Toronto, Canada –
Charlene Chua is an illustrator based in Singapore with her fiance and two cats, who’s developed a very slick vector style of drawing. Her favourite subject is the female form, particularly vampy, powerful and sexy women. She says “I try to tell a story with my illustrations… It’s always easier and more rewarding for me to have the illustration accompany a story.”
Before taking the plunge to do illustration Charlene worked as a graphic designer, a web producer and an interactive project manager, and this is reflected in her polished personal website. We took the opportunity to chat to her about drawing girls and her weird psychological desires…
Tell us a little bit about your upbringing: were you always good at drawing?
CHARLENE: No, I wasn’t always good at drawing! Frankly I don’t think I’m all that great now, but I’m quite happy with my style so I guess it’s ok.
When did you start drawing, and at what point did you think you’d like to offer your services as a illustrator?
The earliest I remember drawing anything was when I was 4 years old or so. I kinda recall drawing birds, very inhuman people and various swirly patterns. I stopped drawing when I was about 19 or so, around the time I got my first job as a designer. It was only after I quit my job as a Interactive Project Manager that I decided I wanted to try being an illustrator again.
Your online biography indicates that your education was mostly “The School of Hard Knocks” does this imply you’ve had a tough life?
Well I don’t think my life has been particularly bad. On the other hand, I didn’t get to go to a good design or art school to get a degree or anything. What I meant was that all I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt by trial and error, which to me seems like the best teacher you can get.
Many of your characters seem very Vampy, even slightly Goth: is this a reflection of you personally?
Haha, you know people tend to say I’m Goth but I can’t understand why. It’s not like I go around with mascara and fishnets! But I suppose I do have a fascination with slightly dark and morbid stuff and I do like black. Although these days you’d think that about describes anyone!
You draw mostly girls – and sexy ones at that! Why the interest in the female form?
I guess I agree with Vargas in that the female form is to me the most beautiful and interesting thing to draw. That and I suppose it fulfils a weird psychological desire of mine. You know what they say about animators being repressed actors? I think it’s the same thing, except for me it’s more like being a repressed model or something like that.
What music are you listening to right now?
Some sort of classical. I’ve got my iTunes plugged into a classical radio channel.
Do you listen to music while you’re working?
Sometimes. Almost always when I’m drawing – it helps me to not stress out. I wouldn’t say it relaxes me, it just gives my subconscious brain something else to latch on to. I don’t know about other artists but when I draw it takes a few tries before I get a sketch I like, and I find that after a while I start worrying and thinking too much about how to get it right. The music gives me something else to think about, be it the meaning of the song or just the melody itself. Having a CD on also helps remind me to get up and move after an hour or so, which is good because otherwise I’ll sit for hours and get a really bad backache later.
I notice that you do not like illustrating military, religious or political themes; why the aversion to these subjects?
Personal agenda I guess. I find all three to be incredibly suspect, and to cut a long story short I would rather not engage in promoting their values if I have a choice.
There’s always the option of parodying their values or stamping your own personal opinion on images of those themes?
I guess that’s true. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a pacifist – I don’t like telling people outright that I don’t agree with their beliefs. Belief is a very personal and powerful issue, and I’m the kind of person that would prefer to settle with ‘ok, have it your way’ rather than enforce my own take on things. But I dunno, perhaps that will change as I get older and start being either more sure of my own ideas, or else become more apathetic to other opinions.
How would you best describe the world in which your images exist?
I don’t see a particular world in which my work exists. Most of it is very staged, like a fashion shoot in a photography studio. It’s definitely not real. Perhaps abstract is a good way to describe it – it’s all abstractions of ideas and concepts.
Who or what inspires you to draw? Do you have specific artists that have inspired you?
I usually draw because I have to for some project or other. My brain works in a weird way – if I have to do an illustration, I’ll normally start doodling something else to avoid working. But if I have nothing to work on then I go do something else, like play a game or something. I don’t have any particular inspiration, although if I am thinking about something for my work, that can get translated into a neat doodle. For artist, I like the work of Boris Vallejo, Marc Hempel, Chris Bachelo… various illustrators and fine artists, I honestly can’t remember names.
There are a lot of Western names in your influences. Do you feel your artwork is inspired by Manga, Japanese illustrations or any other Asian traditions?
Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me! I like Yoshitaka Amano’s work in particular, and I like traditional Japanese woodcuts. Historical Japanese art rocks – I wish I could spend more time learning about it! My artwork style is definitely influenced by manga and anime, although the final artwork I don’t think can be classified as either.
How has your work evolved? How do you see it developing in the future?
When I started drawing again (think it was 3 or 4 years ago), I actually started to draw for comics. I did a whole bunch of sequentials and character sketches. Then one day I decided to fiddle around with Freehand and did up my first vector. Since then I’ve been refining my vector work. I switched over from Freehand to Illustrator last year, and I’m still learning to do neat tricks with it. In the future, I would like to work towards combining more traditional art techniques with vector-based art, and perhaps change my style a bit. For the moment though I’m just trying to get all my work done!
Why make the switch away from Freehand?
First off let me say that Freehand is really a lovely tool with a lot of neat uses. I still use it every day for design work. However, for the kind of illustration I do, Illustrator simply does a better job. The turning point came when I tried to export a Freehand piece out as a hi-res Photoshop file. The export took me something like 5 hours. Later, I tried the same thing with Illustrator and the it took under a minute to export the same file. Perhaps I did something wrong technically, but either way, that more or less settled the debate for me.
What are your favourite kinds of commissions?
The kinds that pay a lot! [laughs] No, actually my favourite commissions are those where people come to me asking for a girl illustrated in my style. It’s a lot better than having a picture shown to you and being asked “hey, can you draw like this…”
This interview is compliments of Pixelsurgeon.