Welcome Back to The Summer Street Library’s Winter Interstitial
and Happy New Year!
This week, we are welcoming in the new year with the breath of fresh air that is Candace Tang.
Also known by her artist signature CTANG, this spectacular up-and-coming artist pulls references from the world around her, whether that be from comics, movies, or ancient myths. Tang then depicts her varied muses traditionally or digitally using software such as Adobe Photoshop.
Regardless of her choice of subject material or medium, Candace Tang skillfully renders in a signature style that I cannot get enough of.
Center Stage: Her Work and Process
Work and Inspiration
Much of Candace’s art focuses on bold landscape scenes (such as the one shown above) and rich character studies (like the modernized portrait of Asami Sato from Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra seen below).
Inspirations stemming from modern media to mythology and beyond, her work has a wide breadth that makes browsing her portfolio extremely engaging. I, for one, always try to see if I can spot the reference: is it Killing Eve? Blockbuster hits The Shape of Water or Frozen? Perhaps a spin on a popular K-drama or ancient Greek myth?
Signature sketchiness, shading, and nuanced color palettes pervade Tang’s work regardless on whether it presents an original character or an innovative reimagining of scenes and personas found in television, movies, and comics. Tang’s favorite inspirational genres of animation and comics include action and adventure, fantasy, and mythology (consider Tang’s depiction of Pygmalion and Galatea below):
“A majority of my art is inspired by television or movies and indirectly inspired by books in that way. I grew up trying to draw the characters on my screen and imitating the styles I saw on the screen. Usually these were shows or films by Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.
The first story I can remember reading repeatedly was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was really intrigued by the imaginary world Carroll built, and it was my first experience with a world other than our own.
As I grew up, I gravitated towards books set in fantastical worlds or ancient mythology. I think Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series were the two series I read repeatedly the most. For Harry Potter though, I was gifted a whole set when I was little and honestly, I was first interested because of the cover art, not the story.
[Then,] I found a new love for graphic novels. I was embarrassed at first because not many of my peers read them, but I still love seeing the different art styles in each series I picked up. Eventually one of my favorite comic books was a continuation series of one of my favorite TV shows as a kid – Avatar the Last Airbender. The worldbuilding and storytelling in that series is still one of my top influences and reason I love making art.”
Books central to Candace Tang’s work include traditional and contemporary classics (such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series,) Rick Riordan’s Young Adult Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and the Avatar The Last Airbender graphic novel spin-offs (including The Promise, The Search, The Rift, and Smoke and Shadow). These books round out a bookshelf that mostly “consists of art books that have concept art for films, mystery and espionage novels, and memoirs.”
Recently invigorated by books written by and for powerful women, new favorites include Tara Westover’s Educated and comedian Ali Wong’s Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life:
“The last book I couldn’t put down was recommended by a close friend of mine, it was Educated by Tara Westover. As of the last few years I’ve been really interested in reading stories written by women who share stories of their own accounts from being in their respective fields, whether that’s in the creative industry, academia, or another. The last book I finished was one written by Ali Wong about her own life growing up as an Asian American female trying to break into the comedy industry – Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life.”
Process, Development, and Distribution
Though Candace Tang used to believe that “[b]eing an ‘artist’ never seemed like a plausible career,” today, she works at her art almost each and every day and has embraced “a more cartoony style.” She explained that:
“…I try to draw at least a sketch a night. I cheat sometimes and just draw a couple of lines, but I never force myself to because that makes it less fun which is the whole point of having a creative outlet…I’m determined to continuing drawing just a tiny bit in the evenings when I’m not exhausted.”
Tang often shares her sketches (her favorite part of the artistic process) on instagram, allowing her viewers to take part in her creativity. And nothing is more refreshing than an artist who shares their process.
Tang ushers her audience into the world and character-building process by showing work-in-progress. This inside view allows viewers to literally get a sneak peek at the scaffolding of artwork (whether that be a traditional or digital painting or drawing): to consider the lines of a sketch, the undertones of a color scheme, the worlds introduced by background or gesture.
I highly recommend following Tang’s instagram where she regularly posts finished projects and exclusive in-progress sketches.
Pushing Past Creative Fatigue and Self-Doubt
Though she has been drawing and painting since childhood and currently has “a million sketches for projects I’d love to complete one day in my computer and notebooks,” Candace Tang only recently began honing in on digital artwork and reports that she is “still trying to find a style that I’m comfortable with calling ‘my own.'” Like most artists (especially those starting out in the professional circuit), Tang struggles with self-doubt in her artwork despite her talent.
When asked whether she struggles with any artistic blocks, she said:
“Of course! I would be surprised if any artist, writer, or content creator said otherwise.
I used to be pretty hard on myself about this (still am) because I would see artists on social media posting practically every other day with new pieces and projects. I would feel quite intimated and inferior since my skill and output levels still aren’t up to the ‘industry standard.’ However, I’m coming to terms with my own goals and pace because I’m realizing that everyone has their own goals and capabilities which doesn’t make any type of artist superior against another.”
Holding oneself to their own standard is one of the best ways to progress as an artist — focusing too hard on how others do things or what the current industry desires can limit one’s creativity and prevent them from creating the next big thing. Hyper-focusing on perceived imperfections can make one feel like they have to alter their own work to “fit in”…but what is art if not a place for pushing boundaries, asking new questions, and telling different stories?
As she continues to venture into pursing art, animation, and visual story-telling as a career, Tang is “trying to connect with other small artists online, specifically with other Asian American artists who share similar experiences to my own!” Always interested in learning “more about other independent artists” in her area, Tang is “all ears” when it comes to honing her craft of telling stories via visual mediums.
So, to any artists out there looking to discuss medium, method, or means of expression, don’t hesitate to send Candace Tang a direct message @whaletang on instagram!
A Changing Workspace: Creation in the Face of COVID-19
Very few can claim that 2020 was their year.
However, for many, 2020 was a year of necessary introspection and self-reflection.
Looking back on 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Candace Tang reports that COVID has forced her to “really rethink how valuable the arts are (as a whole, including literature, film, television, music, the whole bunch) and how their background presence impacts our everyday lives”:
“Being stuck in quarantine has made me (and I think millions of others) appreciate the readily available content we get on the internet from TV to movies to new music, etc. I think it’s been a great learning experience personally, especially finding out how to be inspired by the little events in life and not just the major transitions or goals. From studying remotely for 6+ months, working in a hospital, and being back in my old house with my family, COVID has definitely given me my share of existential-crisis moments and helped me slow down mentally since I have a bad habit of overthinking and rushing things.”
Tang certainly used 2020 as a springboard for herself, completing her undergraduate degree despite unforetold challenges, creating numerous wonderful pieces of art, nourishing a growing social media platform, AND working to spread joy during a pandemic.
In the midst of the first wave of COVID in the United States, Candace Tang used her talent to create adorable digital cards to sell in support of COVID-19 relief. For a close-up example of some of these e-cards, click on each image below.
As this second COVID wave crests, Tang exclusively tells the Summer Street Library Blog and the Salem House Press that she may be releasing a new set soon, seep your eyes peeled!
Behind the Curtain: Candace Tang
The eldest child of “two immigrant parents from Hong Kong,” Candace Tang was born and raised in a small suburban town of Connecticut. From a young age she was drawn to animation and colorful comics and began using them as reference points for her own art: “Like most artists (and people in general), I drew cartoons and TV characters on a daily basis as a child.”
While she cannot site any specific ways in which her upbringing has impacted her art, Tang did remark that her parents “have always encouraged me to pursue what I enjoy doing which, in this case, [is and] was drawing and animation!”
Despite her family’s support, when she first entered her undergraduate studies, Tang put her love of art and animation on the back burner in favor of studying public health. However, amidst her final year at college and the COVID-19 pandemic, Tang began reevaluating her goals and ambitions: “…as I enter my final year of my undergrad studies, I’m starting to reevaluate what I want to do post-graduating and I realized I don’t want to keep art on the sidelines anymore.”
I for one applaud her decision to focus on her passion. The world is always in need of new artists with varied perspectives. I encourage Tang to play with mixing her public health studies with her artistic talent, perhaps creating a portrait series considering the broad implications of unequal access to health care or birth control. She has already begun to do this with her e-card project — using hand drawn e-cards to raise money to address a global pandemic.
Ultimately, I look forward to keeping in contact with Tang as she continues to hone her style, craft, and individual artistic voice. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.
As we move into this new year, keep on reading and looking at great art!
*all quotations come from The Summer Street Library’s exclusive online interview with Candace Tang
The Summer Street Library focuses on highlighting young, divergent, and or underrepresented writers and artists with an especial focus on BIPOC, self-published, and unpublished writers. If you are interested in contributing to The Summer Street Library as a spotlight artist, please contact the blog’s founder, Sadie Hofmeester, at firstname.lastname@example.org.