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How to capture the art of storytelling with illustrator and animator Joey Yu

As part of our partnership with Huawei and its global smartphone photography competition Next-Image awards 2020, we spoke to Joey Yu about her craft of storytelling and her ability to capture the Positive Power of Creativity to depict fascinating narratives using a Huawei P40 Pro.

The London-based illustrator can turn the simple action of people-watching into a spectacular experience of vibrant colours and storytelling. For Yu, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is or where she is, there’s always a reason to create—and always a reason to inspire others, too. In order to understand the thought process behind capturing the art of storytelling through illustration, we spoke to Yu about what it takes to capture a powerful narrative into a series of images.

Are you also a storyteller? We want to see your series of photographs! Capture a story on your Huawei smartphone and submit it to the Huawei Next-Image awards 2020 for the chance to win a creation fund of up to $10,000 USD.

Storyteller: How to create a captivating narrative with Joey Yu

For her participation in the Huawei Next-Image awards 2020, Yu picked the ‘Storyteller’ category. After all, providing a narrative and expressing emotions through a series of images is what Yu does best. “For the ‘Storyteller’ category, which is all about creating narratives I thought I would make a world inside of a world—just like a paper inception. I made a really big paper landscape, put myself inside of it while making a smaller drawing inside of it.”

Creating an immersive narrative, Yu captured a story within a story by using her smartphone in a captivating way. “Obviously, there was a lot of information I wanted to capture, preferably with a wide-angle camera lens, which the Huawei P40 Pro has. It just let me fit everything into the image—the details, the colours, the sharpness, all of that information is just packed into one image.”

Taking the meaning of storytelling as a means to record a sequence of moments in time, Yu chose to put herself within her work, and quite literally step into her own narrative as it subtly develops, one pencil stroke at a time.

How to capture the art of storytelling with illustrator and animator Joey Yu

Immersive art is part of Yu’s main inspiration, “I love that feeling of immersive art and being able to step into a painting.” Keeping this inspiration in mind in her submission for the Huawei Next-Image awards 2020, Yu wanted to highlight how important it is as an artist to be able to narrate a story using drawings and images, “I’ve taken that quite literally in what I’ve created—hopefully, it communicates.”

How to capture the art of storytelling with illustrator and animator Joey Yu

Use storytelling as a tool of its own

“I think storytelling is the reason why I do what I do today. When I was little, I would read a lot and I would take those words and those images that I was looking at. Using those to just daydream was the biggest form of magic you could get—it still is today. And being able to get so many emotions from just a few bits of paper, a single image is what I decided would be my life,” Yu told us.

As an artist, being able to tell someone’s story through illustration, film, photography—you name it—does more than captivating your audience; it allows you to express and share with the world something that would otherwise stay untold. Capturing these feelings and expressing them through whichever medium you pick is what creativity truly is about.

How to capture the art of storytelling with illustrator and animator Joey Yu

Over time, Yu started using her daydreaming nature into her craft as a tool of its own. Illustration became the perfect way of telling stories, be that her own story or any she’s created from just looking at strangers on the street. Yu elevates these familiar, seemingly ordinary aspects of life and transforms them into magical and poetic moments.

Know which creative approach you would pick to tell your story in a series of photographs? Capture a story on your Huawei smartphone and share it with the world by submitting it to the Huawei Next-Image awards 2020 for the chance to win a creation fund of up to $10,000 USD.

New gen bosses: Kelia Anne on how she survived on frozen dumplings before photographing Lil Nas X for the cover of TIME

New gen bosses is a new series created to guide and inspire more people to go out there on their own, either as new business founders or freelancers. And what better way to do that than to ask the ones that already succeed at it? We want to know about big fuck-ups and even bigger successes, and the risky decisions they had to make along the way. We want to be the last little push you needed.

Job title: Photographer
Industry: Fashion and portraiture
Company founder or freelancer: Freelancer
How long have you been doing it: 5 years
Age: 26
Location: Los Angeles, California

What pushed you to start on your own?

I blame being raised as an only child for a stubborn sense of independence. I struggled with making images that weren’t ‘my own’. Two years ago, this frustration and lack of satisfaction pushed me to save up one month’s rent, pack up my car, and drive to LA. Somehow I’m still here.

What was the very first thing you needed to do to set everything up?

Truly, I just needed human connections. It was humbling when I realised that I wasn’t going to be successful with the stubborn independence I mentioned. It’s impossible for me to make art unless I have humans to collaborate and grow with. Making friends in Los Angeles is difficult, but when you find the right team, everything falls into place.

What was the riskiest decision you had to take?

I had enough money to live in Los Angeles for one month, but I did it anyway. This city loves extravagance, but Trader Joe’s frozen dumplings really saved me.

What was a skill you didn’t foresee needing that you had to learn?

I didn’t expect to interact with so many difficult personalities through this process. There will always be a human that you cannot connect with, a human that won’t speak to you respectfully, a human that doesn’t value your work. The biggest lesson for me was learning to stand up for myself and not compromise on my value.


Everywhere around us, new gens are founding businesses and redefining their careers. New gen bosses is here to inspire those who might want to do the same, this time with extra tips, some lols from those who have been there, done that, and £20 in your new ANNA business account if you dare to take the leap.

At what moment did you realise that this was going to work out?

My favourite memory so far is seeing my cover of Playboy on my friend’s coffee table. Things felt right, yet wildly humbling.

What did you spend your money on?

Trader Joe’s and film processing.

What was your biggest fuck up?

One time my camera was on the ‘emergency setting’ and I shot 40 rolls of film underexposed by 2 stops. That kind of fuck up will teach you to check the emergency setting every dang time.

What was your biggest success?

Oof, this is hard to answer. I’m very proud to have shot the cover of TIME. The amount of respect and reputation the publication has, and the fact that they trusted me to make something. Working with Lil’ Nas X felt like making history. I mean, he did make history. I got to capture that.


What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

I used to think that if you were technically capable, you could be a great photographer. I’ve learned now that my technical ability has become 0.01 per cent of my images. That part is second nature. The rest of my work is my connection with the people I’m photographing. (I’m sure a lot of tech nerds are rolling their eyes at this. Sorry.)

What are three tips you would give someone who wants to start on their own?

One: There will always be a backup plan. Failure is a concept relative to your perspective.

Two: Trust your gut. Trust the images you feel proud of. Trust your intuition. This work is yours.

Three: Stand up for yourself (respectfully, of course). Being an artist is painfully personal. Do not let someone make you feel less than because of the incredible gift you are utilising, nurturing and demonstrating. You’re strong, but you’re also graceful.

Feel like you wouldn’t have to survive on frozen dumplings? There’s only one way to find out. Take the leap, open an ANNA business card completely free of charge for the first 3 months and get £20 in it, too.

Want to discuss taking the leap with other new gens? You’re in luck! We’ve created New Gen Bosses, a Facebook group to continue and expand the conversation started through this new series.