Christina Zhang, known as @cronchy_baguette on social media, is an art student from San Jose, California who is presently getting ready to study animation at USC School of Cinematic Arts!
With a wide range of stunning work, from her visual development pieces to her character designs and even sketchbook tours, Christina’s work is vibrant, full of movement and emotion, and displays an evident understanding of her skills. I found her work to be very captivating, so I reached out to get further insight on who she is as an artist and what her personal preferences are when it comes to art!
How would you describe your own work?
I don't think I'll ever be able to accurately describe my work, but what I hope it will feel like one day would be something akin to romantic—not as in love, but as in more than reality—la vie en rose, life in pink.
How long have you been making art and throughout that time, what mediums have you worked with?
I've been scribbling around for way longer than I can remember, but I've never been that experimental of an artist (something I'm trying to change). Nevertheless, art class, along with college applications, sort of forced me to try new materials: soft pastels, linoleum carving, ink printing, gouache, water-soluble oils, combining traditional and digital, etc. etc. Some things I liked, others not so much. As of now, I'm pretty much a digital person—but I'm trying to play around more with that as well.
What do you tend to focus on in your work and is there anything, whether from childhood or from today, that especially influences it?
What I focus on the most when I draw would be the vibes. All of my best work carry a very strong sense of some specific emotion; I want the viewer—including me—to be able to feel what they see. My favorite compliments are always the ones where the person is like, "This makes me feel so ___!" or "You captured ___so well!" When I drew that one piece of my characters exploring Shanghai, I felt so buzzed seeing people say that it reminded them perfectly of the city on summer evenings.
I think the media I consume are definitely the strongest influencers on my work. This ranges from media in my childhood like the original Teen Titans to stuff I watched just this past year like Arcane. Anything with a great story and compelling characters! I collect bits and pieces and try to weave them into my own work, like some sort of magpie.
From everything, what do you like to create most?
I love creating characters! I can't really describe it, but I get very excited when I have a good design for a personality I want to visualize. They're like vessels for the stories in my head; I can dress them with flaws and strengths, interests and beliefs, relationships and backstory. The whole reason I committed to art was because I wanted to accurately portray the character ideas I had.
How do you go about creating visual development pieces? Does it start off with thumbnail sketches or do you change things as you create the piece?
I definitely start out with thumbnail sketches! Then comes a color key to block out the basic color palette I'm going for. I keep this on the side for reference as I'm painting—seriously super helpful, since I can't visualize color in my head that well. I paint in flat colors first, and then lay on the lighting. Weirdly, I paint the people last; I think it helps to have the environment done first so I don't have to juggle so many things at once.
Is your creative process a conscious choice, intuitive, or a mixture of both?
To quote Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: "'You have all the equipment; you just need to read the manual!'" I started drawing based on devotion alone; of course, I wanted to do my subjects more justice, and so I had to learn observation, color theory, perspective, anatomy, and so on and so forth, all the things that refine the raw materials. Some people can pick this stuff up just by observing life and other art, but others have to do some amount of study before any of this becomes intuitive! For me, character work and line work are much more intuitive than environment painting. Because I'm not naturally inclined to color or anything like that, I have to help myself along with learned steps, unlike with character work where I can pretty much just throw myself in without a second thought. You may also have to spend a while unlearning bad habits you developed early on. To summarize: For me, active thinking eventually leads to intuition; it becomes a part of your muscle memory, and you can move on to more complex skills.
Your character design work is pretty cool so how do you go about designing characters? When did you create your personal original characters? If you have anything interesting to share about your characters, what you plan to do with them in the future, etc etc please do!
Most of my characters originally came from tropes I liked: edgy vampire, rogue warrior, magical schoolgirl, etc. etc. I also attached a primary emotion—like wonder, regret, bitterness, compassion—to each trope that played major roles in developing the characters and really helped lock in their personalities/mannerisms. As time went on, my characters eventually grew enough out of those tropes that they became their own people of sorts. Most of these characters were created in rapid succession between 6th and 7th grade; another round occurred early over lockdown.
Although most of them started out extremely one-dimensional, some of the characters I have are now part of actual stories I want to develop. Who knows—if the stars align, I might be able to share these stories with a wider audience.
What’s your favorite piece that you’ve created?
The favorite piece I've ever made is probably the character illustration of my character Sydney (schoolgirl with poofy black hair) running in a red dress and white sneakers, saxophone case strapped to her back. The outfit is actually based on a kpop singer's outfit in a music video (specifically Lia's red dress and white sneakers from ICY by ITZY). It just carries really good energy and makes my brain buzz whenever I see it.