Jessica Zhou: Detailing The Little Things That Make Life Lovable

Edited by Sophia Savva

As a student in the architectural studies program here at U of T, I've had the immense honour of being surrounded by intensely creative and talented peers. One such example is Jessica Zhou, who never fails to charm with her bright smile, curated fashion (especially her crane backpack!), remarkable intelligence, and kind heart. I've been following her art for a while now, and I got the chance to ask her some questions about her creative outlet. I hope you enjoy as much as I and her other Instagram followers have. Follow her at @jesssketchesss!

Can you tell us your name, year, program, hometown, and favorite on-campus food spot?

Sure! My name is Jessica Zhou, and I’m a fourth year student at the Daniels Faculty doing my double major in Architecture Design and Visual Studies. I’m also an international student from China. And my favourite food spot has to be the Clubhouse Sandwich Shop on Spadina and College (A.K.A. the most accessible decent food around Daniels). Their fried calamari sandwich is AMAZING. 

When did you start focusing on your art? What led to that?

To be honest, it has always been my biggest passion. I first started sketching and painting in elementary school and before long my notes and textbooks were covered with doodles. Drawing just feels so natural and instinctive to me that it was soothing to just sit down, zone out, and sketch away. It then also became a great story telling tool for me - I found it way more fun to record my thoughts as a little sketch instead of a written piece. Before going into university, I knew I would regret it if I only dismissed my interest in art as nothing more than a hobby. As a result, I found architecture and visual studies a good in-between place for my interests and skills.

Who/what are some of our biggest inspirations?

Too many. But if to sum it up, I’d say the everyday life. To be exact, it’s everyone and everything I love, every little story that I encounter, every dawn, and every sunset. I know real life isn’t as bubbly and dreamy as those lovely moments, but it is the little things that make life lovable.

What’s a piece of feedback that has stuck with you?

This is a comment I got from my very first visual studies studio. It was for a sculptural collage. I remember that at that time, all I thought about was presentation - in other words, the final look, or the “pretty picture”. As I was interested in the human body, there were various ambiguous body parts in the final work. After a general critique, my instructor suggested at the end that I pay more attention to the colour of the skins as she noticed that the body parts involved were pretty homogeneous; I should care about what the little details say for the project itself as “art should always be political”. It might seem obvious to some of you now, but for me at that time, that was an enlightenment moment. I learned to be conscious about every decision I make in an artwork, what they say for themselves, and how they look to whom, etc.

Tell us about your @jesssketchesss Instagram: what led you to start it? How do you think up each one?

Ahh I’m so glad that you know about that account! At first, I just wanted to post little sketches that I love from time to time. However it bugged me that my personal profile page didn’t have a consistent aesthetics with my personal photos and those sketches were together (yes, that’s what annoyed me). My friend suggested that I should make a new account specifically for that purpose, so that it would help keep track of my progress as well as find my own illustration style. The sketches are a small selection of just my everyday doodles - they are inspired by interesting moments in my life, random thoughts, or just strangers I see on the streets. I’m pretty happy with how it looks now.

What software/tools do you like to use?

I usually work digitally, so Adobe Illustrator and Procreate for iPad Pro. Seriously these two are my best friends.

Tell us about this painting:

This is a small piece I did for my painting studio and while there’s no “correct reading” for it, I can talk a little about bit. With this work, I wanted to initiate a conversation on femininity and individuality in western culture - how the ideology of femininity is continuously influencing the way women define themselves. It was intentional that the colour palette was so stereotypically “feminine” with the baby pink/purple. That’s because I wanted the viewers to realize how deeply ideologies like these were rooted in our minds. I then juxtaposed an ambiguous, gender-less silhouette of a figure on top, with strokes of colours that are conventionally associated with male/female. Those strokes became less noticeable and gradually blended into other colours later, representing the numerous individuals struggling to fit their unique identities into the idea of “feminine”. But of course, it’s open for interpretation.

What are some of your goals?

To stop procrastinating at the current stage for sure. If there’s a procrastination self-help group, please hit me up.

MoMA or Met?

The MET,

What would you tell a starting artist unsure of their path?

Meet people, talk to people, especially people you look up to - even if their experiences don’t apply, it’s still better than figuring everything out on your own.


All images courtesy of @jesssketchess