In Conversation with Licia He cover photo


In Conversation with Licia He

by Jeff Davis

Shiqing (Licia) He is a generative artist and a human-computer interaction researcher. She primarily focuses on exploring connections between digital and physical art-making through code and machines. I had the privilege of getting to know Licia a little better in advance of her upcoming Art Blocks project Running Moon.
Jeff Davis: Hi Licia, glad to be able to speak with you again and learn more about your background. How did you first get into making art?
Licia He: I have been into comics, illustrations, and handcrafts since childhood, but I did not dream to be an artist back then. I entered college as an English major. In the first semester, unfortunately, I didn’t get into any English 101 classes. Looking back, it was an incredibly fortunate event because I accidentally got enrolled in Photography 101 instead. I loved developing images in the darkroom and ended up spending all of my time there, to the point that my roommate thought I was missing and panicked. At that moment, it was apparent to me that I had to make art, so I switched to a studio art major and became a printmaker. I have been creating art ever since that.
I've been out of college_vellumLA - Licia He.jpg
Licia He, I’ve been out of college, 2021.
JD: I had a very similar experience in college taking art for the first time to fulfill a liberal arts requirement. So you started with photography and printmaking, when did you start pursuing generative art?
LH: Around the time I switched to a studio art major, I also fell in love with math, which made me switch to a double major in art and computer science. The combination sounds like a perfect duo for pursuing generative art, but I totally didn’t make the connection at that time. I learned these two disciplines completely separately. I did pick up a bit of Processing but was not able to make anything interesting. After college, I felt lost because I had to choose only one field, so I took a gap year and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Information Science. I thought data visualization was the perfect area that connects art and tech, so I spent the first half of my grad school working in data visualization and analytics. The discipline taught me a lot, but I felt the urge to work on creative projects that had fewer restrictions. Around 2018, I started making web-based generative art as my procrastination projects using D3.js, a javascript library for making data visualizations. I accumulated a mini collection of algorithms and started posting them. Meeting my plotters in 2019 certainly changed everything. Writing code for my plotters was the most exciting part of my daily activities, especially during the lockdown. I was so attracted to generative plotter paintings that I procrastinated on everything else. I ended up switching my entire Ph.D. research towards generative craft and creativity support tools, which are the perfect research areas for me. Overall, pursuing generative art sounds like an inevitable result if I just look at my CV, but in reality, it’s the fruit of many coincidences and decisions. 
Licia He, We’re going to be OK, 2022..jpeg
Licia He, We’re going to be OK, 2022.
JD: How would you say your creative practice has developed over time?
LH: Over the past few years, I have become increasingly certain of two things. The first is that quantity is often more important than quality. When I started doing daily art challenges, I used to worry about running out of ideas, but now I know good ideas can only be born out of mediocre ones. The second mindset change is that I now see more value in reinventing the wheel. I homebrew most of my generative art toolkits without heavily relying on other graphics libraries. It was time-consuming and sometimes frustrating to write everything from scratch, but as a result, I gained more control over my tools. I also feel like I have a much better understanding of my algorithms.
Licia He, Untitled, 2021.jpeg
Licia He, Untitled, 2021.
JD: Any recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
LH: I have been keeping an almost-daily creative practice since 2019. I am participating in 100-day challenges where I would create generative plotter paintings and share them for 100 consecutive days. Last month, I celebrated the completion of my 700th day. I had a wonderful opportunity to share the completion of this milestone at the Eyeo Festival this year through an ignite talk. I just started the 8th challenge recently and am super excited to see what I can make in these 100 days.
feral_file_endless_full_0 - Licia He.jpg
Licia He, Endless Monologue #0: who am I, 2021.
JD: That’s awesome, I’m always so impressed with artists who can maintain daily creative challenges. So it sounds like much of your artistic focus has been on plotter paintings, how did you first discover NFTs?
LH: When many generative artists entered the crypto art space in 2021, I was working on wrapping up my Ph.D. studies. When I returned to social media after graduation, everyone was suddenly talking about NFTs. Before I could figure out what NFTs were, a dream-like opportunity came to me. Casey REAS invited me to be part of -GRAPH, a generative plotter art exhibition he was curating. I said YES before reading the document he sent me. Later I read the document and realized two things. First, I would work alongside Aleksandra Jovanic, Iskra Velitchkova, James Merrill, Julien Gachadoat, Tyler Hobbs, and Casey, of course. I’ve been following and admiring their works for years and felt extremely honored to collaborate with these amazing generative artists. The second thing I found out was that -GRAPH was an NFT exhibition. That is how my NFT journey started with the -GRAPH exhibition, and I honestly cannot imagine a better start than this. I really have to thank Casey for introducing me to this whole new world.
Licia He, Running Moon #0, 2022..png
Licia He, Running Moon #0, 2022.
JD: Well, I’m very glad that Casey introduced you to the space, because now we have the privilege of hosting your project on Art Blocks. What was the inspiration behind the project?
LH: The concept started with a watercolor painting I made in 2021. It was created right after my dissertation defense, so the painting was filled with joy and excitement. It marked the start of a new chapter. I loved the painting and developed a python-based algorithm that captured part of the concept. Outputs of this collection became some of my favorite plotter paintings in 2021. In early 2022, I found myself sketching out similar ideas again. I decided to return to my original painting and to explore the concept again. Running Moon is the result of this third interpretation of this concept. Although Running Moon looks quite different from the plotter painting and the original watercolor piece, they share a similar spirit. I think all three interpretations show a collection of characteristics that are inspired by several sources. Watercolor is the most obvious one. Stained glass art inspired the composition and rendering. I also see traces of influence from comics and Thangka (a Tibetan painting style I briefly learned in Nepal years ago).
JD: What should collectors look for in your project as the series is revealed?
LH: I often feel like I live inside screens because I spend most of my days working alone in front of machines. Running Moon is a result of such an indoor solitude experience. However, when I was creating Running Moon, I was thinking about the wind, the clouds, the moon, the stars, and the vast universe. It was fascinating how machines and digital creation became a bridge for me to connect with nature. While Running Moon does not directly depict any specific object or element, in my view, it has a solid connection to nature. Of course, it is up to the viewer to decide how to interpret the painting, but I am curious to see if Running Moon can deliver similar vibes to its viewers.
Licia He, They used to be fun, 2022.jpeg
Licia He, They used to be fun, 2022.
JD: Yes, it feels very organic and also closely connected to your plotting practice. Any final thoughts you’d like to share to help people better understand your art?
LH: I think art-viewing is subjective and personal. I prefer to let the image tell the story, especially for visual art. When I visit galleries and museums, I often try to avoid reading too much about the creators. If certain pieces catch my eye, I might then dig deeper into the background story, but my interpretation of the visual is still the most important part. I can certainly talk about Running Moon for days, but I prefer to let viewers develop their own understandings and interpretations. With that said, the project website does provide more detailed documentation of the piece.
JD: And what’s the best way for people to follow your work?
LH: I am quite active on social media because of my 100-day challenges and my website displays an official collection of my artwork. Thanks!

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