Member Spotlight: Charlene Chua


Member Spotlight - Charlene Chua

[ October 26th, 2009 ]  

In addition to your primary work with vector-based illustration, you have also used traditional media including ink brush, ink pen, watercolours and more. What is the difference for you between these techniques?
I like working in Illustrator a lot; however, it is a very specialized piece of kit and sometimes it can feel somewhat constraining. It's often easier to coax out a particular look with a different medium.

I do try to mess about with paints and inks now and then. But I think that I am a terrible painter, so I don't want to have to rely on my hack painting skills for work.

Do you ever find you need to work on a piece with one method to help escape or take a break from another?
Oh definitely, that's where the ink pieces come from these days. They offer me a break from constant work in Illustrator, and allow me to explore compositions and themes that are not offered to me in client work.

What do you think ultimately pushed you in the direction of near total digital based illustration vs. 'old-fashioned' illustration?
Actually, these days the work I'm doing for client projects is almost 100% digital. I bought a Cintiq and it makes drawing on the computer a lot easier. It also allows me to makes changes to sketches more easily, and is just nifty for quickly putting together compositions, particularly the ones with severe requirements.

My drawing skills are all right, I guess - it's really my painting ability that is highly suspect. That's another reason I like working digitally, because it let's me try out different colors without ruining the entire piece.

Several of your works show a very strong influence of Asian art styles. However, you have also commented that you have never been particularly drawn to Asian art, at least as an inspiration. Is there some kind of contradiction here?
My life is full of contradictions!

Yes, when I was a child, I was put off by Chinese brush painting as it was forced upon me as being part of 'my culture' (I am technically half-Chinese). Writing lessons for Chinese meant perfectly writing those arcane letterforms over and over. And art lessons back then were simply exercises in rigorously adhering to the teacher's work, just literally copying everything.

Also, as a kid, I wanted to paint fantasy pictures and the limited nature of Chinese brushes was extremely frustrating. Lately though, the work put out by contemporary illustrators with an Asian influence has interested me a lot. I've even come to realize that while I still don't agree that Chinese culture is 'my' culture, I think that I am finding it easier to identify with a general kind of Asian-ness.

At the same time, I feel that a lot of American-born Asian artists tend to see their own Asian-ness through rather Anglo-cized eyes - where their work typically features a lot of clichés, you know, 'Asian elements' like dragons, tigers, lotuses etc. I do on occasion use these, too, which allows me to achieve a perceived Asian look. But I'm hoping I can eventually work more South East Asian elements into my work as that is probably more true to my heritage - a mix of Colonial influences mixed in with Malay, Hindu, Buddhist and other ethnic elements.

Do you ever think that your work with the pin-ups has hindered your opportunities in the fields of, for example, children's illustration or others?
Well, I did discuss it with some friends of mine once. It was for that reason that I eventually spun off as my pinup artwork site, keeping as my main portfolio, where I then downplayed the pin-up girls.

Still, for the next revision of my self-named page, I think I'll bring the pinups back as a main part of my portfolio and spin off the children's work into a separate site. But it is quite ridiculous if someone were to think that just because I do children's work I don't have a desire to draw anything else, or vice versa. This is just contemporary pigeonholing at work, which is frustrating sometimes. I don't want to be a one-trick pony because I do have different interests; but at the same time, it's hard to not be thought of as a jack-of-all-trades when you show strikingly different things in your portfolio.

You've done a lot of work on personal promotions. How important is it for you to maintain such a high presence, either through the web, mailers or via other means?
I think it's becoming ever more important to maintain a high profile, particularly with people who enjoy one's work. The Internet has changed - and continues to change - the way we interact with one another, and also how we perceive each other. What I mean is, for example, in the past you could count yourself as a successful illustrator if an Art Director could find you in certain trade publications, or maybe had even heard of you because you had won a prestigious award or something similar.

These days though, they can also hear about you from reading the news on any number of design-centered links, or see your work featured on a popular website or even a blog. Still, it's almost impossible at the moment to tell what the best place is online to reach buyers of illustration and so I personally feel maintaining a high profile is important to reach potential clients. That, and, you know, hype builds on hype. The more you get around, the more people hear about you which just naturally leads to the fact that the more people see your work, the more they that might want to work with you. You can, of course, do promotional postcards to achieve the same effect; but unless you're really rich and have an innate hatred for trees, it simply isn't practical to send out news updates and promotions as frequently off-line as it is on-line.

- Edited from interview by Ziggy Nixon

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