Interview By Professor Scott Bakal
Minru ‘Dora’ Wang is an award winning illustrator and graduated from MassArt in 2018 with a BFA in Illustration. During her senior year at MassArt, she applied for the Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York and is currently in her second and final year of the graduate program.
I often get questions from current students about whether or not to get a Master’s Degree. It’s a tough question to answer and a very personal one. I wrote an article about it that you can find on Muddy Colors.
While I was in New York City recently for the American Illustration annual event, I stopped by SVA and visited Dora’s studio to catch up and talk about what’s been going on since she graduated and her experience working toward a Master’s Degree. Here is part of the conversation.
Scott: Hey Dora!
Dora: Hi Scott!
It’s great to see your studio and your Master’s Thesis in progress. Before we talk about it, can you give everyone a little background? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Hangzhou, China. It is a beautiful city covered with greens. I guess this is why I love drawing plants, and green is always in my art.
I love the Green Tea from there!
Yes! It’s a big deal in my town.
Were you always an artist?
I was not always an artist. I had a very fun childhood. When I was little, my mom encouraged me to learn all kinds of things like music, art, dance, sports, etc. I am very grateful to all these skills I learned because they built my hobbies and choices for the future. When I was in my first high school, I started thinking about what I want to do. After going through each hobby, I decided that art will be my life career. I started learning how to draw in my sophomore year. Then, I transferred to an art high school and started my artist path.
What made you decide to come to the U.S. for art and why did you pick Illustration at MassArt?
My mom was working at the University of Rhode Island when I came to the U.S. I did not plan to stay in the U.S. However, I thought it would be a great chance to experience a different culture. I came to MassArt after I graduated from South Kingstown High School in Rhode Island.
My initial plan was to major in Jewelry Design.
Really? I had no idea!
Yup! In my freshmen year, I also took a painting class and a printmaking class, and almost went for those majors. Finally, I went to the Graphic Design Open House and got a chance to be on the 9th floor studio. I was really attracted by all the beautiful illustrations in the studio space. In that moment, I knew this is something I want to do. I just want to draw.
I always felt like picking illustration as my major was my destiny because I did not know illustration until the last second.
Wow! A similar thing happened to me. When I went on my interview for undergrad, I signed up for Advertising because I didn’t understand majoring in Illustration was a thing. The reviewer, seeing I painted everything, even the letters on the book and album covers in my portfolio, explained what illustration was to me. I went for that immediately!
You really seemed to prosper in the illustration department. You worked incredibly hard in the classroom and outside the classroom. You even took Skillshare courses and had work exhibited around Boston while in school. Where did your work ethic come from?
I think the desire to create is mainly what pushes me to keep doing work. I enjoy the feeling of making things. It is like building my own world, and everything I create belongs to me. Interest is the best teacher. I learn because I want to not because I have to.
That’s very admirable.
At some point, you started asking me and a few other professors about the idea of getting a Masters Degree. What prompted you to want to pursue it?
I decided to apply for a graduate school. Many of my favorite illustrators graduated from the Illustration as Visual Essay MFA Program from the SVA, like Yuko Shimizu, Hyesu Lee, Sam Weber, and one of my professors at MassArt Wesley Bedrosian. Wes showed me his work from the MFA Program, and told me what he learned from the program, which was very helpful to me to determine my wish to go to the same program.
How has it been going so far?
From the past year studying here, I think I definitely made the right choice. New York is an amazing city with fabulous people. I especially like the museums here! There are always new shows and new events. I have chances to meet with talented illustrators and artists. In my opinion, getting a Master Degree does not only mean that my illustration will be improved but more importantly, it also brings me to the business field and helps me to build connections with people.
I seriously want to thank you and everyone at MassArt for giving me a fantastic undergraduate study experience, which made me really want to stay in school for a couple of more years and to learn more about illustration.
What have you discovered about yourself and your art going through the Master’s program?
After a year’s study at the MFA program, I found the story part is also very important because it is the soul of the art work. I think a lot about what illustration is, as a language, as a way to communicate. I have been developing my artistic theory using what I learned since last year. Also, this program really helps me to explore different ways to draw, and try to find my voice.
Now that you’re getting close to graduating next Spring, what are your plans for the future?
I am interested in doing children’s books and making toys! I hope to tell my own stories, and show my little world to other people.
I’ve been seeing a lot of children’s related work on your site recently…
Yeah! Also, teaching is also something I would love to do. Having a master’s degree will help with that but the whole program with build my artistic mind and the experience I gain will support me to lead young illustrators if I do decide to teach.
Now that you’ve finished MassArt and nearing the end of your Master’s experience, what advice would you give Seniors about to graduate as they develop their business in illustration?
My advice would be to always create good work and do not be afraid to reach out to people. I am still pushing myself to make progress on my work, I think the work quality and connections with people are equally important. Also, going to museums, art book fairs, bookstores, and the school library really helps.
Thanks for chatting Dora. Good luck with the rest of your thesis!
Dora Wang Website
All artwork © Dora Wang. All photography © Scott Bakal.