From tech to fashion to music, there are seemingly no boundaries inside Yue Wu's world. Her laser-precise lines and satisfyingly soft gradients break beyond the traditional expectations of manga-inspired illustrations, leaving an ever-growing trail of digital it-girls.
by Claire Kowalewski
At miniSUPER, we’re most familiar with Canadian illustrator, Yue Wu, for her chibi characters–her colorful “Cat Girl” stickers have become a brand staple, faithfully restocked since its initial release in 2019. Beyond the realm of stationery, Yue’s alluring characters found an appropriate home in luxury fashion through collaborations with global brands like Jean Paul Gaultier and Gentle Monster.
For a young artist whose portfolio includes so many notable names, Yue isn’t one to flex. She keeps her online presence notably limited. As a result, the curated images she does share have an elevated feeling of mysticism, dropping subtle hints about her current obsessions. With every new post, Yue’s world slides slightly more into focus. We were pleased that Yue agreed to speak with us and you, the miniSUPER community, to share a more intimate look at her work with miniSUPER and beyond.
Let’s start by hearing about who you were when you joined miniSUPER, the road to creating collaborative work with miniSUPER founder, Justin Wallis.
YUE: I vividly remember that it was summertime, and I had finished my last year of high school when I received Justin's invitation. My jaw dropped when I saw his email because I had never expected one of my favourite artists to contact me to collab. It was a period when I did art primarily as a pastime.
How were you feeling about your work at the time?
Nervous and excited. I wasn't sure if I was good enough as an artist at the time, but I was so excited that I spent most of my energy focusing on designing stickers. Looking back, I still like the three initial designs I submitted, which is rare because I tend to cringe at my older works.
"Cat Girl", one of Yue's first sticker designs for miniSUPER.
What is your favorite sticker you have made for miniSUPER?
My favourite is "Final Bosses". I think they have the right amount of weirdness and cuteness. There's also a world-building aspect that makes them more than cute stickers.
I think all of us here living in the miniSUPER world have a healthy obsession with “cute”. Looking back at your childhood, tell us more about the cuteness that inspired the development of your style. Who/what stole your heart?
For me, cuteness can be expressed in different ways. Just because a character has big sparkly eyes does not mean I find it cute. Sometimes just two dots or circles are perfect for capturing a character's cuteness, for example, Shin-chan or Miffy. So, my style really depends on what kind of cuteness I want to express, whether it's goofy cute, pretty cute or ugly cute. I do have shows and games that are a great source of inspiration for me, like, Cardcaptor Sakura, Ichigo Marshmallow, Bottle Fairy, Dragon Ball, Chibi Maruko-chan, Krtek, Taiko no Tatsujin, Warioware and Maple Story. That's all I can think of off the top of my head.
Can you remember a favorite individual sticker or sticker brand from your childhood?
I was obsessed with two sets of phone stickers. It was just a bunch of Korean writing in text bubbles. One set had bubbles in the shape of gift boxes. The colours were truly immaculate, and they had a sparkly finish.
I think you might hear the words “Japan” or “anime” when people speak about your work. Do you ever get the question: But why do you like Japan so much? I think that many of the people reading this now might have had to answer this rather reductive, and frankly, uninspiring question. All of those feelings aside, I’m curious to hear your answer. Why do you think Japan is responsible for so much inspiration, in your work and in today’s creative generation?
I think it's because I've consumed anime since I was a kid, so it was natural for me to develop an interest in Japanese culture. I was intrigued by the more mature stories and catchy OPs. The art style was the highlight because it was specific yet versatile. I like that it's aesthetically pleasing, which adds a unique experience while watching the show. Each scene can be admired as a piece of art. It led me to seek anime-related content in other ways, like magazines and mangas. The illustrations were much more intricate and dynamic. I remember I wanted to draw just like those artists. So I would constantly go through my magazines and mangas that I would borrow from the library. Later in my teens, I got more into Japanese music and fashion with access to Youtube and Tumblr. I think it's probably the same feeling for many artists my age. The reference is more noticeable, while the older generation would reference it in other ways but didn't emulate the art style because it was considered low art/unacceptable in many settings.
I used to always borrow this series and the Sailor Moon series at my local library. I love the old covers. There are just so many iconic ones! Finally, I was able to own the entire Sailor V series and some Sailor Moon volumes.
9 times out of 10, your characters are confidently posed looking good and feeling good. I don't know if you’ve ever thought about it this way, but your Instagram feed looks like an animated version of “hot girl summer” influencers sharing an account...except it’s the 90’s and they all have flip phones! Do you agree? Who/what are you envisioning when you create these girls?
I agree. It reminds me of influencers, haha. Since many of my favourite artworks are often in the shojo genre, the focus would be the main character wearing costumes or trendy outfits. My other big interest is fashion, so I like to combine the two. It's a way for me to play dress-up. I actually take inspiration from influencers from time to time when I really like their vibe.
Illustration by Yue Wu
And more seriously, what do you hope people feel when they look at your work?
I haven't thought about that, honestly. I guess a boost of serotonin, lol. I hope people can feel inspired by my work, as corny as that sounds. I get really motivated when I see amazing artwork or go through my favourite art books. So, I hope people feel the same way when they see my illustrations.
Your characters have such satisfying facial styling. Specifically, I've seen more than a few supportive comments gushing about their incredible noses. (If you aren't familiar with her work outside of miniSUPER, take a look at what we mean here.) Tell us about the development of the somehow both 2D and 3D “Yue nose”.
I usually start with the eyes to set the entire look, and the nose will match the eyes. Sometimes I go for a small pointy nose with no nostrils, and other times, I make it semi-real. It usually needs to match the anime style I'm going for, which mostly has pointy sharp noses. :^)
Not only are you phenomenal at character design, but you are also incredibly talented at pairing your characters with satisfyingly minimal backgrounds. I’m seeing lots of fresh fruits, starry nights, tropical beaches, and up-close water themes. Recently I’ve even seen some non-character landscape work on your feed! Tell us more about how you design your backgrounds/landscapes and at what point in your creation process they come into play.
Thank you for noticing that! It was a big shift in my art style. I used to hate adding backgrounds. In the past few years, I started reimagining the compositions of my drawing and the role of a background. It helps to set the mood but also adds meaning to the entire piece. The landscape drawings were actually part of a class assignment. It was a pleasant challenge to focus only on location/landscapes. I didn't know that I would enjoy drawing spaces this much.
Illustration by Yue Wu
Let’s talk a little about what it feels like to be Yue. What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually wake up pretty late, so I only eat two meals daily. I like to make myself milk tea when I wake up and another during the evening. I spend a lot of time playing with my cats. But, they are hard to please because they get tired of playing with the same toys. So I have to find new ways to entertain them, smh. Other than that, I work on my personal projects or commissions the rest of the day. I like to listen to something when I work, either music, audiobooks, podcasts or Youtube videos.
This is Hawee. He’s such a scaredy cat.
This is Mia. She’s grace, she’s beauty.
You have been making album artwork exclusively for the band Ouioui from the popular Korean Label Stone Music Entertainment since 2018. Did this collaboration play a big part in growing your audience?
I'd say it played a big part in terms of helping me move to a more professional level. It opened the door to more opportunities. I did gain quite a lot of followers over the years working with them. However, I can only say that a small percentage of my audience came from OuiOui because I noticed that I get the most followers and interactions when people share my work to their Instagram story.
Various OuiOui albums
Recently you’ve caught the eye of the people in charge of some big-name companies. How did those connections come to be?
I follow some interesting people in the creative fields outside of digital art/illustration, so I think that's how my work got exposed to different communities. I was extremely lucky to be recognized and receive project proposals.
Illustration for ONEPLUS
Can you tell us about some of your favorite highlights from these collaborations?
Being featured on the company's websites was a big achievement. Another part of the highlight is having artistic freedom. I'm happy that I can produce work that I can be proud of as an artist. I think artists appreciate the most when there's trust in their creative vision.
Most recently, we were cheering for your successful collaborations with Jean Paul Gaultier and Gentle Monster. You mention valuing trust in creative relationships––can you talk about those collaborative relationships and the projects you worked on?
I would've never imagined working with these brands. It still feels very surreal. I'm also very proud of all my other commissioned works. I produce the best work when I have a lot of creative freedom. Having a theme or prompt is nice because it gives you a starting point. Almost all commissions come with requirements, so as an artist, I must find a balance between my creative vision and the client's requests. Most requests I receive are reasonable, and it tells me that they trust my art direction. For instance, for the Jean-Paul-Gaultier, I had to include the Logo-ltier collection in the illustrations, but I was in charge of character design, composition, background, colour palette, etc. It was a similar process with Gentle Monster and other brands. I know the OnePlus two-set drawings were a hit among my followers. I was free to draw anything while including their new smartphone model. Other than that, there are always feedback sessions to ensure we are on the same page and satisfied with the end result. It becomes frustrating when people have everything set out, and you're just there to render the drawing. I usually decline these kinds of projects or ask them if they are open to suggestions.
Screenshots of Jean Paul Gaultier featuring Yue's girls modeling the 2021 "LOGO-LTIER" collection.
Over the years, what are some of the creative challenges that you have had to overcome?
I think a challenge of mine is to maintain the anime styles that I grew up with while adding my personal taste or some sort of innovation. I wouldn't say it's a challenge, a thing I must overcome but more something I try to maintain in my work. Sometimes I just want to pay homage and put out something super nostalgic. Other times, I want to reinterpret the things I love.
Moving forward, if you could work with anybody, who would it be?
Honestly, there are quite a few. I'm down to work with all the talented people I follow on Instagram. But, if I have to name someone, I guess Ebonny Munro. I've been following her work for quite a while now, and I really admire her vision.
Photo filters created for Gentle Monster.
If you had to guess, what’s coming up? What can we expect from 2023 Yue? 2024?
I'd like to make an art book. So, I'll likely be putting out a lot more personal artwork to grow a big enough collection.
I’m imagining that there are lots of artists who have your miniSUPER stickers stuck on their belongings as a source of daily inspiration. What message would you like to share with them?
I'd like to say thank you so sooo much to all who purchased my miniSUPER stickers. I absolutely love to see people share posts of their miniSUPER stickers. I keep most of mine in their original packaging because I'm not decisive enough. So, it's fascinating to see the stickers stuck on all kinds of surfaces, whether for deco, collage, or scans. It gives me all sorts of ideas for where to place them.
(Packaging from coconut jelly) The only thing I committed to decorate with my miniSUPER Stickers. :’)
I think I view stickers, especially miniSUPER stickers, as a work of art. So, it's hard for me to stick them somewhere where I know they will deteriorate over time. It's kind of like people who keep their figurines in the original packaging. I do want to showcase them instead of storing them in a box. I just need to find a perfect object to start decorating.
Can you give us a hint as to what the next Yue miniSUPER sticker might look like?
I'm currently brainstorming ideas for stickers. However, I did finish designing something not sticker related recently, and it's gonna be epic.
♥︎ Yue’s Favorites ★
Place that makes you feel at peace:
I feel at peace when I walk around my neighborhood.
I’ve been enjoying Won’t Waste Your Time by Jodeci.
The King and the Mockingbird(1980). A must-watch for those who love animated movies and watch it in French.
Cheer-up YouTube video or creator:
Probably SolarSands. I enjoy all of his long-formatted videos.
Item of clothing:
My military knit cropped sweater that used to be my mom's.
Wacom pen haha, but my go-to ink pen is the Sakura Micron Pens
My second cat’s name, Hawee. It’s short for Halloween because he was a little stray kitten found on Halloween.
miniSUPER sticker by another artist:
About the author: Claire Kowalewski
San Francisco-born, Tokyo/ Berlin-based creative.