Featured Artist: xu.arts / Jolene Xu

Hey guys! 

I'm proud to present a new monthly project, the Featured Artist series, where I interview artists on their inspiration, art style, and processes.

In January, we are glad to have xu.arts, or Jolene Xu with us. Jolene is an illustrator that works mainly in watercolour paints and gouache to create imaginary colourscapes inspired by her travels in Europe. She is a Singaporean who works remotely, and is now located in Switzerland.

Let's get the ball rolling!

Hi Jolene! To start off, how did you get into your craft? Was there a pivotal moment that helped you decide on your path?

There wasn't an "ah!" moment, but many "Yeah, I'd prefer to make art than do this/that" decisions. I've thrown myself into other ventures but always found myself going back to a blank canvas soon enough. It wasn't until recently that I realised that art was something I've always returned to, and with timely advice from friends, I decided to focus on making art and try to make something out of it.

Could you describe your art style and process?

I don't think that I have a style yet; I'm still working on that! 

The process differs. Most of the time, I listen to a song and it conjures up images and colours in mind that compels me to pick up my brushes. It's hard to explain the process when this happens, because I can only describe it as alike to frantically paint the emotions and feeling I get while listening to that particular song.

Sometimes, it's a frenzy. I don't stop until I'm satisfied that I've somehow managed to get all those feelings and emotions out onto paper. The piece, "Everything You Never See", is one of these. It was inspired by JMSN's song, Ada.

"Everything You Never See", Jolene Xu

Other times, there would be more intentional planning of sorts; I'd think of a story that I'd like to convey, a particular scenario in it, and sketch various versions before painting it. "Depth of Joy" is one of these. 

"Depth of Joy", Jolene Xu

It's really cool how you get inspired by music. What is your favourite medium to work with? 

At this time, watercolour is my go-to medium. Honestly, it just happened to be readily available whenever I wanted to make art. I do hope to dabble in other mediums eventually. But for now, I'd like to get better at using watercolours. 

Sometimes art practice gets interrupted by fluffy friends...

How about your favourite subject to draw, and why?

Colourscapes, for sure. I enjoy the freedom of telling a story in an imaginary world with a beautiful landscape as a backdrop. I think that it's a wonderful thing to be able to spark a viewer's interest and curiosity where they go, "Ah, that's a beautiful place" and "What has happened? What's going to happen?"

"Bravely, into a new world" is one of these pieces.

"Bravely. into a new world", Jolene Xu

What and who are some of your inspirations? Do you have a favourite piece from someone?

I adore the works of Inoue Naohisa. It's hard to choose a favourite! I discovered his works through the Japanese animation film, "Whisper of the Heart" by Studio Ghibli. His paintings gave inspiration to some scenes in the film. It's definitely an ideal that I hope to be able to create eventually.

Being an artist is no walk in the park. What do you wish people knew about artists?

I want them to know that when an artist is able to create something beautiful seemingly effortlessly, remember that it took years of practice, time and commitment to be able to make it look effortless. If that was acknowledged and understood, I think more artists would be able to enjoy making art their chosen vocation.

"Synesthesia", Jolene Xu
What are your thoughts on working as an artist?

Well, it is damn hard work. I'm still finding my way around, trying to figure out my style and sometimes that means taking a step back to take a breather, making plans and producing lesser, or slower. That can lead to others losing interest because people want a constant stream of work/products to consume. But what's the point of achieving success if you feel like you're losing your mind?

Also, I find that it's a good thing that I enjoy it so much that even if it isn't lucrative, I will not stop making art.

That's a relief. We would hate to see that you stopped making art. What are some projects you are currently working on?

I'm working on a story at the moment; it will reflect my personal journey for the last two years. It's my first attempt in many ways; shaping a story, penning a script, storyboarding a project by myself, moodboards etc. It's taking quite a while and I've hit many artblocks, but I hope to be able to share more visuals soon.

We look forward to seeing that! Now, you mentioned that you are inspired by your travels. How do you make art while travelling?

I try to keep my supplies minimal and portable but it is still quite a handful carrying a drawing tablet. brushes, paints, and papers around. I have a small sketchbook in a small pouch that I carry daily and doodle on. It works for me because I can sketch on the train or anything that comes to mind as I walk around a new city.

Lastly, can you share with us why you make art?

I've reached a point where I was burnt out and didn't know what to do at all (classic quarter life crisis). I turned to making art, almost instinctively. I would always find myself trying to paint or draw something, somehow, like it was something I couldn't imagine not doing for an extended period of time. 

Jolene working on a piece in Spain.
Thank you for sharing your experiences today, Jolene.

Thank you! It was my pleasure.


Do check out Jolene's art here!

Jolene Xu / xu.arts
Instagram: @xu.arts

And that's part one of our monthly Featured Artist series! We have features more lined up, and I can't wait for you to meet our next artist. See you next time!