In Conversation with Licia He

In Conversation with Licia He

Step into the mesmerizing world of Licia He's artistry, a seamless fusion of technology and emotion. From intriguing 100-day challenges to the forefront of digital art, witness the evolution of Licia's unique artistic vision, where code and creativity converge.


Can you share the story of how your artistic journey began, especially the pivotal moment when you switched from an English major to studio art?

I have had a passion for craft for as long as I can remember. I loved learning things like knitting, origami, and beading, but I didn't imagine myself making art a career in my childhood and teenage years. I entered college as an English major but got placed in a photography course instead of an English 101. It was a traditional photography class where we printed everything in the darkroom. I was obsessed with the printing process. 

When I enter the darkroom, time stops. I vividly remember that one night, I was so focused on the printing that I accidentally pulled an all-nighter. As I stepped outside the darkroom, I received many missed calls from my worried roommate and realized I needed to make art. Soon after that, I switched my major to Studio Art.  One or two semesters later, I rediscovered my love for math, so I majored in Studio Art and Computer Science (CS) instead of English. 

How does your unique cross-disciplinary background, Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and Computer Science, influence your approach to generative art and human-computer interaction?

I could not connect art and CS when I studied them during college. I learned both disciplines entirely separately. Learning both fields through a more traditional approach helped me to build solid foundations in both fields. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that I needed to figure out how to connect my passion in these areas after graduation. As a result, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Information Science, where I can explore fields like Data Visualization, Information Retrieval, and Human-Computer Interaction. This cross-disciplinary education is crucial to my work because it led me to code-based generative art. It also gave me lenses to understand and appreciate works in both disciplines. 


As a generative artist, you use an expressive visual language to communicate emotion and experiences. What approach do you take when creating this language, and what influences your creative decisions?

The development of my visual language is a gradual and iterative process. When I started making generative art, I painted whatever came to my mind and whatever I could make. I remember my early works were filled with rectangles and lines because I didn't know how to create curves. As I make more art, I experiment and learn so that I can identify elements, composition, and colors that speak to me. I also expanded my software library during the process. 

With thousands of paintings and sketches, I gradually built my visual language and a toolkit that supports this language. The language is constantly evolving. Based on the concept of each project, I am learning and building. There are many sources of influence for creative decisions, but the primary influence is my intuition. Finding and trusting intuition is an essential yet challenging aspect of my art practice.  

Your work bridges digital and physical painting practices through plotters, how does this combination enhance or influence your artistic expression?

I am passionate about materials, especially art materials. Creating screen-based art is fascinating and enjoyable, but giving digitally-created works a material presence gave me satisfaction that nothing can compare to. Therefore, the plotter-enabled workflow is the central pillar of my art practice. There are many reasons why I love the plotter and code combination, but the most attractive factor for me is that it gives me a new way of thinking. To work with a plotter, I learned to "speak" the language of the plotter. This language imposes a set of constraints that define plotter-based work. I always enjoy working with these constraints and exploring underexplored areas in this creative space. 

You've participated in 100-day challenges creating generative plotter paintings. What motivates you to take on these challenges, and how do they impact your creative exploration?

When I started plotting in 2019, I wanted to join the #inktober challenge, where you create something with ink for 30 days. I have had multiple attempts to streak challenges like this but have yet to succeed. Surprisingly, I love plotters so much that I had a perfect 30-day streak and wanted more, so I extended it to 100 days and did it repeatedly. I stopped counting after 900 days because the daily practice had already become a habit. Creating and sharing work daily have a profound positive impact on my art journey in many ways. I gained skills, confidence, the ability to overcome frustrations, and the structure to create rapidly. But the most important thing I gained is the certainty that I absolutely love what I do, to the point that I can do this over and over again. 


You often use multicultural experiences as inspirations for your art. Can you share a specific instance where your cultural background significantly influenced one of your works?

I started traveling and living outside my home country in my teenage years. In these foreign countries, I also moved quite frequently. These multicultural experiences are packed with adventure, excitement, challenges, and emotions. When I create art, what I experienced as a traveler, a foreigner, and a newcomer naturally appears in my work. Sparkling Goodbye, a long-form generative painting collection I released in 2023, is a good example. It was created soon after I relocated from the USA to the UK. At that time, I had lived in the USA for more than a decade, whereas I had never visited the UK before. You can imagine all the chaotic and bubbly emotions I had then. I poured all of that emotion into the Sparkling Goodbye collection so that it turned out to be more or less an abstract self portrait that is chaotic and bubbly at the same time.

In an interview, you’ve once commented on the importance of quantity in the creative process. Could you elaborate on how quantity contributes to the development of good ideas and artistic growth?

Frequent practice is the only reliable way for me to improve anything. If we imagine an art journey as an actual journey where artists are placed in an unknown world, then each practice is like a step. The step could take me into new territory or back to where I've started. These practices don't guarantee that I will end up where I want to be, but they at least take me somewhere. If I can create more frequently, I have a better chance to see more and experience more. Besides, if I only walk one step a year, that step is a crucial part of my journey. In contrast, if I can walk 100 steps a year, I give myself space to make mistakes. 


Your journey into NFTs started with the -GRAPH exhibition. Can you share your thoughts on entering the crypto art space and how it has influenced your artistic career?

-GRAPH is an exhibition that changed my career path. Before this exhibition, art was always the passion project on the side. I also had very little idea about the crypto space. It was fascinating to share my passion with a larger audience, also gaining the hope that I could grow my passion into a career. It's not an overstatement to say that -GRAPH opened a new world for me.


Could you delve into the inspiration behind "Running Moon," exploring the watercolor painting that initiated the concept and its evolution into a python-based algorithm and plotter paintings?

The core concept behind "Running Moon" is expansion. I developed the idea through a watercolor painting in 2021. I loved the concept and decided to translate it into code. I implemented the idea in Python. It was an algorithm that produced instructions for plotter paintings. Many outputs of this algorithm were my favorite paintings of that year, so I decided to expand it further. ArtBlocks started accepting applications around that time, so I redeveloped the concept in Javascript as my first long-form collection. 


As an artist, you provide your perspective, but viewers may interpret your work differently. What is something that surprised you in how viewers interpreted and connected with "Running Moon"?

That's an interesting question. To be honest, I don't recall any surprising comments, probably because I didn't expect how viewers would react. Art-viewing experiences are deeply personal, so I am not particularly shocked by any interpretations. I do recall getting questions regarding whether the algorithm contains pre-drawn assets, maybe because of the rich texture in the work. It made me want to document and present my development process more clearly because it is also an essential part of the story. 

Looking ahead, what future projects or themes do you aspire to explore in your art? How do you envision the evolution of your artistic journey?

I am always excited about recording and presenting information. Creating art is a way for me to record my experience. I plan to continue to learn about the world around me and myself. I also want to find better ways to present them. The medium I work with (code, machines, and art supplies) fascinates me, so even though I don't know the specific themes and concepts, I know my future art will involve lots of code, robots, and paints. 

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