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!



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

Loco for local: Eechinghandmade

This week, we look at a plush-toy maker whose shop is well known here as EeChing Handmade. Kho Tain Ching is from Sarawak, East Malaysia and her toys are one-of-a-kind collectible beauties! She also has something she’s giving away at the end of the interview — read on!


Name: Kho Tain Ching
Location: Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia
Website/Shop: Etsy
Illustration media: pencil, pen, color pencil, marker

You live in Malaysia — what stands out about living here, and what is your daily schedule like?
I love that there is less natural disasters such as earth-quake, tornado, and volcanoes here! I help my parent in an old grocery shop during the day, and the rest of time I’ll do anything I like such as drawing, reading, making doll, updating my blog, taking picture of my works & playing with my dogs.


And does being in Malaysia influence your art in any way?
Yes, especially the artists from West Malaysia… but we still have much opportunity to improve the art scene in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, I find that the progress of the art and craft community has yet to catch on. What do you think can be done to increase awareness of art and craft locally?
We should have more art & craft markets which can provide a platform to support & help to expose artists & designer; and also media such as magazines, newspapers & websites, education and exhibitions all play a part in spreading news about our art.


How did you get your start?
I can’t remember when I start drawing… when I was young, I like to draw characters from comics like Doraemon, LaoFuZhi & Yomiko.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start a piece?
Before i start a piece, I like to draw something randomly on a piece of used blank paper or calendar — this often sparks an idea or method of making something new.

What’s your favorite project so far?
My recent favorite project was when I made my own dolls for a Handmade Zakka Store in West Malaysia & an online shop named Curiousite, France.

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?



What or who inspires you?
All the dolls made by Evangelion’s Handmade (Yeo Mei Ying), a great & famous dolly maker in Malaysia.

What keeps you motivated?
My buyers from all over the world motivates me and gives me confidence in my works (I’m not a realist, but I need positive feedback and money to buy material)

Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?
My skill in drawing and making dolls has improved in comparison to my earlier works, but I still have a lot to improve and learn. My principle is to develop my own style of art.


What’s your favourite tool?
Color pencil, maker, pen, sewing machine, sewing noodle, thread, scissors & fabric.

Are you a full-time artist?
No, but i wish i am a full-time artist in the future (maybe after 2~3 years)

What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?
Be sure you have financial support, patience, insist on your dream, improve yourself, be hardworking, be unique and know how promote your works.


What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
Every single piece of my work represents a feeling, a moment in my life. You can feel that either I’m happy or sad through my works. So, you’re most welcome to visit my blog and i’ll share them with you.

Tell us about yourself – in a nutshell!
My name is Ching, I draw and I make dolls. I live in a city named “Kuching” in Sarawak, East Malaysia. I’m the third children of five. My favorite drink is coffee, chocolate milkshake and soya milk. I’m a skinny girl. I previously worked as a general clerk in a bookstore and a teacher in a Buddhist Kindergarten few years ago. Now, my daily job is assisting my father in his groceries shop.
Thank you for reading!


Ching is giving away one of her hand-painted dolls (this one here, in the above picture!) to one lucky commenter! Just tell her what you think of her work to be in the running to win — the giveaway ends on 28th July!

UPDATE: Thanks for coming along everyone — the winner for this giveaway is Gerlin!

Loco for local: Oh & Ah

This week, I’m proud to present Oh & Ah, a collective of five artists, illustrators and designers who have been running their studio for the past 4 years right here in my neck of the woods – Malaysia. I’ve been a fan of theirs for some time now, and was happy to hear that they now have a dedicated space where they can show off all their wonderful things. Read on for more, and at the end of the interview, you’ll find a coupon code for use at their fun online shop!

Oh & Ah

Name: Oh&Ah
Location: Malaysia
(physical shop) Cova Square, Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Illustration media: Mixed-media

Tell us a little more about yourself.
We are five playful Malaysians with different backgrounds who join forces to produce design items with an objective in utilizing our creativity to bring joy into our daily lives.  Started out at the end of 2007, Oh&Ah is the place where we sell items we make + design + collect. We were inspired by the indie design scene in London, Taiwan and Bangkok thus found our interest to form Oh&Ah.

We produce delightful, eccentric everyday objects ranging from small to big scale, with a wide variety of products from fashionable accessories, tees, paper goods, stationery, toys to home décor. Our creations are inspired by Zakka, the art of seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane-ness; with a touch of playfulness!

Oh&Ah’s online store is now up and running, along with a studio/shop that is located in Cova Square, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Oh & Ah

You live in Malaysia. What stands out about living here, and what is your daily schedule like?
The opportunity to learn multiple languages and to experience the different culture here has given us plenty of advantages in understanding and exposing to how other designers/artists work in other parts of the world. While the contemporary handmade market is still considered new to our local community, interest has definitely been generated, so there has never been a more perfect moment for people like us to sow our seeds!  

We work together every Saturday (yes, Saturday because each of us juggle a full-time job). There is no fixed schedule; we take that time to hold discussions, update each other on work-in-progress as that is the only time that we can congregate once a week. Also, we make use of that time in brainstorming, creating and photographing our products. Saturday is also a business day for us as our shop only opens on that day. On other days, our work is based solely online, like updating our Facebook page, our blog, online store as well as our Etsy page.  

…and does being in Malaysia influence your art in any way?
Yes, definitely! We thought about our ‘Rojak’ culture! (Rojak is a local salad that incorporates a wide variety of fruits.) Being in Malaysia enables us to get along well with other races on a daily basis. We learned the art of respect as well as appreciation for all cultures present in our country. Just like the five of us-we come in different personalities, but we complement and complete each other as a whole. We are often excited by the curious hybrid of our creativity and design style and the endless possibilities it transpires. A huge part of our work comes from a joined effort as a team, and that usually makes the end result worthwhile. 
As Malaysians, we are blessed with the advantage of our four main languages of the country: English, Malay, Chinese and Indian. And this has helped us in easy accessing to information on the internet, leading us to unbridled inspiration for our ideas and designs.

Oh & Ah

In malaysia, i find that the progress of the art & craft community has yet to catch on. What do you think can be done to increase awareness of art & craft locally?
A community for the exchange of ideas and resources! Also, we need more effort in changing the mindset of people’s perception towards handcrafted items as something traditional and old-fashioned. ‘Group power’! We would suggest that the art and craft community to work closely by supporting one another. We will be able to fashion a stronger identity and image of the value of art and craft to local community if we are presented in the form of alliance or group.

How did you get your start in illustration?
Ever since we were kids. We just feel comfortable expressing in drawing.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start a piece?
We will think about (not in fixed order) the originality of the idea, the materials available on hand, the price range, the number of products to be made, the visualization of the actual design, the method in making it, and finally the mock-up of our finished work.  

Oh & Ah

What’s your favourite project so far?
As we have showered each project with hard labour and love, it’s tough for us to choose a favorite one in particular. From each project, we are empowered with a new level of energy and confidence that encourages us to proceed to our next piece. 

Do you keep a journal / sketch book, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?

Oh & Ah

Would you care to share your studio space as well?

Oh & Ah

Our studio also doubles as our shop, so you are more than welcomed to pay us a visit! Oh&Ah opens for business every Saturday.  

What or who inspires you?
Nothing in particular, mostly random tidbits through our daily life, such as news articles, a conversation with another, or even a new material to work with. In a group of 5 people, inspirations are limitless!  

Life; internet; dream; photography; found objects; the attitude of being playful and keep questioning; the fun of ‘Mix & Match’; hybrid integration of our teamwork; the believe of ‘if I want it too, other will want it too’; traveling, an unplanned journey; an idea, object or a concept that is beyond the norm and rules; cool shops inside Etsy; zakka; Jiyūgaoka, Kichiyouji, design atmosphere in Bangkok, markets in London; the ‘Rojak’ culture in Malaysia; art & craft from Malaysia; music, movie, sleeping, salad, it is quite random actually!

Oh & Ah

What keeps you motivated?
The passion, opportunities and the results. In particular, the feedback from the people who like our stuff!  

Could you share with us your progression as an artist—- compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?
Our style has always been open and diverse as we wish for it to grow and evolve, while we have gotten comments from people that our works bear a distinguishable look. Yet, our vision will never stray far from our aim-to establish ourselves as a Malaysian brand recognized for contemporary handmade crafts.   

While we originally ventured into this to test the waters, we now view it as an actual business, a dream that we would want to achieve!  

Oh & Ah

What’s your favourite tool?
Sweii: Finger!
Lorna: String & thread!
Teckyew: Pilot G-tec-c 0.3
Su: Eyes!
Tuckloong: Definitely Camera!

Are you all fulltime artists?
No, we are not… yet 😛

What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?
We are still on the path in making this dream a reality, so we can’t really offer any advice as we too, are still building our course towards that goal. But from previous experiences, we believe that good discipline, determination as well as a savvy eye for business will get you a long way. As the Latin saying goes, carpe diem, so seize any opportunity that comes along!  

Oh & Ah

Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
With the launch of our shop and online boutique early this year, we hope to generate enough revenue to manage our business of Oh & Ah as a full-time job.

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
“Surprise and Joy” are necessary in life, be it big or small. Always seek to be adventurous in what you are doing!  

Tell us something random about yourselves!
This has been a long running joke among us, that we kick start our day with breakfast in Paris, followed by an afternoon meeting in Tokyo and concluding with a dinner back in Malaysia for our local beverage Teh Tarik!  

We are crazy, aren’t we? Haha, well that was just the tip of the iceberg as to how we usually day dream… as a constant motivating force!

Oh & Ah

Oh & Ah is giving all Pikaland fans a 20% discount to any items purchase in their online store. Just use this coupon code: PIKAxOH&AH

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