Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 20, 2017

Illustrator Saturday: Xindi Yan

Xindi left behind a small city in China to realize her dream of being a published artist. She has travelled thousands of miles to study, live and work in New York. Xindi received her BFA in Illustration from Pratt Institute in 2013 and has since worked as an illustrator for the gaming industry and children’s media. Having always wanted to illustrate children’s books, she buried herself in countless books and drawings, collecting them even today. Her ambition keeps her painting day and night. Xindi currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dreams about having a puppy in the near future.

Here is Xindi discussing her process:

I started by exploring some ideas in rough sketches. The one on the left was drawn on the iPad Pro. The one on the right was on my Cintiq.

I liked my initial idea. So I imported the image from iPad to my computer, and drew a final sketch before coloring. I sometimes also do a black and white sketch and color sketch before coloring. But since this piece is small and simple I skipped that step.

I had a color palette in mind already, so I went ahead and filled in all the bigger shapes. There were some adjustments and experiments at this point. A lot of times I would use Hue/Saturation or Color Balance menus to help me explore and adjust the colors to the palette I wanted. I was using Kyle Webster Gouache Brush Set.

Now I started filling in the details before going into shading. I like to use line work in adding details.

During this process I experimented with some different lighting directions and shadow intensity and finally settled on this one. I mainly used Hue/Saturation and Color Balance adjustment layers because they were easy to edit and fast to apply to multiple layers. There were also some painted in shadows and lights, some with overlay or multiply effect.

I added in the crows at the back because they are companions for Sailor Mars. I also gave the background a bit of color variation so it doesn’t look too flat.

For the final touch, I added the flame shapes because commanding fire is Sailor Mars’ super power. This detail from the story allowed me to bring pops of color into the image. I used lasso tool and set the layer to “Overlay”. I also did a final value and color adjustment with Curves and
Color Balance adjustment layers.

Finally, I found a paper texture image from online and applied it in “Overlay” to the whole image. There were some value and color adjustment to the texture layer as well. Then I put in the signature and it’s all done! 

You can find more process videos of my work at

How old were you when you moved from China to the United States?

I came to the US in 2009 to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I studied illustration and received my bachelors degree in 2013.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My dad is and architect and my mom is an art lover. They’ve always encouraged me drawing, painting everyday. I was trained traditionally with lots of life drawing and painting, and didn’t start “illustrating” stories until 2008/2009 when I was preparing my portfolio for college application.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I think it might be a portrait commission from a girl after I graduated college. It was drawing of her and her sister for $20. Hehe.

Did you know you were going to attend Pratt Institute for art when you lived in China?

Yes. I actually got accepted into China Academy of Art in 2008 after high school. It’s one of the best art schools in China. But after one year, I realized that I didn’t learn anything new. I have also attended the summer school in 2008 at the University of Arts London. It was my first time abroad and I was shocked by the inspiring way art education was in the western countries. So I knew China Academy of Art was not going to be enough for me.

What made you choose Pratt?

I received acceptance letters from both Pratt and SVA. But Pratt offered me scholarship. Also for my mom Pratt has the advantage of a closed campus, which offers much better security for her 19-year-old daughter, going alone to the new strange country.

Did Pratt help you connect with Art Directors before you graduated?

Pratt held a lot of career fairs, which is where I got my first couple internships in college. Pat Cummings was my professor. She is the most wonderful woman who’s never shy to share her connections in the industry. I also got my first 2 full time jobs from the Pratt show at graduation.

Do you think the art school influenced your style?

Professors at Pratt are very careful with not influencing the students too much with style. I definitely got to develop my own style freely while in school.

What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I got a full time freelance job at Center Stage Productions in New Jersey. I designed kids soft play parks. It’s the kind of play area in malls and airports, where you would see slides in the shape of a butterfly, or animals for kids to climb on. It was a very long commute. I left there after 2 months and worked at High 5 Games for two and a half years.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

When I was in High School. I bought this book written by faculty at University of Cambridge children’s literature program. It’s my first book about illustration and I instantly fell in love with the narrative aspect of it. I’ve always liked children’s products. They are just so much fun and with so much imagination. Children’s book illustration definitely satisfied my love for narrative and lovely whimsical images.

How did you meet and connect with Chrisy Tugeau? How long has she represented you?

I got in touch with Christy from the SCBWI Conference in 2016. I think Priscilla Burris saw my portfolio at the showcase and sent it over to Christy. We talked on the phone a couple times before we signed contract. She’s been representing me for about 9 months now.

Since you live in the NYC area, do you try to set up appointments with art directors to show off your work?

I actually have never done that myself. I’ve worked full time jobs before I signed with an agent, so I never went out to look for freelance before. But I did attend some portfolio reviews with Pat Cummings. And I’ve been going to SCBWI Conferences almost every year.

Have you made a book dummy of a children’s book story?

Yes. My story was written when I was in college. I’ve been working on editing and re-drawing every since. It’s a personal story about my grandma and I drawing together when I was little. And the setting is Chinese New Year, so I can introduce the Chinese culture as well. I’m currently working on a new story idea.

Have you illustrated any book covers?

No I haven’t yet.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s picture book?

Of course! I don’t consider myself the best writer, but I would love an opportunity to work with editors and art directors to polish up my own story and see it published.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

It really depends, unfortunately mostly on the budget. I’m a freelancer living in NYC. As much as I would love to help with a good story, I have to be able to make my rent. But if the story is really capturing and the budget is not a problem, of course I would not hesitate to work on it.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I have done some small wordless comics in school. It’s a very interesting idea I would love to explore.

Have you worked with any educational publishers?

No I haven’t.

Have you ever illustrated anything for a children’s magazine?

No I haven’t.

What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I don’t go out that much to find work directly. My agent sends out postcards and email blasts to art directors every couple of months. I personally try to maintain active social media channels. Behance is a very good resource. Most of my freelance work, other than the books from my agent, came from Behance. The employers I’ve worked for before always would look for freelance illustrators on Behance as well. Instagram is also good for advertising yourself.

What is your favorite medium to use?


Has that changed over time?

Definitely. Like I said I was trained traditionally. And for a long time in college I painted mainly with watercolor and gouache. But digital is just so convenient for editing. And I believe good art is not about medium. A good painting would be good no matter it was done traditionally or digitally. There are a lot to learn on both sides.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes. I have my iMac and Cintiq on the work table. I also collected a lot of figurings that I keep around my workspace as well. My husband is also a freelancer, so we have our tables next to each other in the studio.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My computer! Haha. But other than art supplies, a cup of hot tea for sure.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I do when I don’t have tight deadlines. I spend the first hour or so in the morning warming up with figure drawing or color studies.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Yes. It’s religious for me. No artist can or should draw without references. All my professors and artists I’ve met told me that over and over. Our brains have limited informations. I would be researching, or taking reference pictures as I’m doing thumbnails. So many times researches have inspired me to new ideas or compositions I haven’t considered before. So I have all the information that’s need to proceed to the finals.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Ohh definitely! So many things became easier. Research for information, photograph, art style, influences. I love that I can connect with artists all over the world, seeing their newest work and keeping up with the news from the industries. And there are so many ways for artists to reach out to employers, connect with fellow artists. Not to mention all the unlimited amount of classes and tutorials you can find. It can become very overwhelming some times, but it’s definitely a huge pro for me.


Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I mainly use Photoshop, sometimes Adobe Illustrator.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I use a 22inch Cintiq. Sometimes I also use my iPad pro.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Yes. I just recently fulfilled my dream of illustrating a picture book. My next big dream is to be able to work at a major animation studio, like Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Bluesky, etc.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a picture book with Tilbury House and a chapter book series with Little Simon. There are also some small illustration projects coming in every now and then.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I am a sucker for online classes. I don’t ever want to stop learning. Schoolism, The Oately Academy and Skillshare are some great online art schools that I’ve learned SO MUCH from. Graduating art school was just the beginning of my learning journey. I can’t be the artist I am today without these online resources.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Always be humble and learn from everything around you. And always LOVE what you do. Believe in yourself and work HARD, no matter how far you are from your goal. I know it sounds cheesy, but the passion and love you put into your work is what makes you unique from others.

Thank you Xindi for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Xindi’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Xindi. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love these illustrations – gorgeous drawing and wonderful, expressive characters!


  2. I loved learning about Xindi Yan’s creative process. Her illustrations are gorgeous!


  3. Thanks for sharing! Your process on video shows a wonderful willingness to play with an image.


  4. I like the sense of movement in your art, Xindi!


  5. This work is beyond amazing, Xindi. REALLY! And the fact that you came all the way from China to attend Pratt makes me think how foolish I probably was when I was kid and could’ve gone, but didn’t want to do the daily commute from NJ to Brooklyn! Thanks SO much for sharing this gorgeous work and your process. I LOVE the time-lapse videos! 😀


  6. Lovely illustrations!


  7. Your work is amazing. The deconstruction of that one illustration is really educational, thanks for posting it. And thanks for the shout-out. With your talent and the amount of hard work you put into your illustrations, you’ll hit every goal you set for yourself. Can’t wait to see your
    picture book. Congrats!


  8. Such gorgeous illustrations! I look forward to reading your debut as author/illustrator – drawing with your grandmother sounds fascinating.


  9. Xindi’s incredible talent and skills shines through her lovely and cheery artwork!


  10. I LOVED the process video! I wish I could slow it down to learn more about the process. LOL! Thank you so much for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: