Growing up in the countryside with little means, Yong Hong Zhong recalls practicing drawing by using a stick to mark the sand. A master of watercolor technique, he didn’t get his first watercolor set until his family moved to New York City when he was 12 years old. There, he went to the highly respected La Guardia High School, then graduated from Pratt Institute. He worked for Disney for 14 years in the layout department. “My first film at Disney was Pocahontas and my last film there was The Princess and the Frog,” he says.
As a layout artist at Disney, Zhong worked primarily in black and white, and found he missed playing with color. He ventured into plein air, painting outdoors on his lunch hour. Sixty minutes may not seem like enough time to paint, but he was a professional illustrator and worked fast. In these sessions, he worked in oil and was under the sway of the classic California impressionists. He still works in oil today, but watercolor is his primary medium, mostly because he finds it much more convenient for plein air work.
His artistic temperament was also shaped significantly by what he learned early on in New York City — the traditional artform of Chinese calligraphy. “I did a lot of calligraphy growing up, and you cannot make corrections when you put a stroke down with ink on rice paper,” says Zhong. “You have to be confident, from beginning to end. If the work is not good, you destroy it. But during the process, you have to trust that it is going to be fine. Most of my brushstrokes are done in one motion. I mix the color, practice the stroke in my head, and then put it down. Spontaneity is part of the beauty of the medium, and speed comes with confidence. Only if you can convince yourself can you convince your audience.”
For more inspiring stories like this one, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.