If you are a fan of vector art in general, you most likely have came across one of Charlene Chua’s pieces. She is an amazing illustrator with a range of styles and it was an honor having her as a guest on episode #8 of the Creative Showcase. We chop it up about a veriety of things, from Anime, to her creative process. Oh, and just so she doesn’t have to tackle you to the floor and tell you herself, her last name is ‘choo-wah’, not choo, chui, choi, chew… With that out of the way, scoot those eyeballs in a downward direction to read the full interview!
This is a special interview for me as I have been familiar with your work for years now without realizing who you were. For an artist like me, that is inspiring. Who or what has inspired you?
Charlene: Thanks – glad you like the work and find it inspiring! I don’t know if there is anyone that inspires me directly these days. My work has been influenced over the years by different artists, notably J Scott Campbell, Bruce Timm, Yoshitaka Amano, Mark Hempel, Kazuma Kaneko, Gustav Klimt, Vargas, Mucha, Egon Schiele. But there are many others whose work I admire and they have had an influence here and there.
These days I try not to study another artist’s work or to try to be like anyone in particular. I find inspiration in different things at different times. I can’t predict what will fascinate me. I do enjoy watching nature documentaries, so I guess some of my more recent work maybe has been more influenced by nature? Also, relocating to Toronto from Singapore has perhaps made me more aware of my Asian roots. People have remarked that some of my recent pieces have an Asian flair to them, so maybe it’s a psychological reaction to the change.
We love Asian films, manga, and of course anime? Got any favs?
Charlene: I haven’t watched anime for a long time, sadly. I think I enjoyed Lain a long time ago. Captain Harlock was cool. There is a Japanese movie called Wild Zero that I enjoyed – this was before the slew of wierd Tarantino-esque gore-action movies that seem to be coming out of Japan of late. Then again maybe some people will say Tarantino himself was inspired by the Japanese… oh I don’t know, I’m not a film buff!
Whats the biggest culture shock from residing in Singapore to living in Toronto?
Charlene: I didn’t think that I was a very money minded person, so either I thought wrong or people in Toronto really don’t like discussing their money! For example, I thought, among friends in Singapore, it was pretty normal to ask a friend how much they were getting paid if they got a new job. I think it’s considered somewhat rude if you ask that around here, unless likes it’s in private or something.
The pace of life is different here – while people still grumble and things are far from perfect, generally speaking people do seem to lead more well adjusted lives and are not always interested in owning the latest and greatest gadgets or going on exotic holidays. I think people here obviously like their money and want to be rich, but what they want to do with their money is somewhat different from back in Singapore. It’s more about having enough money to enjoy life and have fun with friends and loved ones, rather than moving up the status tree.
What is the process of creating one of your artwork? Do the ideas come first or do you start drawing and let the ideas flow through your hand?
Charlene: It depends. For work, there usually is a brief, and based on the brief I come up with concepts or sketches. Some briefs are very open and I come up with different concepts first. Others are very tight, and so I work with the limitations first to come up with a sketch. I like to think I try to bring the best solution I can provide to the table, and that means working with the needs of each project (on a side note, this is why it is very difficult to give a ‘ballpark’ cost for illustration, as each project really needs to be considered individually).
I’m in love with Samurai Duel…Do you have a favorite piece of artwork?
Charlene: It’s hard for me to pick one. I guess, I kind of like Standing on the Shores of Madness because it was the first real painting I had done in years.
I’m more of a photoshop man myself, but knowing you enjoy vector illustrations, what are some of the pros and cons of working in Illustrator for you?
Charlene: I like the control of working in Illustrator. I was always a horrible painter and it is my opinion if you are a bad painter in real life, you’ll still be a bad painter if you use Photoshop. The downside of working in Illustrator is that you get far less range with it compared to a painting program. It’s harder to develop a ‘voice’ for yourself as the program tends to make everything look sharp and clean. To me, it has similar strengths and weaknesses to airbrush – it’s great for sharp, crisp, even photo-real work, but it takes much more effort to coax a soft, subtle and rich visual out of it. I have been trying to get around it by combining the work with Photoshop in post to get softer effects.
The other thing is that I feel Illustrator is currently not as powerful at handling complex graphics as Photoshop is. I don’t know exactly why. All I know is that a file I consider big in Illustrator would be laughed at by Photoshop.
It’s obvious you love drawing women! Through the duration of your career, have you yet to create the ‘perfect’ woman?
Charlene: Heh, it’s funny that even after drawing lots of kids pictures and nature and stuff, people still hone in on the girls. I guess that is a good thing, and yes I do enjoy drawing women.
I thought I had the prefect girl drawn when I did the piece for Maxim Singapore with the girl in the corset and the fan. I stopped doing as many girl pictures after I came to Toronto. I started thinking, you know there has to be more to my art than just drawing girls, and really if I’ve already drawn my perfect girl then what else is there to do?
Earlier this year, when I turned 30, I thought about it again and I thought, well, I still like drawing girls, does it matter if I drew my perfect girl or that I draw girls over and over in pretty much the same position? So at that point I told myself, oh well, who really cares if I am doing it for myself, besides if that is the perfect girl, then maybe we will have fun trying to create the not-so-perfect girls. It’s a bit of a strange thought process I know, but I guess what I mean is that I felt that it wasn’t necessary for me to attain perfection anymore, and that I should have fun with what I like doing and things will sort of take their own course from there. That said, I have been pretty busy with other things this year so I haven’t been able to work on much personal work. Maybe things will be different next year.
Got any tips & tricks or advice for any struggling artist out there?
Charlene: Keep your day job if you have one! It’s always hard to be a freelancer, and it’s always been tough to make money from making art, particularly when you’re starting out. A lot of people think they’ll be fine if they have to go a month or two without any clients – truth is unless you already have friends ready to give you jobs you’re likely to not get any meaningful work for at least half a year. I believe my friends here that have gone to art school have been told by their teachers to expect to take 2 years or more to just break in to the market.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, and there will be some people who will be successful from the start. For the rest, you just have to be hardworking and patient and persistent, with talent and humility to learn, and after a while you’ll see things slowly fall into place. But it’s a very nerve-wrecking wait!
Charlene, thank you so much for stopping by!
Charlene: Thanks for the interview!
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