Artist interview: Lim Heng Swee of ilovedoodle

I want to introduce you to Lim Heng Swee, whose illustrations for his brand ilovedoodle has made him a bit of a celebrity within the Threadless community and on Etsy. He’s proof that it doesn’t matter where you live (he’s based in Malaysia) to be able to succeed as an artist – especially when you know what success looks like. I originally interviewed him for my course Work/Art/Play, and I wanted to share this interview with you because he’s one of the most inspiring and generous artists I’ve ever come across. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview – and feel free to send the link to this article to your friends!

 

il_570xN.566707020_805h

Hi Heng Swee! I find it really interesting that you’ve created a name for yourself through illustration. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi there! My name is Heng Swee and I’m an illustrator based in Malaysia. I studied mechanical engineering but within a few months after I graduated (and took on a job as an engineer), I quit and became a full time artist because I wanted to just draw.

How did you get your start? Did you study art before?

I didn’t study art – I studied to become an electrical engineer, so I’m a self-taught artist.

il_fullxfull.236885677

Tell us a little about how you arrived at where you are today.

In the beginning, I didn’t know anyone who needed an illustrator, so I flipped through a few magazines and newspapers and saw that none of them had any illustrations in them. So I studied what they lacked and came up with a proposal to each of these publications, and drew a few strips and illustrations for them to show them what I mean, and to show them what my style was like. I got a lot of jobs that way when I first started out. If you’re just starting out, this is a great way to vet clients because when you do the work first, they’ll know what to expect and will not ask you to change your style to suit them because they can see offhand what it looks like.

You are famous also through your Threadless submissions. Can you tell us how it all began? 

I was searching for opportunities for illustrators online as I was about to move to the UK for a one-year working holiday, and wanted to be able to still draw and make a living that way. When I found out that you could earn money illustrating a t-shirt, I was sold – the prize money back then was a big amount: USD2,000 for the winner. I came up with ideas and submitted my work diligently. I created a lot of illustrations on Threadless!

il_fullxfull.442541175_tduk

You project “Doodle Everyday” was a big hit – can you tell us the reasons behind it?

Before I started on Doodle Everyday, the only place where I submitted my work was on Threadless. I’ve done a lot of illustrations that were picked by the community in the 2 years when I first started, and it helped me build up my style through the experience I garnered there (the voting, comments, etc). But after 2 years of working on the Threadless platform, I began to feel that I was producing work according to what the masses had wanted, instead of what I wanted. So I started Doodle Everyday as a form of  daily challenge for myself to try out different ideas and themes, instead of merely thinking about what the customers at Threadless would want. I had a lot of exposure from that project – it got picked up by a few major blogs, including Swiss Miss. It was a period of major growth.

How do you come up with ideas for your illustrations?

I always like to think about things – often time mixing things together to form something new. For example, one minute I would think about a penguin, with it being black and white – and then I’d try to link it to something else that might share the same characteristic, which brings me to a piano, with its black and white keys. So then I try to combine these two together in a way, and figure out what do they have in common? What sticks out? That’s how I came out with the “Choir for Antartica” print. I just love to inject a sense of humor into my work.

il_fullxfull.652922694_sg1x

Your Facebook page has more than 80K likes! Can you tell us how that happened?

It all happened organically – but the major growth was due to the Doodle Everyday project that I started in 2011. People signed up to get regular updates and to see what new doodles that I posted up.

Where do you sell your goods? And which outlet has garnered the most sales for you? Is this your main income stream?

So after illustrating for Threadless for 2 years, I discovered Etsy. And I was blown away by the opportunities that it offered artists. I had never ventured into print before, but after seeing how prints were selling pretty well, I decided to open an Etsy shop to sell my prints. Prior to that, I had to depend on winning the Threadless competition to make sure that I could support myself. With the Etsy shop however, I could have a regular income because I could now get my work printed up – I didn’t have to win a competition, and I didn’t need to be picked by anyone. The Doodle Everyday project has created a lot of illustrations that I could use for different items.

il_fullxfull.640124555_4sg6

Do you print your items by yourself, or do you use a 3rd party service? What’s your advice for those who don’t know where to start?

I use my own printer to print, as I felt that using 3rd party services was unreliable in Malaysia. With this I could control the quality of the print as well as the type of paper that I could use. I did a lot of online research into which printer was the best, and I couldn’t get good quality archival, acid-free paper here, so I order mine online.

I saw that you also went into licensing – how is that working out for you?

It’s working out great – licensing isn’t my mainstay at the moment, but I have gotten offers for work from China and Hong Kong through being seen online.

il_fullxfull.437458475_py4n

How do you determine your licensing rates?

I usually go by my experience with Threadless (they now offer royalty instead of a prize money) – but it also depends on the scope of the project. I also refer to the book The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.(via Amazon)

What sort of marketing efforts have you put into promoting your work? What has worked and what hasn’t?

A lot of my work has been through word-of-mouth and through referrals and repeat buyers. I haven’t been actively promoting myself, aside from regular posting on Facebook and updating my blog. I find that having fresh content up on a regular basis really helps to drive interest back to my work.

What would be your advice to other artists out there in carving out your own future and success? 

It’s really important to start with what you want out of all this. I like to share this story about a Mexican fisherman, which goes along something like this:

=====

(Taken from http://bemorewithless.com/the-story-of-the-mexican-fisherman/)

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

=====

The story above goes hand in hand with a TED talk I watched about how Stephan Sagmeister brings his ideal retirement life into his current schedule, by taking an extended time off from work every few years to rejuvenate himself and to create a well of information that he could tap into for the following few years. And it goes on and on, like a cycle. He doesn’t believe in the concept of retirement as finite, or something you can only enjoy at the end of a grueling work life. It has to be hand in hand, because work is so engrained in our lives – it takes up a big part of our time, so why shouldn’t it be enjoyable at the same time?

So my advice is to know what you want, and spend your time planning your work, schedule and environment to mirror what it is that you want in life. For me, it was always about drawing – so my choices, and the path that I choose has got to align with my goals of being able to draw.

———–

You can see more of Lim Heng Swee’s work through Etsy, Threadless and on his website.

Artist interview: Dawn Tan

I met the bubbly watercolour artist Dawn Tan when I was in Melbourne, and what a thrill it was! As a full-time artist with a part-time job teaching children art, she hails from Singapore but now calls Melbourne home. She’s a sweetheart for meeting with me on short notice (it was Chinese New Year eve) and we hit it off instantly! Read on to know more on how she started her teaching career as a gutsy 16 year old, and how her conversations with her mother resulted in the scrumptious watercolour food paintings that she’s well known for. You can follow her on Instagram (where I guarantee you’ll turn green with envy at her adventures!), and do check out her website for more of her in-person workshops and classes.

dawn_tan

 

I was swooning over the pictures you took on your recent trip to New York! How was it?

I wish I was still there!

Right from the start, my husband Darren and I knew we wanted to go to New York for our honeymoon. We were even more sure of our honeymoon destination than the wedding venue itself! We wanted to go there for the artists, the makers, the studios and shops. Funnily enough though, we didn’t see enough small shops. We couldn’t find them over there because the place is so big! Unlike over here where the good stuff is clustered along streets (like Gertrude street), theirs is really spaced out and far in between. A lot of locals mentioned there wasn’t a street or neighbourhood that has a centralised indie shopping street. But we did managed to go to a few studios at Dobbin Mews like Odette (and I bought a few pieces!) and also MCMC Fragrances. I followed Jennifer of Odette on Instagram and it was great to see her studio to chat with her! I love her work, and have been a fan for many years.

I also managed to meet up with Helen Dealtry – I bought a scarf and had a great time talking to her. We both run workshops and we were talking about the business side of it. It was so much fun!

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.20.49

How did you and Darren meet?

Darren came to Melbourne before I did. He completed his studies here and then he started working. We met at a pre-departure briefing at university; he was a senior and he was giving out advice to juniors who were about to go to Melbourne for studies. He was also my neighbour at my student accommodation and that’s we got close. We started cooking together and that’s how we fell in love! It’s now 7 years since!

Was there a reason you decided to stay on in Melbourne?

I didn’t plan to stay! I’ve always thought of studying for 3 years and then head back to Singapore. But before graduating I decided I really liked it here. I love the culture, the lifestyle, and I felt that it would be a  great place to raise kids. The school here has a lot more emphasis on play-based learning, while Asian schools are more geared towards rote-learning, like math and science. And while this may have changed over the years, I like the fact that in Melbourne the school system places emphasis on other subjects like sports, art, and music. Both Darren and I were not academically strong, so we both suffered a little under the system back home. For example, he wasn’t good in Chinese (a main subject in school) and I was terrible in mathematics and science. We were both below average and we don’t want our kids to feel the same way we did. Besides, I love the weather here too! While some might not like the unpredictability, I love it!

You do a lot of in-person workshops here. Do you do them anywhere else?

I did one in Singapore a few years ago. It sold out really fast. My family lives in Singapore so I just want to spend time catching up with them instead of doing work! Also there’s a lot of limitations when it comes to buying supplies. I can’t get them in certain places and it’s tough for me to haul them all the way from Australia. I like to have a bit of quality control when it comes to supplies.

 

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.20.49(2)

You run your workshops from home. Tell me a bit more about it.

I did it from home because of convenience. I used to do workshops at different places – at Harvest Textiles (now defunct), at restaurants (they provided the ingredients and pizzas, we drew the pizzas!) and we managed to promote my workshops as well as promote the restaurant. We also did them at schools, but when I hold my workshops outside, I found that I had to haul along a lot of stuff. I like to show people my work, and not just the prints – I love showing the originals. So while prints and originals look alike, people like seeing the texture, water and layers. So I would have to carry quite a fair bit and traveling with such a heavy load is no fun and tiring!

Doing it from home just makes more sense. It gives me more time. I have classes set up on Saturdays so I’ll set things up on Friday (which is when I work on my freelance projects) – I’ll tidy the house a little bit and get things ready for the workshop the next day.

How did you get into teaching?

I come from a family of teachers, so I’ve always loved teaching.

I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in secondary school. People used to tell me that there wasn’t money to be made teaching art lessons in school. So instead of going the academia route, I studied graphic design, just to see how it all goes. Turns out, I didn’t really like the subject at all – but I like talking and sharing. So after my course, I told my mom that I’d like to come to Australia to experience a different country, a different lifestyle and culture, and to bring back home new ideas. But while I was studying graphic design in polytechnic, I was already teaching in a Japanese art studio as an assistant art teacher part time. They didn’t pay me, but they provided me with transportation.

How did that happen?

I volunteered. I just walked in one day and told them that I was looking for experience and so would be alright if I came in to help and assist with some of your classes? They said yes, but then felt so bad because they couldn’t pay me! Imagine a random, strange 16 year old who just randomly went into their shop – with no experience and was just a total noob – and asked for a job. But after a few months they started to pay me and also I started to teach my own classes. And through that, I realised that loved teaching. I like getting my hands dirty. Children inspire me (and I hope I inspire them!) I find that it’s a nice feeling. So ever since then, I started teaching on and off.

I used to be a traveling artist who taught kids too. I’d go into a child’s home and basically give moms 2 hours of freedom to do their laundry, cook and relax while I’m sitting there with their 3-year old kids! I stopped because lugging around supplies was really tiring after a while, plus there were requests to go to places that were a little too far out.

I’ve had people tell me – if you work hard, and you do as many job as you can and earn as much money as you can, you can retire early. Which can be true, but it takes the joy away from doing things.

In terms of sharing and teaching art, I feel there’s a limit on how much I can do before your body gives way.

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.23.04

 

What’s your schedule like?

I teach art for children 3 days a week, I have 2 days where I concentrate on my freelance work and on some weekends I hold workshops for adults. So there’s that balance. There’s some who ask why not teach an adult workshop every weekend, so that you can earn more money? But they don’t understand that it’s tiring and I’d much prefer put my energy into creating quality classes and workshops rather than focus on quantity.

I also used to have a problem saying no. But over the years I’ve learned that your health is important. I was that kid who wants a spot on the deans list, so I said yes to anything. I had a partial disc protrusion because of the time I spent on art. Since then, I’ve had to be mindful of how I spend my time. My back is now my alarm clock – I can’t spend too much time sitting down because if I did, I couldn’t feel my legs! It just reminds me that I couldn’t take life sitting down – quite literally.

How did you discover watercolour and to decide to focus on it?

My mom and dad saw I liked art a lot, so when I was in kindergarten, I started doing weekend art classes.  When I was 12 my teacher said we were going to do watercolours. She whipped out a set of fancy, proper watercolour paints and brushes. So I started to realise that watercolour is pretty cool. But I didn’t really like it art first. So for the first 2 years of my watercolour learning, I started painting still life set ups. I loved the medium, but every weekend we had to paint the same things. A bunch of grapes, a bottle of wine, draped velvet, all in different positions. And we would paint it over and over again. For a 13 year old it was pretty boring. On a Sunday too! I’d rather spend the weekend hanging out with friends. I love art, but I didn’t mind it, but after a while I hated it. I couldn’t do perspective drawing so still life was a nightmare. I started hating watercolour and stopped using it for a year and half after because by then we were learning about acrylics.

But then in polytechnic for my final year project I found my watercolour palette again and found that it was really good because I could use it quickly, and it dried faster compared to acrylics. And since then it stucked and I really love it. The more I use it, the deeper I fall in love with it.

How often do you paint?

I paint everyday if I can, except for Sundays. Especially when I’m not teaching, I can paint from morning to evening. My husband would come home in the evening and I’d realise that I had forgotten to cook rice for dinner!

dawn_meats_web

Why did you start painting food?

The reason why I started painting food was because I rebelled against my mom. I was never a skinny child – she used to call me all the time and ask about what I was eating. Because of that, I started to draw the food I ate, on an A0 size of paper. My teacher at the art school I was at (VCA) said that it was great – not many people painted food so they told me to take the idea and run with it. They were really great at critiques and were very honest. I love being straight to the point and to be told me what sucked and what didn’t. They were very encouraging.

I was looking at a lot of works by Andy Warhol and I was also doing a paper on pop art and consumerism. So I was wondering a lot about food and what we consume – so that’s how it all started, back in 2009/2010. I couldn’t stop until now. I wasn’t even painting food when I was younger. When I was in polytechnic, my final year project was painting a children’s book based around animals!

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.16.18

 

Who inspired you when you first started?

When I was in polytechnic, I used to like Lisa Congdon’s work and also Kate Bingaman-Burt. The both of them were very cool. Both of them were trained in fine arts but their work had a very illustrative quality to it. It made me realise I could make a living out of illustration rather than having to paint portraits with oil paintings.

I find that art needs to me more interactive and funny, sometimes.

Like the David Shrigley exhibition.

Yes, exactly! That was so funny. The live drawing was so funny! I like that sort of stuff because it’s funny. So even if people can’t relate to it, it makes them interested in art.

Or at least question it. 

Yes. Rather than just a painting. There’s nothing much to talk about.

Any artist who’s a favourite at the moment?

These days, I don’t have a favourite artist though. Recently, I’m inspired by the old masters, like Henry Matisse and his paper cut outs – I didn’t really like his work until I saw his exhibition in New York. It’s pretty cool because his mind is interesting. I like the way he thinks and how he mixes his colours. And also Quentin Blake because his art is spontaneous. I love spontaneity. I love letting my mind wander. It’s also why I love the school that I’m teaching at – their curriculum is based on letting your mind wander, and to let nature inspire you.

That’s why I always take my kids out to be inspired by nature. To be inspired by things you see.

 

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.20.49(3)

Screenshot 2015-04-06 22.18.40

What would be your advice who wants to get into watercolour to make it work?

Go for it and just try. Go out and buy books, or go to classes where people teach. Learn different styles of watercolours – there are different styles and techniques, and at the same time discover your own style. Like what I tell my students; I’m going to teach you the same things, I’m going to give you the same brushes, paint, and materials. But at the end of the class, you’ll all come up with different paintings. Not because of your skill, but it’s because of the way you hold your brush, the way you control the amount of water, and the colours you choose. It defines you and it’s your style. Be open to that and don’t be afraid to try.

My watercolour skills used to suck. It used to be cakey and dry. But over the years, I just kept trying. People always think that watercolour is difficult, because water flows everywhere. You just need practice. The more you paint, the more you’ll get better at it. You’ll know how much water to use, and that’s how you learn.

You’ll only get better the more you paint!

You’re happy where you are – was there any point in time where you wanted to become a full-time artist?

After uni I was working for myself for a year. I really liked it because I had a studio space and I was a morning person. I liked the life! I did a lot of work back then too. However, I was a worry-wart, and being Asian, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sustain myself financially so I started looking for part time opportunities. I wanted a part time job as well because it can get lonely working in the studio by myself 5 days a week. So I started teaching and in many ways, I prefer the schedule and flexibility I have right now. In many ways, I am a full-time artist – and a part-time art teacher! I like being able to split my week up between my part time work and full time artworks. It helps my mind organise better.

============

Thanks so much Dawn! 

Handy tips to make your computer usable again

tolle-gif-illustrationen-von-rebecca-mock-01

 

One day, Mr T sauntered over to my laptop and sat down on my chair. He wanted to do a quick check on something and didn’t want to power up his own laptop so he decided to use mine. Here’s the conversation that ensued:

Mr. T: What is wrong with your computer?

Me: Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with my computer.

Mr. T: Why is it taking a minute or so just to open one application?

Me: Isn’t it like that? Doesn’t yours do the same?

Mr. T: No.

After what seemed like a few more torturous minutes, he decided to abandon ship, but not before closing all my tabs to reveal my desktop (which I had hoped he wouldn’t do, and I’ll explain why in a minute.)

He gasped. And had to cover his mouth at the horror of it all.

Remember how I was telling you about how I got myself back into the drivers seat after a few months of being unproductive? One the things I wanted to tackle first and foremost was my computer. It handled the brunt of everything – a lot of things came in, but nothing ever got screened out. Just to give you an idea of how messy it was – my desktop was filled with files littered all over the screen’s real estate. And if I downloaded anything new onto my Desktop, it would be sitting on top of another file. Yes. My files were double-parked on top of each other.

It was that bad.

To my defence, I knew where everything was – it was an unorganised mess, but it was my mess nonetheless.

I was ashamed to let Mr T see my desktop because his was spotless. He works the three folder maximum rule and sticks religiously by it. Me? I had files parked on top of one another – leaving just 3 folders on my desktop was a superhuman feat I cannot pull off. But I knew the time had come for me to do something about it when opening applications became a waiting game – and one I had been a willing participant for far too long.

I’ve decided that if I couldn’t get a handle on my files, I had to get something or someone to do it for me.

Enter Hazel.

Over here, I don’t really let on much about how much I am a geek. You know, the sort of person that gets extremely excited at how technology can be leveraged to make my life easier. That’s me. But when I found out that I could have someone file things for me automatically, I was over the moon.

Anyway, back to Hazel.

What it is, is that it’s an application that manages files for you according to the rules you set for them.

So for example, I have a bad habit of letting my Downloads folder run amok. Because it’s the one place where everything goes – bills, images, PDFs, etc., – I forget about the things I’ve downloaded, so it languishes there for months on end, eating up my free space. What Hazel can do for me is to watch my Downloads folder and then organises them for me based what I tell it.

So what I do is to make Hazel search for bills that I’ve downloaded, and sort them into relevant folders, plus rename them with the date of the bill. All without me doing anything besides downloading the folder. Here’s where I learnt it from.

Here are some other things that I’m using Hazel for:

  • Archiving projects that are untouched for more than 30 days
  • Organise my downloads into weekly folders (instead of having my Downloads folder filled with single files)
  • Resizing large images automatically (with the help of Automator) – this is useful for sorting out your portfolios ensure that they all have a consistent pixel width or size! Or if you blog, but like me, hate powering up Adobe Photoshop to edit the pictures, then you will weep at how handy this is.
  • Check out more articles and tricks herehere, and here.

I’m still checking out what other things I can do with Hazel, but I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing! (And in case you’re curious; no, I’m not being paid to endorse them – the makers don’t know I exist, but I just wanted to share it because it’s that good.)

Some other changes I’ve made to make it all better (please bear in mind these are mainly for Apple users):

  • I downloaded Disk Inventory X – a free software – that shows me what’s taking up space in this Mac of mine. There are other paid alternatives like Daisy Disk (has a beautiful interface) and WhatSize (helps to identify duplicate files among other things) so it depends on what you’re looking for to clear space out!
  • I’m using Dropbox Pro (1TB of space synced to a server) so I’ll have my files with me where ever I go! Plus I won’t have to worry about losing my computer due to a faulty drive (hey it happened to me before, and it was not pleasant!) I’ve been using their free account for a few years now and it’s most definitely the one program I’ve used the most on my laptop. If you’d like to get a free account for yourself to test it out, here’s some extra space on me.
  • While I’m using Dropbox, I’m careful to also back up my computer’s hard drive to an external hard drive as a secondary backup. And I do that via an application called Time Machine that’s already in your Mac (sorry Windows users!) Edit: Windows/Unix peeps can check out Crashplan – a free software that does the same thing as Time Machine!
  • For the final clean up, I’m also offloading my archives into a DVD so that it won’t take up space on my computer. So basically I have triplicates of everything. See why here.
  • To speed up my Mac (it’s from early 2011), I’m going add more memory to it (bumping up my 4GB RAM to 8GB) instead of buying a new laptop – the current specs I’ve noticed isn’t that far off, and all I need is a bit of boost to make mine better!

So there you go! I hope you’ve scored some useful tips on how to maintain your computer  – it’s what I’ve personally tried and done to help me with my cluttered laptop situation. While I know that most artists and illustrators would rather run their nails over a chalkboard than to fiddle around with their computer (did you not hear about my desktop situation?) but hey, if it means not having to bite your nails everytime you see a spinning ball when your application loads up, I’d say it’s totally worth it.

Got more tips? Share them with me in the comments!

[Illustration by Rebecca Mock]
Pages:«1234567...683»