A while back I was contacting by an artists word who I had seen before, but didn’t know it. Charlene Chua is a self taught and extremely talented illustrator of the female form. We art talking about boring sketches or your typical sexy pinup girl, no Charlene has created a style that is all her own. This unique style has helped her follow her dream of designing and illustrating full time.
Be sure to check out our other features on Charlene and here crew over at Design That Inspires Us:
Can you give us a brief bio about yourself so that the readers have a little better understanding of who you are?
Hello Outlaw Design blog! Thanks for the interview!
My name is Charlene Chua; I am a digital illustrator based in Toronto. My specialty is creating illustrations with Illustrator and Photoshop, and I’ve been doing this almost exclusively for the last 4 or 5 years. I am sometimes known as ‘sygnin’, and in some places I tend to be recognized for sexy pinup girl illustrations. My real work seldom involves sexy people, and lately I’ve been trying out some new non-vector techniques for personal projects.
In my free time I watch my husband play video games (or play some myself), paint, sketch and read National Geographic.
How did you discover your massively impressive creative skills? Did you have formal classes or did you teach yourself?
Personally I don’t think of my skills as massively impressive! I am always in awe of the work of people like James Jean or Istvan Banyai.
I mainly taught myself how to draw. I did attend a visual communications course once but I never completed it. Most of my skills were acquired through just working with the software and developing my techniques through my early jobs.
It’s funny, everyone asks me about the girls. I don’t understand why it seems strange when women draw other women. Olivia and Julie Bell have made great careers out of drawing foxy females. But on the other hand I have thought about it a lot too. Personally I just enjoy the female form, and I think it’s beautiful and expressive while also mysterious. Some people have suggested that my girls are projections of what I want to see myself as – maybe there is some truth in that. The answer to the question is a woman – seemingly simple yet endlessly complex.
What steps did you take to become a fulltime freelancer and do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Frankly I think I just got too busy to handle a full-time job and freelance at the same time. When I started illustrating things were very slow and I had to take up a full time job in order to support me and my then-boyfriend. While I was working full-time, I started to get more illustration jobs so that by the time I quit, I had enough money and jobs coming in that I could continue to get by without worrying too much.
My advice for aspiring illustrators is always to make sure you have some money to spare. Starting out as an illustrator is usually tough for most people – sometimes it seems like a chicken and egg situation, because you don’t have any client work to show but you can’t get any client work till they see something professional in your book. So, at the start, be realistic about your expenses and your needs. That iPhone you’ve been eying? Maybe the money could go towards rent, or promoting yourself to try and get clients. Lots of new illustrators also have full-time jobs as designers or something, to keep the checks coming until they are able to get by on illustration alone. Check out books about freelancing or the Freelance Switch website too – there are good tips there on helping you decide if freelancing is really for you.
How did you manage to land such big name clients like Maxim and FHM?
I was lucky, I think. I worked with the Singapore editions of Maxim and FHM. I sent an email or postcard to the editor of FHM Singapore and he in turn referred me to the art director. At the time they had this thing called the Back Page which had a series of short jokes, and they were open to the idea of having a pinup girl sort of picture to accompany the monthly feature. I did that for over a year, and afterwards the art director moved to work on Maxim Singapore. Since we’d worked together before we continued to do so with Maxim. I’ve since tried to repeat my luck with Maxim US or Canada, but no one’s called me back yet.
I just wrapped up a piece for an educational publisher and I had some work in Las Vegas Weekly and Kayak (a Canadian history magazine for children). I’m still working through my comic in between jobs, and trying to get my marketing for the year off the ground. I have some postcards going out soon.
I also recently started an illustration group called Basement 416 which is a small group of talented folks who are all super nice. We’re hoping to do some promotions this year to the industry as a group. It’s been quite challenging for me as group activities have never been my strong point, but I’m glad we finally got the site up and running at least!
Oh yeah, I also maintain the illustration blog, Illustrophile. I used to feature people every day but this year I’m cutting it back to one feature per week. It’s less work for me and it gives the featured illustrator more exposure time.
Um, I guess I just hate having nothing to do!
Where do you see yourself and your work in 10 years from now?
I grew up and lived in Singapore most of my life and I moved to Canada in 2007. While I was in Singapore, most of my clients were Singaporean but I did have clients from the UK, US and Australia as well. I think the main drawback of ‘being abroad’ is that clients tend to prefer to hire someone who is in their city or country at least, before looking for talent overseas. So unless you’re a well-known illustrator, you’re at a disadvantage when trying to look for jobs from another territory.
In 10 years I hope that my career will be at its peak, and that I will be personally at peace with my style and my capabilities. I would like to think I will always be an illustrator, but on the other hand nothing is certain. Illustration is a bit like fashion, and styles come and go. Just look at any illustration directory from 10, 20 years ago. I was browsing though such a book the other day from the 1980s and I was wondering where all those airbrush illustrators are today. So I think it’s still realistic to think I’ll still be in the game in a decade… after that, I don’t know.
Can you share with us 3 artists that inspire you and why?
I love Yoshitaka Amano’s work. It’s just brilliant. There is something ethereal about his work; it’s full of shadow and wisps, hints of what may be there if you just let yourself see it. Sometimes I find myself trying to be him, and sometimes I want to stop myself. But on the other hand I doubt anyone can really mimic him – his work really has a look that is all his.
Istvan Banyai does some lovely work as well – he creates these pictures that are so charged and yet uncluttered. I guess I react to his work the same way I react to Patrick Nagel’s work (which I also love). It’s very sexual, but without being vulgar.
James Jean is… the sweetest guy on earth. And I apologize if I seemed like I was stalking him at ICON. Really, it was all a coincidence….
Some others people I really like: Marcos Chin, Jillian Tamaki, Marc Hempel, Christina Ung, Tessar Lo, Sonny Liew, Shag, Mark Ryden, Robert Valley (Massive Swerve), Charley Harper
Can you recommend 5 of your favorite resources such as brushes, vector files, textures,etc?
Well actually I make most of my brushes and textures myself, but I do find these places helpful:
iStockphoto.com – They’ve got great photos, a great search engine and a great price. Good if you want to buy textures or photos to work with.
Dafont – I quite like the fonts from here
Textureking – Loads of free textures
DrPic – Great for resizing images if you’re too lazy to open up Photoshop