Concluding our interview with award winning freelance artist, James Ng.
AA: Focusing now on your Chinese steampunk series, how do you describe steampunk?
JN: A genre of fantasy that tries to create a “what if” scenario, kind of like clashing the past with the future.
JN: I did not even know of the term “steampunk” until I started posting my work online and people kept calling it that. I will quote an interview I did for DPI about the series if you don’t mind. “I am very interested in the Chinese Qing Dynasty and the modernization of non European countries. The standard of modernization is basically Westernization, as China becomes more modern, it also becomes more like the West. (Living in Hong Kong is probably why I noticed this trend, as Hong Kong is the most Westernized city in all of China.)
I began to wonder, what if China was the first to modernize during the turn of the last century, if China was the standard that other countries had to work towards, what would things look like today? Perhaps China will still be in imperial rule? Maybe skyscrapers would look like Chinese temples? Cars would look like carriages? And maybe we would have fantastical machines that look both futuristic and historic. That’s the idea behind my personal project. I always think from the standpoint of the “what if” question. It is also important to reflect a bit of my culture in the image, so it’s not just some random robot killing things. Though those are cool too (laughs).When I have this make believe world more developed, I hope to sell it as an entire concept to companies that would be interested in making it into a setting for a computer game or perhaps a movie.”
AA: Creating a complete setting and theme is a great goal! Do you have a favorite piece in the series?
JN: My favorite is the Airship and the Empress. The Airship because it was my first piece and also the most iconic and decorated image in my series. The Empress because it was the most challenging and frustrating piece that I have survived through.
AA: Do you have any plans for a subsequent series?
JN: I will be continuously expanding the series, and have a bunch of ideas right now but zero time. I haven’t thought of a new series yet however. But I will start to depict things of other cultures since the project was intended to reflect the era where the East and West clashed for a power struggle.
AA: What can you tell us about your current and planned future projects?
JN: I am working on a childrens/young adult book cover, and a fantasy novel book cover. Pending commissions are a DVD cover for an indie music video, and illustration graphics for a small budget iPhone game. Also, the inside drawings for the young adult book. And always pending are more pieces for my personal series.
AA: If you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one piece you’d leap at to create?
JN: I would, of course, work on my own series. There is this big book of Chinese fairy tales and myths my mom used to read to me when I was really little. I recently found it again in my room. There is this story about a man who invented Chinese herbal medicine. He had a stomach made from crystal, so he could see what plants did to him when he ate them. I think it would be cool to transfer that idea into my project. So it would be female doctor/alchemist this time, who has a machine torso with a glass stomach to test her herbal brews.
I have another idea about the Forbidden Palace of the Imperial family. It’s got this huge underground prison to hold all the rebels. With so many prison cells, there would be so many keys. The key keeper for the prison is the only one is in charge of organizing all the keys, but he recently passed away. So now only this family of cats, that’s been with the key keeper all his life, can remember which key goes with which door. But they refused to go to work without their master. So the court had the Imperial Inventor reanimate the key keeper’s skeleton with machines, to trick the cats to continue working until they find a better solution. Here is the sketch for this idea. But I might not color it. I have a lot of ideas, but these two seem the most interesting.
JN: I might be featured in a coffee table book later this year that’s all about steampunk. Like I said before, the term “steampunk” is very new to me, but I have been looking at more and more steampunk artwork and media to take in inspiration.
AA: Looking beyond your artwork, what other interests keep you occupied in your free time?
JN: I know nothing about music, but I really want to learn an instrument. Visual arts have become such a huge part of my life, work, ambition, hobby, that I think I need a new hobby to take me away from drawing/painting sometimes. Plus, girls love a man who can serenade them with music (laughs).
I enjoy doing sports a lot. Soccer is my favorite, though surprisingly I don’t really follow any of the leagues. I am more of a “do” person than a “watch” person. If I have time to watch a game of soccer, I’d rather go outside and play soccer. Exercise is very important to me too. I run, swim, or go to the gym 6 days a week. I’ve also been reading books on how to invest in stocks. I will begin learning full contact karate soon. I think I just really like learning and challenging myself in general. Not just in my artwork, but with everything. Music is probably the last thing I am talented in, yet I want to learn it because of that. I also think standing in front of another person and trying to beat the crap out of each other is very nerve wracking, and that’s why I want to confront this by taking full contact karate.
I think a very common thing with people is they stop wanting to learn new things as they get older, in fear of failing. If you ask an adult to ride a bicycle, but he does not know how to yet, he would rather not try in fear of falling down. But that same person, as a child, they would probably have hopped on the bike before you even asked him to try it. I was really enlightened on this subject by [English poet] William Blake‘s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. It talks about the maturing of human beings. I can’t pretend to be smart enough to understand it all, but that’s what I concluded after the reading.
AA: Those are all great reasons to learn something new and learn more about yourself at the same time. Are you finding any overlap or influence from those interests with your art or steampunk?
JN: Mmm, not really, no. Although, I have recently developed more and more interest in martial arts (karate), I started liking Bruce Lee more and more. I was thinking of making a steampunk Bruce Lee as a super-hero type character in the world I am creating. But then I think the real Bruce Lee is so bad ass that he doesn’t need to be steam-punkified (laughs). Maybe I will just give him some crazy numchucks.
AA: You’ve done a lot of traveling and lived in a number of cities. You are back in Vancouver, British Columbia for awhile; are there any plans for where your nomadic traveling will take you next?
JN: I REALLY want to live in Argentina for a few months while I work. I always have this image of Argentina of being a passionate place, where people really know how to enjoy every day life. Where neighbors are real nice to each other, and kick it on the steps with some red wine (laughs).I probably been influenced by movies, but still I really want to check it out.
AA: Thank you so much for sharing your time and your ideas with us today. Do you have any final thoughts to share?
JN: Would it be okay to quote my “artist/career statement” from a previous interview?
“If I chose something more stable and “normal” as my career path, maybe my life would be safer and more steady. There is a huge risk being a professional artist. I knew there will be a chance I could fail and that nobody would like my art, or hire me to draw. But I think without the chance to fail, without taking risk, there is no room for success. After all, you can not win when there is no possibility of losing.”
AA: Thanks again, James, we look forward to seeing your future work and hearing from you again soon. James’ Chinese Steampunk series is available in his online store.
UPDATE: James did a project with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed a few months ago. He mixed their assassin with his Chinese steampunk style and the result is here.