The Arts of a Fish

Coco (XiaoYu) Zhao





Concept Art Book Project: Heart of the Scales


This project takes on the form of a concept art book illustrating a fantasy utopia with a cross-culture of mythological creatures,  immortal beings, and obscure places. The theme of the concept art book was first inspired by the ongoing conversation of the comparison between the Eastern and Western dragons (typically the Chinese and European dragons), which then morphed into the thought of a fusion of Eastern and Western creatures in one narrative. Touching on the genres of fantasy and historical, the story dives into the exploration of different cultural mythologies and creatures. 

The main protagonists are the two dragons mentioned but personified. As many fairytales have portrayed, the Western dragon is always seen as the “big bad monster”; I wanted to shift this stereotype and make him into a lovable character that would evoke empathy, excitement, and a deeper connection with the reader. On the other hand, the Chinese dragons were deities and considered to be propitious and lucky; I wanted to contrast this stereotype by portraying them with a more tragic and unfortunate background. The two dragons were always seen as opponents due to their differences and it struck my interest to break these stereotypes and make them soulmates instead.

Finished Pages

Character Preview

Initial Sketches/World Notes

Chinese Dragon: 

Name: 龙鳞(LongLin) – means dragon scales. Pronunciation:(Loan-lean) ??? It’s the closest I can think of

Age: 618 years old (618 represents the start of the Tang Dynasty, just a nice touch, has nothing to do with the design of the character) 

  • A half deity, birthed from a scale of the former water dragon god to protect their homeland after the god has fallen due to breaking a rule in the heavens
  • Doesn’t know his true form until being struck by lightning and falls into the pond of the western dragon, awakening some of his memories about being the scales of the god
  • Lived peacefully until his powers grew strong enough to fill in as the next water god, which he then got mistaken for the former water god that should have been destroyed thousands of years ago because they emitted the same energy and powers
  • The heavens sent out gods to go after the water dragon, leading to his escape into the western dragon’s territory

Medieval European dragon: 

Name: Claudius 

Age: 476 years old (476 represents the fall of the Roman Empire) 

  • misunderstood by generations of people due to the legends and stories that were passed down in the village
  • He does not recognize his actions of hostility towards the village people when they are present because he is part of the storybook and was written as the evil dragon, but in reality, he is baffled as to why he is acting this way even though he actually does not want to harm the villagers in any way
  • The place where the fairytale people reside is also wrapped in this magical aura emitted from a forbidden wizard’s tower with a magical self-writing book that controls the area where the characters can only act in a set way

The fraternal twins (Fairy/Spirits):

Names: Lily 莉莉 & Lou 白露

Age: 122 years old (I think it is the equivalent of a young child)

  • Fairies birthed from a lotus and a lily pad in LongLin’s pond which is filled with a powerful spiritual aura (a natural essence) – the aura sped up their growth and took a physical form 
  • LongLin’s little followers 
  • Lotus: very soft, pure, easily frightened BB boy
  • Lily pad: energetic, strong, protective sister 
  • a fusion of Eastern and Western creatures
  • Origins of the creatures will affect the appearance 
  • Different areas with different nations and cultures (like the real world)
  • Spirits are birthed from different things (plants/minerals) 

➼Story: Chapter Sample


Coco (XiaoYu) Zhao

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Coco is a Chinese-Canadian illustrator who creates decorative and narrative illustrations, character designs and concept art. She cringes at her English name every time (due to all the puns that were made. Thus, she returns more puns back to society) so she goes by Fishy as an artist. Although she is experienced in traditional materials like watercolours and acrylics, she prefers to work digitally. Many would describe her art as fun, cute, fantastical, and healing. She enjoys giving her characters their own stories and is big on decorative elements. When she’s not drawing, you’ll probably find her gaming, baking, or watching shows. She is also a bubble tea addict. Seriously, she has an archive of bubble tea places she’s been to.

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