Victo Ngai

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Victo Ngai 倪傳婧
Nationality (legal)Chinese
Alma materRhode Island School of Design
Known forillustration, Fine Art

Victo Ngai (born 1988) is an American illustrator raised in Hong Kong.[1][2] Her work has been described as being highly detailed and precise, referencing comic book drawings, classic children's book illustrations, the work of Japanese painters, and more. Illustrations created by the artist are often considered to contain compelling imagery and unique styling.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Ngai (pronounced nye), was given the name of Victoria, which she later shortened to Victo. Born in Guangdong Province and raised in the former British colony of Hong Kong, current Chinese SAR[4] as the only child of middle-class parents, Ngais' father worked in finance and her mother worked in a variety of jobs, including professor of Chinese literature, newspaper editor and the manager of an investment company. Often bedridden with high fevers until the age of six she took to drawing as a way to keep herself entertained. Her mother sought out traditional herbal treatments, which not only ended her fevers but also inspired her mother's next career as a doctor of Chinese medicine[1]

Her great uncle was a surgeon with a passion for meticulous Chinese ink painting and drawing with him was one of her first art encounters. Ngai also went to many museum exhibitions with her mother as a child.[3]

The artist's family moved from place to place often when she was young, which did not allow for lasting friendships and as a result her childhood was a largely solitary one. Ngai would later credit the instability in her early life with the birth of her artistic identity.[5]

Ngai's mother first noticed her artistic talented and feared that "rigidly technical Chinese art taught in school was stifling it." For two years during summer vacation, Ngai was taken to a private art teacher in Shenzhen on mainland China, which although geographically close, was like "visiting another country" because of the customs immigration process, according to the artist. It was there that Ngai's creative confidence began to flourish.[1]

When Ngai started thinking about an education in illustration, it was a difficult decision, because the artist and her family believed there was a prejudice in Asia against art and design. Her father hoped she would go into finance as a career.[6]

A friend who studied art at Yale, recommended the Rhode Island School of Design and that was the only school she applied to.[7] Ngai was accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006[8] where she was mentored by the award-winning illustrator, Chris Buzelli,[9][1] who importantly taught the young artist that an individual style is something you have to search for within, and not search for outside.[7]

Artistic influences[edit]

The artist drew early influences from the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige[3] and her college instructor, Chris Buzelli[7] She also gained inspiration from Norman Rockwell, Windsor McCay, Mary Blair and the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.[10]


When asked why she became an illustrator instead of a fine artist, Ngai replied, "One of my RISD professors told me this back in freshmen year, 'Fine artists like to create problems for themselves while illustrators like to solve problems given to them'. I love drawing and I love problem solving, hence illustration."[8]

Ngai's first work in print appeared in 2009, a year before graduation from RISD, with a work titled Bells and Whistles for PLANSPONSOR Magazine, art directed by SooJin Buzelli.[11][12][5] Her second client would be the New York Times'.[1] The artist's next important client would be The New Yorker, which Ngai credited to a portfolio review with Jordan Awan, a former art director at The New Yorker, through a reference by New York Times art director Aviva Michaelov. Working for The New Yorker, the artist began illustrating music reviews and other smaller illustrations and eventually got assignments to work on the full-page fiction pieces.[3] Many of the artist's New Yorker works were art directed by Chris Curry.[13] When creating the first larger format works for The New Yorker, Ngai had no experience in illustrating for fiction and had to confront new creative challenges.[3]

Ngai would go on to illustrate for newspapers, magazines, book publishers and corporate clients such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Penguin Random House, Abrams Books, Macmillan, General Electric, Lufthansa Airline, NBC, PGA, IMAX, McDonald's, the New York City Subway, Apple, Audible, and Infiniti.[14][15]

In 2018 Ngai created The Victo Ngai Scholarship Award for the Student Competition held by the Society of Illustrators. The award was presented in honor of Chris Buzelli and the first recipient was Minjua An.[16]

Noted works[edit]

Books and film
  • Wishes (book illustration), 2021, by Muon Thi Van, published by Orchard Books/ Scholastic[17]
  • Serving Fish (book illustration), 2018, by Christopher Caldwell awarded Gold Medal, Spectrum 25 2018
  • Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (book illustrations), 2017, published by Lerner Books, authored by Chris Barton, art directed by Danielle Carnitoa and given the Dilys Evans Founder's Award, by the Society of Illustrators
  • Following The Great Wall (book illustrations), 2017, published by Lonely Planet Kids, authored by Stewart Ross
  • Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies (book illustrations), The Folio Society, 2015
  • Dark Fairy Tales, (book cover illustration), art directed by Tian Hang, published by Tang Hang Books, 2015. In Society of Illustrators 57 and American Illustration 34 annuals.
  • Time out of Time, (book cover illustration), authored by Maureen McQuerry, art directed by Chad Beckerman, published by Abrams, 2015. In Society of Illustrators 57 and Spectrum 22 annuals.
  • The Wound and the Gift (movie illustrations), 2014
  • Vicious (the artist's first book cover illustration[18]) authored by V.E. Schwab, art directed by Irene Gallo, 2013, published by Tor Books

Working process[edit]

Ngai reads her work assignment text and then narrows the theme of her illustration concept down to the essence of the story, usually focusing on a few phrases or short sentences within the text. Afterwards she likes to have some distance from the material, knowing that for her, the best idea comes when she's not thinking too hard. When an idea for a final work presents itself, Ngai shows her client with at least 3 sketches or options.[7]

Her line work is done with nib pens or rapidograph pens. The textures are done on different pieces of paper with various mediums, like graphite, acrylic and oil pastels. Her final drawings are eventually brought into Photoshop and colored digitally,[5] while working in a limited color palette.[3]

Nearing completion of a work, if it fulfills the commission, or purpose of it and Ngai imagines the people who see the art work might also enjoy the piece as a stand-alone art object, she knows she is done and delivers the work to her client.[7] Ngai signs her works with a symbol, characteristic of a traditional Chinese seal, in which the symbol looks like the first Chinese character of her given name, "傳", but when turned counter clockwise reads "Victo".[19]

Because her work is so labor-intensive, finished works may take three to four days to complete.[20]


Ngai has taught at the School of Visual Arts New York, The Illustration Academy and gives guest lectures and workshops at universities and conferences.[21]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2014, at age 26, Ngai was named as one of Forbes Magazine's 30 Under 30 recipients in the category of Art and Style[22] She has received a number of notable awards that include;

Personal life[edit]

Ngai lives in Los Angeles, California and works in a converted loft space in the Art District of Downtown Los Angeles which she shares with her husband who runs an architecture firm.[41]


  1. ^ a b c d e Apfelbaum, Sue (13 March 2014). "Victo Ngai". Communication Arts. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  2. ^ "30 Under 30 2014". Forbes. Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Newman, Robert (2015-04-02). "Illustrator Profile - Victo Ngai". American Illustration. Retrieved 2018-04-11.>
  4. ^ "Victo Ngai: Forbes's Youngest Illustrator Girl". iD. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  5. ^ a b c "Books Behind Pictures Victo Ngai". Old Book Illustrations. Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  6. ^ Victo Ngai - Like Knows Like (video). 2014-01-06. Event occurs at 0:42. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Design Manifestos: Victo Ngai". Modello Blog.
  8. ^ a b James, Thomas (2014-02-01). "IF Interview: Victo Ngai". Illustration Friday. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  9. ^ "RISD Faculty Chris Buzelli". Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  10. ^ A Look Inside Victo Ngai's Apartment (video). Forge. Art Magazine. 2014-04-01. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  11. ^ Schum, Joshua (2010-08-05). "Feature Victo Ngai". Ballista Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  12. ^ Stucky, David Patrick (2010-08-17). "Artist Spotlight: Victo Ngai". Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  13. ^ "The New Yorker Collection". Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  14. ^ "ADC Annual Awards Jury". The Art Directors Club. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  15. ^ "Rhode Island School of Design Portfolios". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  16. ^ "Student Scholarship 2018 Award Winners". Retrieved 2020-02-15.
  17. ^ Van, Muon Thi (2021). Wishes. Scholastic Incorporated. ISBN 9781338305890. Retrieved 2021-04-24.
  18. ^ Gallo, Irene (2013-03-05). "Illustrating the Cover to V. E. Schwab's Vicious". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  19. ^ Grimes, Madeline (2016-02-22). "Four Freedoms & Art: Q&A with Victo Ngai". Retrieved 2018-04-15.
  20. ^ Victo Ngai Interview For FORGE Issue 3 (video). 2014-02-21. Event occurs at 4:52. Retrieved 2018-04-13.
  21. ^ "Victo Ngai – The Key of Honesty – Artist Profile". 2017-02-09. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  22. ^ "Under 30". Forbes Magazine. Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  23. ^ "'A Rebel's Outcry' Receives California Book Award". Rafu Shimpo. June 7, 2022. Archived from the original on December 11, 2023. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  24. ^ "Hamilton King Awards". Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  25. ^ "Illustrators 61 Award Winners". Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  26. ^ "Spectrum 25 Awards Recipients!". Spectrum Fantastic Art. 2018-05-06.
  27. ^ Gartenberg, Chaim (2019-08-19). "Women swept the Hugo Awards — again".
  28. ^ "BSFA Award 2018 winners from the British Science Fiction Association". Techtly. 2018-03-31. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  29. ^ "ADC Awards 2018". The One Club for Creativity. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  30. ^ "2018 Hugo Awards". 15 March 2018. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  31. ^ "The Original Art 2017 Exhibit". Society of Illustrators. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  32. ^ "Illustrators 59 Book & Editorial". Society of Illustrators. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  33. ^ "VICTO NGAI "COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI"". 2015-10-01. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  34. ^ a b c "Magazine Covers (Collection)". Rhode Island School of Design. September 2016. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  35. ^ "Winners! ASBPE 2013 National Awards". 2013-07-27. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  36. ^ "Illustrators 55 Award Winners". Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  37. ^ Gallo, Irene (2012-11-12). "Victo Ngai wins a Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for "Jacks and Queens"". TOR. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  38. ^ Calver, Dave. "VICTO NGAI "BEST OF THE BEST"". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  39. ^ "Illustration Victo Ngai". HYDE Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  40. ^ "2010 Student Scholarship Competition". Society of Illustrators. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  41. ^ "Meet the ICON10 Board Q&A". ICON, The Illustration Conference. Retrieved 2018-04-20.

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