7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #689: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, Nan Cao

h1 May 3rd, 2020 by jules


It’s the first Sunday of the month, dear Imps, which means I welcome a student or otherwise relatively new-to-the-field illustrator here at 7-Imp. Today is a visit from Nan Coa, an illustrator living and working in New York City. Nan’s work has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, the AOI, 3×3 Magazine, and more. She tells us more about herself below and shares some artwork. I thank her for visiting. Let’s get right to it!

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Nan: Making illustrations is like building bridges for people to communicate with one another, to listen to various voices from different corners of life. In my illustration, I am focusing on creating artwork that speaks for colorful voices outside my social circle and beyond my own perspective. Doing editorial illustration work is a perfect way to fulfill my wish of making beautiful and clever artwork. Working on editorial illustration work usually means that we need to work with different prompts given to us by our clients. With each art project, I need to understand the concepts that my clients want me to convey and then target the core idea with my visual language in a symbolic, metaphoric, and creative way. For me, it’s always a challenging and exciting process of reconciling my own visual voices with those of others.


“How We Learn,” an illustration featured by the Women Who Draw Directory


An illustration for News Break about stories of the Covid-19 pandemic
(Click image to enlarge)


New York city is a fantastic melting pot for artists. Usually, I get my ideas from the surrounding environment — the paintings I see in museums, the poems and stories I read in books, the people who walk on the streets, and even the music that is played in the train stations. My interests have changed over time, but lately I receive most of my inspiration from surrealistic imagery and my daily life in the big city. In terms of mentors, I feel very lucky to have met lots of wise and talented artists on my artistic path. My MICA professors Alex Fine and Allan Comport opened my eyes to look at the illustration world with a broader view. My professor Alain Corbel had taught me the importance of being a serious and persistent artist, and Marshall Arisman, the Chairman at SVA, made me realize that being a great artist does not entail being “perfect.” We as artists need to learn our limitations, explore our strengths, and make those strengths shine.



Pictured above: Entries from Nan’s NYC Diary,
a series of illustrations of New York City moments

(Click each to enlarge)


Making children’s books is a wonderful way for artists to tell stories with pictures. What I love about children’s books is that a good children’s book can tell very compelling stories in only a few pages. To make a beautiful children’s book, you have to be a charming storyteller, a deep thinker, and of course a creative visual artist. In beautiful picture books, there are always strong characters that can evoke and lead readers’ emotions throughout the story. No matter if the plot is simple or complex, it brings people a sense of joy and makes people think, laugh, and cry. For me, making my own children’s books is a way to create worlds full of imagination, thoughts, and emotions that I want to tell and communicate with others. I believe that a successful children’s book is not only for children, but also brings thoughts and introspections to adults. I want to wave my view of the world into lines, shapes, colors, and stories, to offer my audiences mind-expanding concepts and vocabularies.


A philanthropy poster for The Superhero Project


Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artists who has written and illustrated picture books with compelling stories and stunning artwork. His Rules of Summer is one of my favorite picture books, telling the bond of brotherhood with fun, strange, warm, and intimate stories and artwork. Like Rules of Summer, my dream children’s book project is to write and illustrate my whole stories. There are some interesting animal characters in my mind now, and I’d love to make a picture book to tell their stories.



“I always count sheep” — one of Nan’s personal illustrations, addressing
“what people usually think about before they fall asleep.”


I have changed my medium over time. Before I began my illustration studies, I used to paint with oil on canvas or work with soft pastel and pencil. I followed this by teaching myself how to use digital programs and audit related classes to polish my skills. Lately, my preference has been to work with ink and digital color in most of my illustration projects with consideration of efficiency and flexibility. However, I’ll paint with gouache and acrylic for long-term projects or gallery work. The soul behind most of my artwork is stories and concepts, and just like an operatic performance, the mediums are the different instruments that play for the art piece that is destined to sing.


One of Nan’s philanthropy posters, based on this from Pablo Neruda:
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”

(Click image to enlarge)


All illustrations reproduced by permission of Nan Cao.

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Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Nan’s vivid artwork. To follow her on Instagram, visit: @nancaoart.

2) Still reading like a maniac. Soon, we make our BGHB decisions.

3) Listening and watching Paul Fleischman and Melissa Sweet talk about their new book on a Zoom book launch of sorts this past week.

4) Getting work done.

5) Jameela Jamil. Such as, here.

6) Plans and purchases to try to improve my sleep.

7) Plans for birthday funfetti cake this week. FUNFETTI, I tell you!

What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #689: Featuring
Up-and-Coming Illustrator, Nan Cao”

  1. Love Nan’s energetic, vibrant illustrations.

    Jules – Love that message from Jameela Jamil. Yay for funfetti cake and cake plans in general. Please share if you find any good sleep aids – I have 1 that I use sometimes – Deep Sleep Pillow Spray – I use it when I stay out of town for trials, or travel in general, it helps.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Growing daisies from seeds. Its been a few weeks and I have managed to transplant them to larger containers without killing them.
    2) New writing from Katherine Rundell on the Greenland Shark: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n09/katherine-rundell/consider-the-greenland-shark
    3) Being warm and cozy inside on a rainy day.
    4) Tried a new recipe for banana bread and modified it to bake as a coffee cake style. Came out wonderful with a topping of raw sugar baked to crispy perfection.
    5) Sunshine today and plans for a social distancing walk with a friend.
    6) Watched all of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency over the past 2 weeks. Bizarre good fun.
    7) Working on Daisy’s training while at home – keeps both of us busy and reinforces her good training habits.
    7.5) The Dinosaurs in Love family (kids) have released more songs and they are animated. That song and these new ones make me very happy: https://youtu.be/SFjlzMa4rHQ

    Hope everyone is staying safe and doing well. Have a great week imps!

  2. Fly by! Hi Imps! Hi Nan! Hi Jules and Rachel and Daisy! I will catch up later. 🙂

  3. Rachel: I have never heard of pillow spray, but I will take a look. … So, I never have trouble going or staying to sleep, but I have been struggling with anxiety dreams and have been waking up feeling soooo awful, like someone has used me as a punching bag in the middle of the night. We ordered a weighted blanket after reading about it. (Well, my thoughtful husband did all the reading and the ordering.) Wasn’t supposed to arrive till later, but it arrived today! I’ll let you know how that goes. I have read that it’s very helpful for some people. I also am trying out Headspace for a month, and some of their tiny sleep meditations have helped me for the past few nights — listening right before I sleep has seemed to help. …. Thanks for the Rundell news. I look forward to reading that! Your fourth kick has me wanting to make a coffee cake now.

    Hi, Little Willow, who is flying by in cyberspace. Always good to see you, even if briefly.

  4. Hi Imps!

    Thank you, Nan, for sharing your work, and that hopeful Pablo Neruda quote!

    Jules: Enjoy the books and enjoy the cake! I hope the weighted blanket helps.

    Rachel: Yes to the daisy flowers (and the dog named Daisy!)

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Pacing myself
    2) Singing
    3) Writing
    4) Submitting
    5) Memorizing
    6) Staying hydrated
    7) Trusting myself

  5. Little Willow – love all your kicks but especially 1 & 2, so important to pace yourself and singing always seem to make the day better. (I have daisies in my front garden for Daisy, and they are so cheery – not unlike the dog – so figured I’d plant even more.)

    Jules – hope the weighted blanket helps! Keep us posted.

  6. Little Willow: I love seeing all your singing and writing and submitting on social media.

    The blanket is fab so far. I slept well.

    Have a good week, you two!

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