Artist Crystal Liu gives us an inside look at her inspiration and point of view as an artist in this interview (below). Ranging from photography to gouache, felt, watercolor, gold leaf...she leaves a wide wash of color and light in her midst. Light plays a prominent role in her work; as her artwork, especially her photographs, are imbued with a transcendent hue, creating otherworldly, often ethereal effect.


what sparkles...
"can't take it"
36 by 36 inches
gouache, watercolour, ink and glitter on canvas

Exhibiting in San Francisco, Toronto, New York, and around the world, Crystal Liu is an artist who brings a strong vision to her work, whether as installation, canvas, or film. Read about the creative process as she gives us a glimpse of what she is working on in her "What Sparkles..." series in the Artist Interview below.

air series I
chromogenic print
29 by 29 inches
Crystal has held solo exhibitions in galleries in New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Toronto. Her group showings are numerous; she has been featured in several art publications. This is what she shared with us in the interview:

You work with such a diversity of media. Tell us a little about your work.

My work consists of photographs and drawings depicting interstitial moments of hope, longing, love and loss. My inspiration comes from literature, films, conversations overheard, and my own personal experiences. I find that the unpredictability and mysteries of nature also exist in human relationships and emotions. In my drawings, I use a limited color palette and meticulous forms to create imaginary narratives that take place in nature.  Over the years, I have built a visual vocabulary for myself. Flowers, houses and trees are often stand-ins for humans. There is also a dark edge that permeates each work - a sense of impending disaster, reflecting the fragility of life. 

When I think about my photography, I feel that looking through the viewfinder has always allowed me to search for my thoughts and feelings visually in the world and capture it almost instantly. My first big body of photographs I made is called "Air Series." I was traveling a lot at that time, and everywhere I visited, I guess I was pointing my camera up towards the horizon, towards the sky. Surrendering to how little I am compared to the skies, compared to the cities and to the trees…being afraid of what's in front or around me, but being very hopeful.  Looking up!  It is such an important action to practice I think.  

After that series, I brought the camera indoors. “In the Dead Of Winter” and “100 Stories” are staged domestic scenes where I made photographs using my close up lens.  Lacy black curtains draping over house plants were like the night falling over the land, tea being poured into a hand-painted Japanese tea cup was as if I was creating a storm for the landscape painted on the cup…a shelf of books was like a forest of mystery…

Last year, I made a series called "Give Us Our Dream". It is a body of photographs where I froze a variety of flowers in water into blocks of ice. I made photos of the flowers, being stuck and cold. My initial idea was to hurt these flowers by freezing them…I quickly realized, I had momentarily preserved their color and beauty in the blocks on ice.  The air bubbles and cracks caught on film sometimes looked as if the flowers were moving before they froze, or calling out to other flowers…

What are your current and future projects?        
I just finished making a couple series of drawings and works on canvas where I have used a lot of glitter and glittered collage paper. Glitter is a material that I have used for several years now.  The shimmer, sparkliness makes me think of the stars. It makes me think of something very alive.  "What Sparkles..." is a series about a snake that falls in love with everything in the garden.  All of the pretty flowers, my house…the trees…it goes around and tramples over, terrorizes, and swallows everything. At some point, the snake is so filled up, it bursts open...and the flowers burst out of it like a beautiful explosion of fireworks.  

I love the idea of both visual elements and texture in your felt drawings. What was your inspiration for this?

"Where the Animal Lives" were originally drawings made on paper in a sketch book. It's about a creature who is roaming through the forest. It's a quiet series about the discovery of beauty and mystery.  

At the time, in specialty home decor stores, I had been seeing many designers use industrial felt as a material to make all sorts of objects for the home.  I had also just learned how to needle point felt and was making little creatures.  I decided it would be appropriate to revisit that series and make them into felted drawings. These drawings were wet felted. It was quite a physical process. I made all of them in the bathtub! 


Your drawings are simply beautiful. Tell us about the process involved in working with gouache, watercolor, gold leaf, collage, marker...such a variety of techniques.


I started off drawing in handmade sketchbooks as a way to figure out ideas I had for photographs and installations.  I used marker and ink on rice paper, mostly drawing lines, making marks…keeping my marker on the page to watch the blob get bigger and bigger as the paper soaked in the color. After a while, I started making up stories about the colors and ink marks. Their relationship towards one another…drawing slowly became something that stood on its own in my practice instead of a tool for my other work. One of the first things I drew that was more representational were trees, from there, I started drawing stars, flowers, houses…buttercream clouds…as my imagery expanded, my materials and techniques did as well. I started drawing on loose watercolor papers and experimented with gouache for silhouettes. Then watercolor for clouds and rain…I wanted to make my stars GOLD at some point, so I used gold leaf. I wanted to make the tears that formed a lake sparkle in my “Swan Lake” series, so I used red glitter.  

What were your major influences, influential events and people in your life as you became an artist?

My Aunt Terry was the first person to teach me about color and composition.  She briefly lived in the basement of my father's house when I was a little girl, so I would go downstairs and hang around her drafting table, poking around at all her art supplies. I had to make a presentation board for a science fair at school in first or second grade. My topic was the rainbow.  My aunt helped me draw all the arches of colors, taught me to color within the lines using pencil crayons. On either end of the rainbow, I glued a bunch of cotton balls as clouds.  My presentation board was not informative at all, I did not win first prize. But I was pretty amazed that I had made a rainbow.  From then on, I've been into making things.  

My best friend, Kotama Bouabane, taught me how to use a 35 mm camera one day after class during undergraduate school. It was a lot of fun, and a totally different way of seeing the world.  Walking in the city with a camera around my neck was a great way for me to figure out my sense of belonging. Just focusing in on tiny parts of a big landscape allowed me to express my feelings and hopes in relationship to where I was. 

To view Crystal Liu’s work, please visit:


All images courtesy of the Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco, Ca.

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Comment by Abby Chen on April 8, 2011 at 8:28pm

This is awesome! Hope to read more artist interviews!

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