Tokyo-based Chinese artist Odding Wang doesn’t like to label herself, but if she has to choose a term, she goes with “creative story-teller.” That’s almost broad enough to encompass her multi-faceted creative process, where the idea not the medium comes first. With a story in mind, Odding masters a variety of forms and tools: illustration, writing, sketching, stop-motion animation, paper-cutting, all the way to creating typographies with pasta and cloth. She applies this unique process to her resplendent personal practice as well as her work in advertising. Below she shares a select few of her most imaginative projects, including her spectacularly refashioned journals.
What I do now is a continuation of what I’ve been doing since I was a very young child. I never wanted to be an artist, or wanted to learn to draw; I was born doing it.
Read Beyond Pages
Penguin asked me to figure out a new way to visualize their audio books. How could I convey that audio books aren’t just for children, but for everyone? I really enjoy this kind of challenge. I could just depict an ear, but I wanted to take the idea further, where it resonates with people’s experiences. I was thinking about this as I crossed the street: what would I see if I was listening to an audio book at this moment? I saw all the letters appear on the street, line by line. I sketched out this scenario and added more: Fixing a watch, and the words appearing in the parts. Knitting a sweater, and the words appearing in the cloth. Making words out of pasta. This became the project Read Beyond Pages.
Eventually we shot two of the scenarios. We did the knitting one, which I sketched and had 3d-printed by someone else. And then I spent a day making the spaghetti letters myself. We even made a Penguin logo out of vegetables, but we ended up not using it. We didn’t do words on the street because it didn’t seem safe — we didn’t want to encourage people to listen to audio books while crossing the street.
My book-cutting practice began when Moleskine held a little design competition in China. I decided to use the journals for these stories, and developed a technique I’ve become very familiar with since. I stick colorful paper to the white pages of the journal. Using a knife that looks like a blade on the end of a pen, I cut the white pages and the colorful pages show up behind. You need to really care about the details and make it really nice, or it looks messy. I am very detail-obsessed and can spend all day cutting those things and gluing those things. The first book I did was My Sea, with yellow pages.
The Book of Black
A year later, I made The Book of Black, about Van Gogh, then The Book of Red, about Picasso. At the time, I was fascinated with their way of living, their letters. Both of them have a very poetic take on love and life and death. Why not to do little art histories? I thought. I immediately sensed that I would use a black notebook for Van Gogh, and a red one for Picasso, because Van Gogh was very humble and honest, and Picasso was passionate and energetic. I used the letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, and included little sketches he put in them.
The Book of Red
They each took me about a week. The cutting doesn’t take me very long. But thinking how to organize it, how to tell the story, takes a little longer. [What do you do if you make a mistake?] I do not make a mistake.