just had a vague feeling that I wanted to spend some years in my 20s in illustration, something exciting and thrilling and something that used to be a childhood dream of mine.

The illustration programme at ECA was the only programme I applied to at that time. Browsing the ECA website and some alumni works, I was intrigued by their focus on the living traditions of the subject and its encouragement in creating handmade works using real-life materials. It seemed like a desirable place to connect my childhood enthusiasm for drawing with mud and dust balls to a profession in the adult world.

A more practical reason is, when I was excited to apply in July, ECA was the only college that was still accepting applications. Honestly, I did not expect to be admitted. It was destiny. But more importantly, I do not regret coming to ECA, and very much appreciate what destiny has given me.

Work by He Zhu
Work by He Zhu

My time at ECA

Our programme was very encouraging and supportive, which helped me to develop as a person and find my own unique interests, rather than fit me into a particular discipline or specific illustration style and form. Our tutors, Mike and Fionnuala, could always bring me fresh insights and inspirations based on my interests and advise me on different paths to develop my works. I enjoyed our wide range of workshops, including traditional woodblock, artist books, character development for children's books, and non-fiction comics, to name just a few. 1-1 tutorials and peer discussions helped me to develop my scattered ideas and sketches into more resolved works in a step by step process. These experiences not only encouraged me to produce competent commercial works but also to explore my inner child.

The two years I spent at ECA gave me the time and resources to explore the themes I am concerned with. Many opportunities such as French institute exhibitions and fruit market bookmarks helped my work to reach a broader audience. If I could start again, I would probably go to the printmaking studio more often to experiment with various printing techniques (and to smell the enjoyable odour of printing ink).

"Our programme was very encouraging and supportive, which helped me to develop as a person and find my own unique interests, rather than fit me into a particular discipline or specific illustration style and form."

He Zhu

Illustration - MFA alumna

My experiences since graduating

Two years at ECA have exposed me to a wide range of illustration techniques and helped me to find a genre that I particularly like. While I was studying, I developed a strong interest in picture books and was obsessed with the way image and text work together in meaning, making and creating appealing aesthetics.

After graduation, I continued to study picture books in a more research-based programme. I also kept my art practice and participated in the industry as an individual and in groups. For instance, I took part in a joint art and design exhibition in Shanghai with my graduation project. I also worked as one of the founding figures in an independent collective comic group, Distant Connections, reflecting on people’s experiences during the global pandemic. In the future, I hope to combine drawing, research, and storytelling to create picture books that are more engaging for early readers.

My advice to new and current students

For those starting in September, it may be intimidating to start a new programme. My advice would be don’t be afraid! Explore as many genres, techniques, materials as you can, and don’t worry if the experiment appears unfinished and immature. Keep learning to refresh yourself and form a better understanding of your unique way of drawing.

For current students, I would suggest using the library more often and don’t limit yourself to the materials in the subject of illustration. The abundant books in Evolution House on photography, fine arts, and graphic design can always bring up new inspirations. Besides, the other libraries and exhibitions in the University are worth visiting as well, such as the anatomical museum, the children’s picture book collections in Moray House Library, and the musical instrument collections in St Cecilia’s Hall.

More importantly, enjoy every single day because you will miss your time at ECA when you finish just as I still do!

Associated programmes