Mmatcha’s beautiful tonal illustrations capture the countless details of daily life

Shanghai-based artist Mmatcha, also known as Lichen Zhu, focuses on small moments of daily life and the characters that inhabit them in her joyfully tonal illustrations.

Mmatcha’s journey as an illustrator has taken her on a surprising route. After graduating from the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Art, she moved across the world to Sheffield Hallam University to complete her studies. But instead of illustration, she initially focused on interior design.

Switching disciplines paid off, though, as Mmatcha has gone on to work with the likes of Grazia, Marie Claire and Elle Men. However, she reveals that her background in interior design was not a waste of time; in fact, it continues to feed into her work, which is instantly recognisable by its rich tones and cheerful aesthetic, to this day.

Speaking to Creative Boom, Mmatcha explains how she gradually moved into illustration: “Back in Sheffield, while I was immersed in my interior design studies, I had a strong affinity for decorative design. I’d often be found in the library, poring over magazines and books dedicated to the art of decoration.

“Some of these resources explored the use of illustrations in interior design. Moreover, through my studies, I picked up a habit of sketching to capture everyday life. As time went by, I became increasingly drawn to the world of illustration.

“What’s quite amusing is that I’d spend much of my free time in the school’s studio, sketching out illustration drafts. To the point where even some fellow students who didn’t know me well thought I was an illustration major.”

Far from being mundane and familiar, Mmatcha focuses on everyday details because they contain fascinating surprises. “In our daily lives, even though things may seem routine, there are always countless details worth observing, capturing, and sketching,” she reveals. “Whether it’s a delicious meal, strangers on the street, or the way sunlight filters through the trees and paints patterns on the walls.”

Plants and people are recurring subjects in Mmatcha’s work, and through clever composition, she can turn these recognisable elements into something new and intriguing. “I have a deep appreciation for plants, even though I’m not particularly skilled at caring for them!” she jokes.

“So, I often find myself drawn to botanical gardens to observe them. Plants have a way of making me feel relaxed and content. They are teeming with intricate details, and each one is unique. This is where I draw inspiration for my illustrations.”

When it comes to drawing people, Mmatcha is especially interested in capturing their clothing, a habit she puts down to her background in interior design and interest in architecture. “These two elements have become significant factors in my artworks,” she says. “I like how the people are dynamic, while the architecture is static.

“People move through different architectural spaces, leaving their traces. They may be heading to work or meeting someone, and that’s the storyline. I want to arrange them in my illustrations, using my visual language to tell their stories, like in my Portal series, where people come and go through doors.”

The final element knitting all of Mmatcha’s work together is her abundant use of tone. She focuses on using bright colours to create cheerful and pleasant illustrations. “Abundant colours make my work joyful and light,” she says. “To express a quiet or sombre feeling, I prefer using a monochromatic colour scheme, such as shades of blue.”

Mmatcha concludes: “I hope my work can bring people a sense of joy, relaxation, fun, and resonance. I believe there is room for improvement regarding how we experience fun. It’s like stepping into a dessert shop you’ve never been to before and being pleasantly surprised and delighted after tasting all the food on offer.”

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