In conversation with Ruo-Hsin Wu, V&A Illustration Awards Student Shortlist 2020

Word & Image
February 12, 2021

Ruo-Hsin Wu is Taiwanese illustrator and animator. Last year, Ruo was shortlisted for the V&A Illustration Award’s Student Illustrator of the Year for her work ‘Starring Night’

‘Starring Night’, illustration by Ruo-Hsin Wu

Her work is primarily drawing-based, using both traditional and digital mediums. We spoke with Ruo to find out more about her unique illustrations and the inspiration behind them:

Congratulations on being one of the 5 shortlisted students at the V&A Illustration Awards 2020! How did it feel when you got the news?

Thank you. This work means a lot to me. I’m so happy it has been selected by V&A Illustration Awards 2020

The judges highly commended your work Starring Night for its beautiful execution and thought-provoking concept, can you tell us a bit more about this piece?

This drawing is comprised of 6 individual parts, framed as one. In this work, I imagine that stars are small holes on the surface of the sky. Behind the sky, giants gaze down at all corners of the world through these shining little holes. Something happens in the city every night: a person is walking home alone, a city animal is looking for food, a tree is cut down. The holes illuminate all the small voices that are being drowned out by the world. In this way, every tiny, little thing has a chance to be seen and heard.

The concept for the work starts with a seedling of an idea and grows, along with my continuous exploration and daily experiences, to become a more significant idea. Each part of the drawing can stand alone as an independent story but, if interpreted as a group, they create an enhanced and different experience.

I made ‘Starring Night’ during a one-month artist residency in Tainan, Taiwan. This piece was featured in Transitional Objects, a solo exhibition of my work at the Mizuiro gallery in Tainan in 2019. The theme of this exhibition was transitional objects, which is where we project feeling onto an object and the boundary between ourselves and the object becomes blurred. An example can be a security blanket that a baby holds tightly. Transitional objects can provide a comfort to us, especially when in a strange place.

‘I’, illustration from Transitional Objects, by Ruo-Hsin Wu

You previously studied animation at Taipei University and have now gone on to complete a MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. What drew you to study illustration?

My passion for drawing and storytelling drove me to study animation. After completing my BA in animation, I was still eager to explore more about narrative image-making and different ways of storytelling, which is why I attended the Visual Communication programme (Illustration) at the Royal College of Art (RCA).

Below is a short clip taken from my graduate animation at the RCA, entitled The Sound of Memory. The animation explores the effect deterioration of memory has on ordinary moments. Based on my childhood memories, and using research into dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, I weave fragments of memory with poetic observations of everyday details.

Clip from The Sound of Memory, animation by Ruo-Hsin Wu

How would you describe your style?

It is always narrative-based. I am especially fascinated with ambiguous narratives and how the meaning of a work can develop within the viewer, in a state of perpetual growth and extension.

I prefer to adapt my style to the story I’m working on, as I don’t think there is a particular style that can fit all kinds of stories. In my practices, I use different materials and media according to the feeling, emotions, and atmosphere I want to create.

‘The Waiting Room’, illustration by Ruo-Hsin Wu

Is there anyone or anything that particularly inspires you?

I draw inspiration from everyday experiences and natural surroundings. I am fascinated by how images of nature can easily connect different people’s experiences and emotions, despite the contrast in their life stories; nature is like the junction between the individual and collective memory. When I first moved to London, the most intimate and familiar thing I felt was nature.

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’, gif by Ruo-Hsin Wu

These illustrations are from a commission from Read with Audrey for the book Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I took inspiration from the author’s beautiful and symbolic descriptions of the animals, plants, water and light in the coastal marshes, to depict the interaction between the marsh girl and the natural world.

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’, illustration by Ruo-Hsin Wu

Have you been working on any new projects recently?

Since I graduated from the RCA, I’ve been lucky to receive enjoyable commissions from clients in Europe and Asia, including book illustrations, book cover illustrations and hand-drawn animation for a short film. It was exciting for me to combine my own thoughts and ideas with other people’s brilliant stories. I also discovered new possibilities for myself by working with other creators.

‘Sensitive’, gif by Ruo-Hsin Wu
‘The Animal’, illustration from Transitional Objects, by Ruo-Hsin Wu

Discover more of Ruo-Hsin Wu’s work on her website at or on instagram @ruowu916.

The V&A Illustration Awards 2022 will be open for entries later this year. To stay up-to-date with the V&A Illustration Awards, sign up to our newsletter!

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