On Adel Wu’s (E ‘21) Instagram are pictures of coffee cups, sushi, and burritos. The typical iPhone snapshots. Maybe to preserve the memory of a meal. Maybe just to put it on her Snapstory. But at closer look, these pictures are not pictures. They’re drawings, drawings with colored pencils that have garnered Adel over 8,000 Instagram followers. 

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While many of her drawings are of photorealistic objects in that they mirror (nearly perfectly) the real and the three–dimensional, the majority are portraitures of people, many of whom she finds by browsing through famous Instagram pages. Some are not complete, with the face fully filled in and hair detectable only by its bare outline. Given her trademark of photorealism, it’s almost as if it’s a printed photo atop a drawing. 

This style—one of adherence to reality—comes directly from childhood art lessons. Having started drawing at a young age, her pieces were largely copies of masterpieces. Using oil paint and graphite, she copied each curvature and each shading to match the target work. Art, then, wasn’t necessarily a passion so much as it was a routine. By high school, the lessons stopped and she was finally freed from the confines of textbook art. That summer, she found her preferred medium: colored pencils.

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 "I can just sit down and get lost in a drawing,” says Adel. "Once I start…I don’t drink and I don’t eat. It’s so relaxing.” For her, drawing is just for fun; a “stress–reliever” and a “form of self–expression,” she calls it. And yet, such a view of the hobby has wielded a much larger influence. In her junior year of high school, Adel illustrated children’s books targeted towards American–born Chinese children who wanted to learn Chinese. The books themselves were part of a larger series sold as a 30–book package. Inside, the drawings were simple, depicting unicorns flying over rainbows and tiny figures seemingly dancing on clouds. Apart from the books, her art has also been featured on Society6, where they’ve come to life in the form of anything ranging from canvas prints to iPhone cases to laptop sleeves. If anything, Adel is the perfect example of the old saying “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Photo Courtesy of Adel Wu


Even so, there’s still so much more to be seen in Adel’s path. Now a digital media design (DMD) major, her art has evolved to take a more digital and graphic approach. For her, she sees animation in the future. “I saw Kung Fu Panda 3 and I was really wowed by the animation for some reason, and I was like ‘Wow! I really want to contribute to making films and pictures,'” she laughs. “I actually wrote my Penn essay on it!” It’s funny even, how her art has transformed from a perfectly realistic representation of the world to a completely fictional one. 

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, no matter how far she strays from reality, she’s grounded by her knowledge of the power of art. Given that she uses photographers from Instagram as a point of inspiration, she says, “I think implicit bias is from the bias of photographers to shoot certain types of bodies. So I’m not even exposed to photographs of the kind of people I want to see.” What she wants is to be “an advocate of increasing cultural awareness and diversity.” 

Photo Courtesy of Adel Wu

And it’s clear in what she does outside of her classes. Serving on the Asian Pacific American Heritage Week (APAWH) Board and a member of Women in Computer Science (WICS), there is a never–ending desire to transfer her values into her art. “Your art reflects you as a person,” she says, “and I want art to reflect my background too.” It’s why she draws what she does. It’s why she’s a member of Pan–Asian Dance Troupe, joining out of a desire to “maintain [her] cultural roots and showcase to others its beauty,” and Hype (though this was more for an interest in the dance form itself, not the cultural reasons). It’s why her art has amassed such a following. 

Versatile is the word to characterize Adel. 

More of her art can be found here.  


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