Sophie Diao and Edward Fu-Chen Juan Artist Feature

Landmark Presents exists to amplify artists whose work encourages inclusivity and stewardship of our public lands.

Landmark Presents...

Sophie Diao lives in San Francisco and is an illustrator, animator, and art director at Google Doodles, where she has worked full-time for 8 years. As of 2020, she has illustrated two children's books, I Am The Wind and Sarah and the Big Wave and hopes to write and illustrate her own children's book one day soon!

Edward Fu-Chen Juan is originally from Taiwan but now lives in Vancouver, where he works as a full-time freelance illustrator. In his own time, he is a printmaker and even painstakingly makes his own paper!

Sophie Diao

What drives you to create, or how did you get started creating nature-inspired works?

When I was a kid we spent three formative years living in Muskegon, Michigan, where we spent much of our time outdoors. There were a few magical moments that cemented my love and respect for nature - stumbling upon a deer skull in the snowy woods of Hoffmaster State Park; floating in the warm bathwater of Lake Michigan in the summer and clambering over its frozen waves with my dad in the winter (I was told later that this is very dangerous - don't recommend!); and watching fireflies flit around in our backyard after dusk.

In college, I started driving back and forth between the Bay Area and LA frequently, listening to my CDs and staring at the barren dusty scenery along I-5. I grew to love watching the landscape shift as the light died and the stars came out, and would do a little sketch of it once I got to my destination. I started making little paintings and illustrations each time I went somewhere new, to remember them by, which dovetailed nicely with my growing interest in hiking and backpacking.

A few years ago, I started becoming aware of climate change in a real way, so I decided to devote a good chunk of effort to help in any way that I can. Sharing an appreciation and awareness of nature through art is one way.

What does the phrase “outdoors for all” mean to you? 

We're animals too! We evolved to live in nature; we need space to roam and fresh air to breathe. "Outdoors for all" means ensuring that green spaces and parks are accessible and safe for everyone who wants to enjoy them, regardless of socioeconomic background or disability.

What do you enjoy most about your creative process?

  I love doing the research: gathering reference images of things and looking up the exact type of flowers and trees in a biome, for example. And I love planning out the colors and lighting will be in a tiny little rough painting (the "color key").

What’s your all time favorite outdoor space and why?

In the world: the Lofoten Islands of Norway, under the shimmering curtains of the Northern Lights.

In the US: I have a special place in my heart for the area around Badlands National Park since that was my first-ever solo road trip destination.

In San Francisco: Bernal Heights Park at sunrise, when the morning light starts reflecting off downtown and the coyotes come out to play.

Are you involved in any form of advocacy or giveback?

I'm in a unique position where my art goes up on the Google homepage on a regular basis, and I know that might not last forever - so, being acutely aware of that viewership and responsibility, I pick and pitch projects that focus on the environment. Some examples are the Doodles for Earth Day 2016 and 2017, the centennial of the National Parks Service which I worked on with my coworker Lydia Nichols, and for Sudan the last male northern white rhino. I hope these Doodles spark a little curiosity and inspire people to take up the mantle of environmental stewardship. Moving forward, one of my biggest artistic goals is to continue working on projects centered around sustainability and combating climate change, both inside and outside of my day job.

I've also donated proceeds from my print shop to California wildfire relief efforts and to Friends of the Urban Forest, which is my favorite nonprofit - they plant trees and sidewalk gardens all around San Francisco. Last year, I matched donations and mailed free prints to people who sent me their donation receipts for BLM causes.

Edward Fu-Chen Juan

What drives you to create, or how did you get started creating nature-inspired works?

My passion and relationship with nature comes from my upbringing on a family farm in Taiwan. My parents were major outdoorsman as well. I continue my desire to be close to wilderness eventually influences my work.

My art practice emerged from my artist residency apprenticeship with a Zapotecan master weaver in Mexico, who shared some of his color extraction knowledge with me. Building on that experience, I began experimenting the traditional dye technique with silkscreen printmaking on paper. In addition, I utilized the Japanese relief printmaking technique of ink thickening with “nori”, a rice starch paste, to enhance the ink viscosity.

I have since successfully produced a series of prints utilizing selected plant and insect-based ink. These works reference the plants and landscapes that are endemic and indigenous to the chosen regions I have foraged from. Through my process and work I am exhibiting the important connection between traditional artisanal techniques and contemporary art making.

What does the phrase “outdoors for all” mean to you?

Outdoors for all, I think that means the accessibility to community gardens and public land enjoyment. I think in the United States and Canada we usually associate outdoor and nature activity is a white person privilege. I want to change and diversify the perception. Often I find myself the lone person of colour on a backpack trail, but in the past few years I see that is changing with a more open and accepting society. I do hope this trend continues and the outdoor activity culture becomes more inclusive. We need to remind our elected officials that there is a lack of funding in public green spaces and education, especially in underserved marginalized communities.

What do you enjoy most about your creative process?

My favourite part is the trials and errors of every step. In the very technical process of printmaking and papermaking, I go through months of experiment to develop my art practice. In the commercial art industry I have to work fast. In my personal fine art practice, I get to test my patience and slowly think about my process. Sometimes I would spent a month making paper, then realizing I couldn't print on it because of the texture or the change of colour due to humidity. I take note in my sketchbook and try again. I love it.

What’s your all time favorite outdoor space and why?

 Desolation Sound in the BC Sunshine Coast, and the Jialeshuei surf beach in Taiwan.

Are you involved in any form of advocacy or giveback?

I'm not fully active on social media, instead I prefer in person action to support my local non-profit organizations. I'm an active member and volunteer at the Malaspina Printmakers Society in Vancouver, BC. A non-profit art centre that focuses on the preservation and education of printmaking in Canada. In 2021 I'll be collaborating with the BC Parks Foundation on local conservation campaigns with the help of the regional indigenous first nations and climate policy advocates.

Special thanks to Sophie and Edward for participating in Landmark Presents and sharing their work!

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