Everyone Can See Themselves in Jocelyn Tsaih's Art
“Be open-minded.” This is the guiding tenet Jocelyn Tsaih has followed since childhood—and it seems the precept has served her well. Since graduating from the School of Visual Arts, the Shanghai-raised artist has explored various mediums with eager, open eyes. As a result, her artwork—which ranges from paintings to animation to eggifs (an homage to her favorite dish)—has attracted the attention of WeWork, California Sunday Magazine, and Adobe Photoshop, among others.
Perhaps unintentionally, that lingering teaching has seeped into the content of her work, too, in the form of a mysterious, recurring character. “It’s an ambiguous figure,” she explains, one she hopes others will mold and interpret as they wish. And while her medium of choice may vary piece by piece, Jocelyn’s mission with each is radically simple: “It’s important to me that my work evokes some type of emotion.”
Have you always been making art?
Art has always been on the side. I studied graphic design at SVA and started doing my own illustrations junior year of school. Then things started to grow as I moved into the realm of animation and making products—but I haven't ever worked full-time on personal work.
You're a graphic designer and illustrator at WeWork. With your schedule, how do you divide your day in order to find time to create?
I always try to carve out time to do my own personal work. I’ll wake up earlier so I can doodle or create a few illustrations. Or I’ll do it after work. I spend a lot of my time on weekends focusing on making personal work and exploring different projects. Balancing the personal and non-personal, it’s like there’s an on-off switch I get to play around with during the day.
How would you say you developed your artistic voice?
My artistic voice has developed simply because I'd much rather express how I feel visually than verbally. I started drawing because it was a good way for me to get thoughts out of my head. Most of my work is just me trying to translate my thoughts or emotions into images. Usually I’ll start with a very simple word or phrase or feeling. Then I try to think of the best way to visualize that in an illustration. Most of my time is spent thinking and not actually doing anything. When it comes to actually creating, it takes maybe five minutes.
You work primarily in black and white. Is there any particular reason for that?
I think it’s fun and challenging to limit my color palette and to try to express certain things through black and white. I like the contrast and balance of it, and it’s enough for me to express what I want to say.
What is it, exactly, that you’d like to say? Are there recurring themes in your work?
There’s a recurring character that I draw that came out of a time of self-reflection. It started off supposedly representing myself, but it’s taken its own form. Now it’s an ambiguous figure that everyone can see themselves in, and can mold into different people and things.
Do you have a different process when you’re creating work for others—items you’d sell in your shop, for example—versus work that's purely personal?
Most of the time the artwork comes first, so no, not really. If I think an illustration would be good as print or a design on a tote bag, then I’ll create physical product and put it in my shop. When I started, I didn’t have many products, but I really wanted to join the community here. As artists, it's easy to be stuck in our own heads and worlds—everyone has different strengths, and it's awesome to be able to learn from those who specialize in something else. I also think it's nice to be able to share our experiences with one another because what one person knows differs from the next, and exchanging stories and resources never hurts.
You’ve experimented with many different mediums. What drives you to keep trying new things—and what’s the newest?
I like trying different things at the same time. It started with pen and paper, then animation. I took silk screening in school and realized I loved doing things with my hands. I’ve always been into painting. Most recently, I've been trying to learn how to DJ. I’ve been teaching myself in my bedroom on my iPad. I don’t know what I’m doing. (laughs)
In your opinion, what’s the most challenging thing about being an artist?
It’s hard to decide whether what you’re making is any good or not. Everyone has their opinion and everything is super subjective, so it’s hard to tell—especially if you’re critiquing yourself all the time and are living in your own world, so to speak.
When did you decide you were ready to share your voice and vision publicly?
I guess I never thought about it like that. I've always had a Tumblr, and one day I just slowly started posting my doodles there. I had basically no followers so I didn't think many people would see my posts. But eventually, everyone started using social media and my work became more public than I had anticipated. Viewing older work makes me cringe a little but that’s part of the learning process, and part of the journey of developing my own voice. I had to start somewhere.
Photographs by Brian Ferry