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Jiazhen Cai

First published February 21, 2023

Jiazhen is a Chinese Illustrator and Visual Communicator, currently based in London. Jiazhen’s illustrations and animations have won several awards and honourable mentions and she’s well on her way to forging an exciting career. In this chat, Jiazhen shares the challenges of freelance life, some advice for emerging creatives, and news, including her role with The Dandelion Philosophy and a new group exhibition. Read on to discover Jiazhen’s career journey so far and explore her gorgeous portfolio, including work for Food & Wine Media, Nylon Magazine, Penguin Random House China, and CTI Magazine.

Jiazhen Cai

Jiazhen, what’s your creative occupation?

I am a London-based freelance Illustrator and Visual Communicator, and an Education Consultant supporting people who plan to study illustration in the UK. I am also an Illustrator and Storyteller at the non-profit organization, The Dandelion Philosophy. I have always been an enthusiast of illustration and literature. I focus on the narrative and communicating boundary of images and provide visual solutions to brands, magazines and publications.

coffee t&i Magazine Cover

Where have you been?

I was born and grew up in the northeast of China. Then I travelled to New York State for an exchange program during my Bachelors study, and came to London in 2019 for my Masters at the Royal College of Art. I have two years of experience in pottery and ceramic design. After that, I became more dedicated to image making. I have practiced in several art disciplines, from drawing and ceramics to illustration. Now I am concentrating on visual communication, using illustrative images to tell a story.

There are always ups and downs as a freelancer and I always try to push myself to figure it out. I am a work in progress. JIAZHEN ON FREELANCE LIFE

Where are you now?

This is my second year of being a full-time freelance illustrator. I quite enjoy it. I provide illustrations to multiple worldwide clients and get a sense of achievement knowing that my work was involved in publicity and publications, and is visible to wider audiences. It is still the beginning of my illustration career, and I look forward to providing more engagements in artistic life for people. There are challenges… I need to learn how to manage everything on my own, including negotiating with clients, approaching people, making the schedule, keeping a work/life balance and managing myself as a business. There are always ups and downs as a freelancer and I always try to push myself to figure it out. I am a work in progress.

I also just began my new role as Illustrator and Storyteller at The Dandelion Philosophy. I am super honoured to work with the team, focusing on the people of South Africa; showing kindness and contributing to programs for public good through my visual language.

Chinese film festival poster

Where are you going?

I’m developing my practice to work across a wide variety of mediums, with attention to practical mythology research. More social connections is also my plan; meet new people and do interesting things together! I have been looking for illustrator representation recently and hope to join a team, and work with others, soon.

I plan to go back to China and stay for a while this year. I haven’t seen my family in person since 2020, and I miss them so, so much!

There is also a group exhibition, ‘When Walls Are Bare’, which opens today at Gallery 46 in London. I’m happy to have one of my animation works, onNodeFocus, included.

Woman sitting with flowers, books and 'Rever' box illustration

Finally, what’s occupying your thoughts today?

I am at ease today because it is Sunday! I met my friends who live in the same apartment, did some reading about design research methods and made plans for tomorrow’s work.

To emerging creatives starting out, I would like to share… find out your strengths and weaknesses. Find out the most exciting parts of your creative discipline and dig deep. Make a plan, prioritise tasks, meet people and do some exercise… don’t forget to take care of your mental health!

Thank you for sharing your journey, Jiazhen. Check out Jiazhen’s Insta and website and, if you’re local to London, be sure to visit the ‘When Walls Are Bare’ exhibition, opening today!


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