IAF 2018 Interview with Friends from Taiwan

Since the first time we’ve organised Illustrations Arts Festival (IAF), we’ve always been joined by a contingent of illustrators hailing from Taiwan. They brought with them a wealth of artwork from their island to ours, of dreams, of wonders, of gods. We got to know them better every passing year, watching their ideas flourish, and hoping that our minds would be enriched by this annual exchange! We got to speak with four members of the delegation: Fuzzypig – an art agent and the coordinator for their yearly trip – along with three of their illustrators, 25degrees, Duga, and Shih-Fen.

Welcome, our illustrator friends from Taiwan! Please introduce yourselves to our readers in Singapore, what do you do?

Fuzzypig: Hello this is Fuzzypig, I’m a full-time art agent. I negotiate commercial projects on behalf of my artists, plan and manage their branding and products. Everything, really! On the side, I’ve also wrote a webcomic titled ‘Fuzzypig Illustration Diary’, which is illustrated by another comic artist. It is based off the life of 25degrees and I.

25degrees: I love dreaming up stories and unfolding their events in my head, then visualising them with what I do best – illustrating! Sometimes I’ll try doing that with simple animations, or do a mixed media approach. I’m working with paper cutting these days.

Duga: Hi! I’m Duga. I love any literary or visual works related to magic and fantasy, my creations revolve around these themes.

Shih-Fen: I’m Shih-Fen, I graduated from Academy Of Art University with a Masters degree, and now live in Taipei as a freelance illustrator. I also lecture part-time. My specialty is the picture book style, and I’ve gravitated towards using pencils and digital tools for my work.

What do you think is the most appealing element in your artwork, your biggest selling point?

Fuzzypig: I like to think that I stand out among agents since I’m someone who does creative work. My comics tell the many stories I’ve encountered since I’ve unexpectedly become an art agent. I think it’s popular among my artist friends because it reflects our hustling life, and I sure hope it gets a wider reach so people get to learn about our lives as agent and artists and our challenges!

25degrees: If you like my art or stories, perhaps you and I have similar tastes or habits! I love surreal illustrations and whimsical tales, and I like to interpret dreams.

Duga: I think my audience would have themselves nurture a love for fables, myths, and the fantastical!

Shih-Fen: I think my works gained traction as I campaigned to crowdfund my book ‘The Secrets Of Hearts’. I think its theme resonated with a large audience, and that was fortunate! I believe my particular brand of treatment to colours and light has led a couple of projects my way.

So I know 25degrees has a child-like charm to her drawings and Duga is fascinating with his pointillist style. What does each of you think is your specialty? Would you say you apply or exploit it consciously, or does it come to you naturally?

Fuzzypig: I’m completely aware I don’t draw well at all! But my friends have found some charm in my raw, unskilled drawings so there’s that. I don’t think my art does the story of ‘Fuzzypig Illustration Diary’ justice, so I got someone who’s good at drawing for that.  I do like my drawings though, I think it captures a bit of the real people my characters are based off.

25degrees: I think it comes naturally with practice. Being observant and keen to learn leads to one’s growth!

Duga: I believe that the artist’s personality determines the output. One of my few strengths is that I’m patient – when I’m doing creative work, that is. That affords me the attention to detail and the extreme care in linework and technique which developed into this style I’m known for. Not to say I don’t enjoy this very time-consuming process, it is therapeutic!

Shih-Fen: I feel that art is a process of searching for that look you like. Of course I study from artists and masters I admire, but I would try to combine it with the look that I like. Over time our style changes, because that reflects how that look has changed, too!

Tell us what is your favourite themes to draw or interpret, and why?

Fuzzypig: I picked the topic about an agent to tell my own story. However, as illustrations and picture books become more visible in Taiwan, the public at large know very little about the lives of the illustrators. I thought my comic would be a good gateway to introduce ourselves, and in doing so, perhaps that will make the environment friendlier to navigate.

25degrees: I like to imagine myself as a child, and think about what my five-year-old self would see or think about certain things. I feel that our thoughts get complicated as we grow older, and we lose that purity of thought. We as adults think in logic and morals, but a childlike imagination is precious because it is unburdened by those concerns.

Duga: Obviously anything to do with fantasy! Creating what one loves is what drives the passion!

Shih-Fen: My previous book was about love, but there are still other themes that I would want to explore! The next one I’m working on is about “reading”.

Tell us about a recent work that you’re particularly proud of! How do you think it has contributed to the betterment of your craft?

Fuzzypig: ‘Fuzzypig Illustration Diary’ for sure! I’ve always wanted to tell my own story, but being able to do that with comics – a medium I love – and authoring it, that’s a dream come true.

25degrees: Other than working on my own illustrations, I’ve also recently dabbled in the art of papercutting. I love traditional crafts! How papercutting works differ from how I usually illustrate: I have to think about if I want an intaglio or relief design, and simplify pictures, apply geometric elements – so there is a lot to consider when it comes to composing a papercut piece. I’m still learning, and I hope to be better at it! I think the paper designs and my stories and illustrations go along very well together, so I’m learning a new skill for my toolbox.

Duga: I’ll have to say it’s this key visual I made on the occasion of The Ghost Month. I was quite constrained by the requirements of my previous job working on children’s books, and it had bled into my personal work, unfortunately. It has now been three years since I left and it has taken that much time to course-correct back to the direction I wanted to go. This piece so far best represents all that I like about my own work.

Shih-Fen: I’m actually swamped with work this year, and there has been no time to make art of my own, much less those that I like. I feel that I do need to spend more time making personal work, or I risk something burning out in the process of serving only my clients.

An age-old question to artists everywhere: when do you first discover your love for drawing?

Fuzzypig: I’ve loved doodling as a primary school kid, but it wasn’t till secondary school that I felt the need to create stories of my own. ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ and ‘ONE PIECE’ are books I read almost everyday, and I would copy their art. Badly, of course, but I enjoyed it!

25degrees: I think I was a year old, when my parents handed me a pen from their office desk. I began to draw on my hand, on the walls, then along and around the entire length of my arm. I guess my parents must have had a terrible time trying to bathe me back then.

Duga: My earliest memory of drawing was when I was 5, copying characters off the cover of ‘Mashin Hero Wataru’ videotapes.

Shih-Fen: Since a child! But I’ve only gotten to study art properly at the graduate level.

How do you balance between personal and commercial projects?

Fuzzypig: Commercial projects usually limit creativity and artistic expression, but pay relatively better. I would always attempt to negotiate for a higher budget for my artists, but when that’s not possible, I’ll seek compensation in other means: more publicity for my artists, a tighter control over the timetable, for example. I would also communicate with my artists over the execution of these projects, and make sure their emotional well-being is taken care of. What I find is that commercial projects could be a good testbed to experiment with styles we’d like to see developed, to gauge how well-received it is.

]I tend to consider potential for merchandising and monetization even for personal works, so long as originality can be maintained. I try to talk things over with my artists regarding their personal works, even do some planning ahead, so we can understand what are the potential revenue or value we can derive from them, before we commit our time and effort.

25degrees: I’m still trying to get used to it. I feel my mood is affected by the projects I have to work on, and sometimes I feel I don’t measure up. Making personal art frees me from those feelings, so I’m trying to balance it out!

Duga: I keep them mostly separate! The three years I’ve spent as a publishing house employee taught me to be flexible when working commercially, I would usually adhere to what the clients ask and want. However, when I get to work on any project that allows my own tastes and sensibilities to surface, I would treat it like I do my personal work.

Shih-Fen: I’m still trying to figure it out. How I got myself into a situation where I’m buried in commercial projects this year is a rare occurrence. I’m beginning to feel like even though it’s for work, I really want to draw it in my own style!

I’m curious about where you get your pen names or nicknames from?

Fuzzypig: Fuzzypig was what 25degrees called me a long time back, then the name stuck among our circle of illustrator friends. I find that it’s quite memorable and charming, so I kept on using it, and adopted it for my brand as an agent.

25degrees: I saw this number on an air-conditioner precisely at the moment I was trying to think up a pen name. More of this story is included in my zine that I’m selling at IAF, so check it out!

Duga: I’d just graduated then and an event organiser asked me for a pen name. I didn’t have one, so I used the name of my online game character. It doesn’t even mean anything since my brother made it up. I guess I could say it symbolises my hope to be as passionate and motivated to draw…as I am to play games.

Shih-Fen: Shih-Fen is just my name in English. I used it when taking on work while based in the United States, and since it isn’t too hard for foreigners to pronounce, I’ve kept it. Is that old-fashioned? Haha!

What’s next for you?

Fuzzypig: The artists I manage: 25degrees and Duga, will each have new products and exhibitions lined up in the coming year. Both of them has launched their own indie books this year, which you can get this weekend at the IAF2018 Artist Market! Come check them out and talk to us. As for my own, a print-version of my webcomic ‘Fuzzypig Illustration Diary’ will open for pre-orders this October, hopefully it’ll gain more readers this way.

25degrees: I have a new collection of short stories, which I’ve selected from my works created over the past two years. I hope you’ll learn more about me through the book.

Duga: I’ve finally put together an art book of my own! It collects my best works from the past 10 years, and this milestone of mine fulfilled a dream I’ve had as a student. Next up I’m working on a series of drawings that reinterprets folklore and fantasy tropes and archetypes, it’s something I’ve planned to do for a long time. I’m also setting up a few exhibitions next year, hope those go well!

Shih-Fen:  I’m trying to put out a zine about “reading” next year, followed by a fold-out book. Hope you’ll look out for that!

Follow them on social media:

Fuzzypig: @fuzzypigillustrationagency

25degrees: @25degreesillus

Duga: @dugahook

Shih-fen: @shihfenlin

Check out their work and products at the Illustration Arts Fest at LASALLE College of the Arts on the 22-23 Sept 2018! This interview was done by Benjamin Chee.