Every now and then an illustration comes along that becomes a cultural phenomenon. The “Fail Whale” has become one of those images.
The whale appears on the microblogging / social network, Twitter, every time their servers slow down – which in recent months, has been very often. As frustration with the service grew, Fail Whale sightings increased. The cute pastel image became a lightning rod for Twitter-users’ frustrations.
Yiying Lu is the artist behind the Fail Whale. I was surprised to learn that Yiying was not paid directly for the image – she originally posted the image to iStockPhoto.com where the Twitter people picked it up.
Last week, I asked Yiying a few questions about her experience. Here are her responses:
1) What was the inspiration for the whale and birds illustration?
It was initially created as a birthday e-card for an overseas friend of mine when I was in my last year study at University – expressing my: Sorry I am failed to be there across the ocean, but here is a little console from my heart. The whale is a self metaphor. Hence the original name I had for that artwork was “lifting a dreamer”.
2) Are you surprised by all the attention the ‘Fail Whale’ is receiving?
Actually, both Yes and No:
“Yes” because it was surprising how perfect my whale illustration fits twitter’s brand, and even more perfectly how the whale and the birds fit their “over capacity, too many tweets” usage â€“ the huge whale being carried by the little birdies. Once it was in use, I guess it was not surprising that people would fall in love with the whale â€“ he is really cute. That little image has been the most effective piece of damage control that company could have hoped for: turning a service interruption into a loveable thing! I am surprised how Biz Stone managed to find the image on iStockphoto among 3 million other images, but then that is how the universe works.
“No” because I’m confident with my artwork, as they are made from heart so it wasn’t surprising to see they bring the attention.
3) Will you continue to use stock photo web sites in the future? Would you recommend it to other artists?
I will reserve my comment about this for now. I am currently having a variety of discussions about the licensing of my works.
4) Which artists do you look to for inspiration?
Lots – RenÃ© Magritte, Alan Fletcher, Saul Steinberg, Bruno Munari, Salvador DalÃ, Shel Silverstein, Feng Zikai, Yoshida Sensya, Ito Junji and many more. Music Artists like RÃ¶yksopp, Air, the Buggles, Daft Punk and so on..
5) What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on the entire branding & packaging design for PetPhilosophy; starting to re-design the identity of infowi.se; some design projects on LancÃ´me and Shu Uemura. I’m also planning to work on some children’s books, CD cover arts and some personal design / illustration projects. And of course, taking care of my whale. He has made the biggest splash so far.
Yiying Lu is a full-time artist. She runs her own illustration / graphic design studio and is also a design lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.