By Joshua Chiang
If there is one thing that I always look out for as an illustrator, it is the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and try new styles. Which is why this year has been pretty awesome thus far.
Well for starters, we finally launched our ‘Candid Cambodia’ series of artprints and greeting cards throughout Phnom Penh, something that had been in the pipeline for the last two years. I don’t really know how best to describe the series other than it is a part-Studio-Ghibli, part-Where’s Wally (or Waldo for you American folks) way of intepreting Cambodia, rendered in a digital pen and ink style reminiscent of the Tintin comics. (That’s quite a mouthful!)
Some of you might wonder, why only do something related to Cambodia four years after I had relocated there? The short answer is that without the years spent familiarizing myself with the country , its culture and its people, many of the details that makes the subjects quintessentially Cambodian won’t be in the artwork.
So far there are only four artwork in the series, but we aim to add more to it over time. For now it is sold only in selected stores in Phnom Penh and available for order via email (email@example.com) to addresses within Cambodia, but we are taking the series to Siem Reap pretty soon, and you can bet that we’re gonna make it possible to deliver internationally once we sort out the logistics.
While on the topic of Cambodia, i am also working with author Iain Donelly on an illustrated children’s storybook series based in Cambodia. It’s still early stages, I’m sure Iain has got a couple of stories in the series already completed, but I’ve only just finished conceptualizing the main characters and some backgrounds. Iain gave me almost complete free-rein on this project, so I figured why not imagine the story to be a Little Golden Book adaptation of a Pixar movie? After all, we are keeping the option open for an animated series to happen if this project does well.
Another ‘overseas’ project we were tasked to do was the designing of mascots for Calikids Academy based in Ho Chin Minh City, Vietnam (via Red2). We agreed right from the start that the mascots should also educate children about the endangered endemic species of Vietnam; the client preferred a ‘classic’ look and feel to the design, reminscent of ’80s cartoon series like Smurfs and Gummy Bears. The main mascots are Cali and Kid, two sunbear siblings; being aware that there had been many cartoon bears before, I made it a point to retain the distinctive features that set sunbears apart from other bears such as the pale circles around the eyes and snout and also the pale cresent marking on the chest. Also, sunbears are slimmer. As for the other characters, the animals they represent are the rhino, the asian elephant, the white-cheeked gibbon, and the pangolin. What I also enjoyed was going against type in the designing of the characters. For example, large animal characters tend to be portrayed as somewhat clumsy, but in this case the elephant is a graceful cheerleader. The idea is to inculcate in kids the habit of not stereotyping people. It was a great pleasure to work with the client who share similar beliefs in what else children should be taught besides academic subjects and sports.
Another project I am happy to claim boasting rights to is to provide a series of wall-mounted artwork for a new gentleman’s lounge in the heart of Phnom Penh – The Bodlein. The owners of the lounge wanted something both classy and modern, we decided that the artworks should reflect the style of the jazz age. But I didn’t want to merely replicate what had been done before; I wanted to drench the art with the airbrushed gloss and shimmer of the soul and disco period.
But the ‘crowning achievement’ is a 90x142cm framed artwork I did for the same lounge, titled “Midnight At the Bodlein”. Featuring caricatures of 10 famous movers and shakers of the world in the last two centuries having a good time in the VIP room of the lounge, it is one of the most complex single piece of artwork I had painted to date. To be fair, I only contributed marginally to choice of the luminaries who are featured in the artwork (but I managed to convince the commissioner of the artwork to include David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust).
Meanwhile back on the home front, I am finally getting the long-gestating Ronin Rat & Ninja Cat graphic novel off the ground. I’ve put together a 10-page sample of the roughly 180-page, and applied for some funding to ease the financial toll working on this project will take on me. With luck, the book will be on the shelves by 2019!