Chinese artist captures the world with poster for del Toro's film



Considering its success at both the Oscars and the box office, The Shape of Water is definitely one of the highlights of the past six months in China. Going down the street, posters for the film can be seen everywhere at bus stops, subway stations and shopping centers.

The Chinese poster for the film in particular gained traction on social media in China after Guillermo del Toro, the film's director, tweeted about it online.

The Chinese poster for The Shape of Water

Receiving some 66,000 "likes" on Twitter, the poster is painted in the style of a traditional Chinese watercolor and depicts the two main characters of the film, a woman and a monster-like fish man, floating upside down against a white and blue background.

"Wow, it is so dreamlike, feels like they are living in a fairy tale, and the style is like an ancient freehand sketch," commented netizen Xu Tangguo on the Sina Weibo account of the poster's creator Lu He.

Less is more

According to Lu, a 27-year-old artist from Southwest China's Sichuan Province, Guillermo chose the emptiest poster among many the versions he painted for the film.

"I just painted the two main characters and choose to blur out the background," Lu told the Global Times.

"I want to leave space for the romance and warmth they are pursuing. This is also a type of technique from traditional Chinese painting called liubai [leaving white]."

However, this brilliant idea is not something that Lu came up with his first try out. On his path to creating the elegant poster, Lu experienced a dark time during which the difficulty of depicting flowing water brought him to a halt.

"The most challenging part for me was trying to give the poster a different feel," said Lu.

"I didn't want my creation to be like those dark colored posters, I wanted to try something new, such as paper marbling (a method that produces patterns that look like smooth marble on paper), but I failed and got really upset," Lu said, recalling some of his first attempts.

"I almost went bald due to being under such huge pressure," Lu joked, smiling.

Fortunately, Lu's efforts finally paid off.

After trying various techniques to depict water, he unexpectedly landed on a turquoise color that when painted with wet and gentle brushstrokes looked like ocean waves.

"I saw the turquoise bloom across the paper just like Chinese ink," Lu said in an excited voice.

"It is beautiful and romantic."

Sometimes, the most subtle change in method can cause inspiration to strike. After overcoming the most difficult roadblock, ideas endlessly flowed from Lu's mind like a mountain spring.

"I felt like I had been helped by God," said Lu with a clear smile.

After "thousands of adjustments," the work finally won the praise of the director and countless netizens.

Accompanying this praise was also some criticism, most of which targeted the Chinese style and the blank space used in the design.

"It is totally another style. It is beautiful but does not match with the film," netizen Bao Fa Hu Zheng Biubiu commented on Sina Weibo.

"It doesn't look romantic at all since the only two figures are as tiny as tadpoles," Zhe Xi, another netizen, posted.

Despite the criticisms, Lu stands by his decisions.

"It is possible that many viewers think it wasn't a good idea to have so much white space because they have a hard time linking a Western story to Chinese culture, so they find it strange to paint in a traditional Chinese way," Lu explained.

Lu noted that his past experience also played a role in his artistic choices for the film's poster.

"I can empathize with the main characters in the film," Lu said in an interview with Qdaily.

"I used to be the one who was excluded by others because of my anti-social nature."

Connecting his own childhood experiences with that of the character's in the film, Lu was more sensitive to the complicated feelings involved in the romance story. As such, Lu felt that blank space was a stronger choice than other more colorful styles to express the feelings of mutual aid and the relief friendship brings in dark times between the two characters.

Learning from the past

Lu's love affair with painting began when he was a young child. The beauty of traditional Chinese ink painting deeply appealed to the young boy.

"Basically, I think it is the most suitable way to depict beauty," Lu told the Global Times.

"As a Chinese, the appreciation of ink painting is part of my DNA. This has motivated me to want to find a way to revive the beauty of ink painting in the eyes of viewers."

Besides painting, Lu's hobbies also include traveling and reading. He considers visiting monasteries and examining religious murals as a good way to study classic art philosophy and absorb the essence of ancient aesthetic beauty.