An Interview with Cindy Wu

No stranger to change and adaptation, artist and Air Force Spouse Cindy Wu navigates the unpredictability of military life and the uncertainties of this pandemic with new ideas and optimism. Cindy’s background, mediums and experiences are varied, and she is always open to learn something new.

MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Cindy: I grew up in Olathe, KS, a fairly quiet and uneventful town. I am the only daughter, but youngest of three children. My spouse and I are currently at the Presidio of Monterey, CA.

I met my spouse, Tony, during my freshman year of high school, and we began dating during my sophomore year. We’ve spent almost half of our relationship being apart, as he moved almost immediately after we started dating. However, after graduating high school, Tony and I traveled to China together to study Chinese at Jinan University for almost one year. When I returned from China, I moved to California to attend college with Tony.  

From then to now, I attended Santa Monica College, Johnson County Community College, Mt San Jacinto College, and then finally graduated from University of California Irvine. 

Tony joined the Air Force in 2018, and we got married shortly after we celebrated our nine-year anniversary. I’ve been a military spouse for a year and a half now, but it all still feels pretty new to me. When we had gotten married, it was the beginning of my last year in college, almost right after he arrived in Monterey, CA for his tech school. I flew back to Anaheim, CA the day after, and we spent the next year apart with me at UCI and him at DLI. When I finally moved to Monterey, I finally felt like I had become a military spouse.

MilspoFAN: How did you become a visual artist?

Cindy: I knew I wanted to become a visual artist from a very young age. Both of my parents are not only traditional artists, but also first-generation immigrants from Guangzhou, China.  Knowing limited English, they made ends meet for several years by running their own art classes; my mother taught a children’s drawing class in our basement, while my father taught an adults’ sculpting class in his studio. Their artistic inclinations greatly influenced me as a child, especially since they held drawing and sculpting just as important subjects as reading and writing.

Even though teachers would discourage me from drawing during elementary school, I knew that becoming a visual artist was the path for me; no other field brought that joyous feeling that creating art did. However, when I started college, I realized I had no idea how I would “become” a visual artist, as the programs and networking were a disappointment.  Six years ago, I began teaching myself how to paint with acrylics. I didn’t have much sense of direction, but I opened an Etsy shop with a sliver of hope for selling my own art (I was still in college, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to give it my 100%). My first several paintings were fan art (subjects from video games/TV shows/movies), but after they sold, people started contacting me for commissions. The more I painted, the more I began to develop a sense for my skill and direction.

MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your art work?

Cindy: My artwork is best described as an amalgamation of all of my experiences and inspirations, in that there’s a lot of oppositional forces in my art, like a sort of yinyang. When I wasn’t drawing, I grew up reading books, playing video games, and watching movies/TV, all of which usually fell in the fantasy genre. So, the fantasy element of my work is heavily derived from those. Throughout school, I was one of the few Asians in my grade, so I constantly felt like an outsider longing for representation. Because of this, I found myself leaning toward Asian aesthetics in not only my work, but also my personal style. Funny enough, I also simultaneously developed an interest for European styles, some of which originate from the Victorian era and The Renaissance. Yet, these visual tones are also juxtaposed by gritty, gothic elements. As aforementioned with the yinyang sense, there’s a lot of dark vs light, good vs evil, or even East vs West themes throughout my work.

As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety throughout the entirety of my life, I know that they have had a massive effect on my art. Art has been an outlet for my emotions, that my works now channel a lot of my emotions. I feel there is a lot of sorrow and pain in my work, yet these feelings are offset by some of my other works that feature determination and hopefulness, a reflection of myself.

As for a more technical description of my work, my style is best described as semi-realistic hinging on Impressionism.  I primarily enjoy painting portraits of women from my own imagination. My main medium of choice is oil paint, but I often incorporate the sense of dimensionality into my pieces. Not only through the use of chiaroscuro, but also through impasto painting. I really do love being able to “sculpt” in my paintings.  My paintings have also been described as being “dreamlike”, and I believe that is achieved through my usually large palette of various bright colors, that are not accurate to the subject, but more accurate to the feeling.

MilspoFAN: You changed colleges five times. How did you keep continuity in your education while changing institutions? How did the different colleges change the course of your art career?

Cindy: I think one of my greatest setbacks and mistakes in my life was attending college. Specifically, attending the wrong colleges. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in China, it did put me behind by one year, as its credits were not accepted at American colleges. My plan after moving to California was to go through two years of community college, and then transfer to a university; it seemed simple, but at the time I had no idea how poor a school’s art department could be. If I had done proper research, I might have attended an art school to begin with or just avoided college altogether.

Attending Santa Monica College was just the beginning of my disillusions of college art classes. After one semester of SMC, I could no longer afford living in Los Angeles, so I moved back to Kansas where I took online courses from Johnson County Community College for another semester. If I were to rank my college experiences from best to worst, JCCC would rank at the top of my list. I didn’t take any studio courses, but I took art history and even fashion history, which compelled me the most. When I moved back to California, I transferred to Mt San Jacinto College. However, half of my credits from SMC and JCCC did not transfer, so I ended up taking similar courses. I spent 2 years at MSJC, and the art courses there were actually what I expected college art classes to be. I could feel my creativity and skill grow at MSJC.

Even though I graduated from University of California Irvine, that school ranks at the bottom of my list.  At UCI, my creativity felt stifled, and I felt like I was forced to conform to not what “modern art” is, but to what each art professor specifically wanted.  By the time I had reached UCI, I already knew what direction I wanted to take my art, but I sought refinement, so I was even more disappointed by the lack of resources and educated guidance at UCI. It’s funny; I feel like my spiteful character is what helped me survive two grueling years at UCI. I feel like I came out of that school like a stubborn weed that just wouldn’t die.

MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?

Cindy: I’m no stranger to having creative blocks; I’ve had one last for several years. But I know that I cultivated my creativity by allowing myself to be exposed to different subsets of art, no matter how strange or divergent they may be.

For instance, there was a time I had wanted to study fashion design and spent years furiously sketching out designs for my own fashion lines. From there, I became interested in apparel construction and started sewing my own clothing. Learning sewing led me into the world of cosplay, where I began to create my own costumes as well as learning to pick up a makeup brush.  Through this tumultuous journey, I was able to constantly create new projects. Even though I felt at a loss when I thought of drawing or painting, I was at least creating, which I feel is extremely necessary for an artist.

Learning new mediums is only part of the process; it is just as important to open myself to other arts and media. Whenever I see a picture I like (could be a photo or painting), I save it to my phone or computer, and it becomes a part of my collection used for inspiration or reference for future work. This goes the same for playing video games or watching movies or TV shows, as I like to note favorable visual themes or approaches in these works.

MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?

Cindy: COVID-19 has really affected my husband’s and my life. My husband has been anxiously waiting on his new orders, so we have been living in what feels like limbo for the past 2 months. We don’t know when and where we’ll move to next.

Before lockdown, I had been working two part-time jobs to help pay bills, but I’ve been out of work since. On the bright side, staying home has allowed me to begin streaming my art again. I also started holding commission sales, and I’ve been working through those steadily. I’m hoping that my art stream will continue to grow as I accrue more viewers. I’m currently testing out prints of some of my most popular paintings, and even though I’m living in limbo, I’m hoping to continue creating cosplays after I PCS with my husband.

MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?

Cindy: Be self-aware. I feel like this is the most critical piece of advice that artists must remind themselves of. It keeps me humble, and it keeps me cognizant of my own abilities. Be self-aware of your limits, your weaknesses. Know what you lack in and strive to supplement that area. You can never be good enough, so always aim to improve. What can you do better? Recognize an artist who is strong in an area where you falter and study that artist, study their works and what techniques they employ. 

You are not the best, and that’s okay! Find your strength and capitalize on it. You may not be the best there ever was, but you are you. Your strengths make you unique, so use your strengths to constantly mold and improve your art. The one thing any artist should be most afraid of is stagnancy.

Find Cindy at these links:
Facebook: facebook.com/cyntheawindervaux

Instagram: instagram.com/cyntheawindervaux

Shop: etsy.com/shop/cyntheawindervaux

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