Illustrations for Levi’s for BBH Singapore.
Illustrations for Listerine for JWT Singapore.
Today we speak to Sokkuan, a Singapore based illustrator.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
Sokkuan: I’m Sokkuan Tye and I’m a freelance illustrator. I started my career as a graphic designer in a design firm and later on an art director in an advertising agency. I feel uneasy if someone watches me while I’m working. I hope I can be better at verbal communication and able to play one kind of musical instrument, especially piano. Or drum. Or guitar. Or ukulele (I tried once but I stopped halfway through the lessons, hopefully I’ll pick it up again one day, haha)
For any readers unfamiliar with your art, how would you describe it?
My commercial illustrations consist of many different styles — some are full of intricate details, some are simple but precise. However, based on feed backs from people who know me, they can tell that those work are created by Sokkuan despite being presented in a variety of illustration styles.
For my personal projects like “Sophie Black” and “Sadako’s Unfashionable Fashion Diary – Not Really About Fashion”, you’ll find paradoxes of sinister vs. vibrant, indifference vs. devotion, resistance vs. fragility, mischief vs. solemnness. But there’s exception too — if you look at my embroidered work “Kuih-Muih”, it’s absolutely happy, colourful and wholesome.
What are you having the most fun at right now?
Since the end of 2011, I’ve been working on my personal project called “Sadako’s Unfashionable Fashion Diary – Not Really About Fashion”. This “diary” is inspired by Sadako, the ghost in the classic Japanese horror movie called The Ring. One day, while I was having a shower, I recalled my fear towards her and realised that she has actually left a profound impact on me even after so many years since watching the movie. To conquer this fear, I had this idea of becoming her. I started a series of visual diaries documenting her thoughts, attitudes and activities, hoping to inject different facets into this ghostly character and alter that stereotypical image that people have about her. Eventually I realised that she serves as a very good platform for me to have different creative experiments across different disciplines. I’ve made a series of masks and designed some stockings (with a pleasant outcome of the designs being picked up and produced by a Japanese stockings label). This project continues with more excitement — the latest being a 4-way collaboration between photography, flower arrangement, hair styling and fashion styling to create a visual documentary of Sadako’s secret garden. Hopefully there will be more collaborations in the near future. I would say this project is more than just fun to me. The relationship between me and Sadako whom I’ve re-created is symbiotic — she evolves through me and I express my thoughts through her. In a way, this project is therapeutic to me.
Why did you choose graphic design/advertising/illustration as your profession?
The reason is rather simple — it started with a box of 24 colour pencils which was given to me when I was in primary school. I was fascinated by the spectrum of colours and I imagined working with colours would be a happy thing to do. Later on, during my secondary school days, I was obsessed with drawing crystal-like eyes in my text books during classes and I thought I was quite good at it so I was very much convinced that I should pursue an art-related career.
What has been your best art experience so far?
To me, a good art experience is one that touches my heart, inspires me and fuels my desire to create. I love going to museums and art shows around the world. But it’s hard to name the best simply because they can’t be compared based on standardised criteria. From the works by the masters to even just watching an art student mimicking a classical painting on the ground in winter, or a musician playing rhythms and melodies with kitchen utensils or garage tools on the street, they are all amazing and I couldn’t hide the smile on my face. Come to think of it, maybe they are not the ones I saw in museums or galleries (yes those work are definitely epic), but those that happen randomly on the streets or in nature.
Which is your favourite then?
A man playing saxophone in the subway.
An art student mimicking a classical painting with pastel charcoal on a street.
A group of young baskets performing a capella in front of a museum.
A long stretch of wild flowers with different shades of purple dancing in the wind along the bank of a river.
A flock of seagulls executing the art of fishing with precised aeronautical twists and turns in strong wind behind the boat which I boarded in the south part of the world.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ah… ummm… it’s hard to point out where as inspiration comes in various forms and in different ways. To sum it up, I have to put it in a cliche way, I get inspiration from life. :-/
Did you receive any formal training?
Yes, Visual Communication.
Do you think your own cultural academic education is important?
Yes, definitely. It gives me a solid foundation so I’m ready to learn from even more lessons out there.
You once worked at Ogilvy as an art director. Has that experience help you in any other way?
My experience at Ogilvy helps me in building confidence, rationalising my work, socialising with people, managing time line and expectations. I learnt the importance of separating work from private life and I’ve met many talented and genuine friends who have helped and inspired me a great deal along the way.
What influences contribute to your work?
Style wise, I would name:
• Yoshitomo Nara — I am charmed by the sinister look of the little girls in his work.
• Tim Burton — I love the mischievous, quirky and dark world created by him.
• Edward Gorey. For his dark and wicked stories.
Do you think personal work is important?
Most definitely. It helps me to get to know myself better. It’s also therapeutic.
Any role models and heroes?
I like to read biographies of masters in different creative fields — how they dealt with their ups and downs, how they contemplated to overcome challenges in the process of creating, their attitude towards different aspects of life. I learn a bit from here and there so I don’t have a particular role model or hero. It’s like drinking a cup of mixed fruit juice, the combined essences nourish my subconscious and I can’t really separate them anymore. But if I have to name a few, these are a few on top of my mind right now:
• Matsuura Yataro — for his approach and attitude towards passion, solitude, uncertainty and life.
• Yayoi Kusama — for her hand-painted “Net Infinity”. I’m blown away by her devotion, persistence and focus on creating such massive repetitiveness. I feel that the process of such creation is the ultimate challenge on patience and attention span. To me, she’s a zen master. This may not influence my work directly but she’s my guiding beacon would take her as a role model whenever I lost patience or nearing breakdown in the process of creating work with loads of intricate details.
• My grandmother — for her tough life when she was much younger. For her positivity, friendliness, humbleness, respect to others, and unconditional love. She is the perfect example of a contented old lady with gratitude towards life, sense of humour, comfortable-to-be-with and never whinny. When I become an old lady, I want to be like her.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Trust your instinct.
Paper crafting for Silk Air for JWT Singapore.
Besides drawing, what other hobbies do you have?
Haha… first of all, I have to clarify that drawing is not my hobby. Currently, Reading and travelling are what I’d love to do.
Which place in the world inspires you most and why?
Japan. She has the most contradicting elements in her culture which have splendidly formed a vibrant and multifaceted society.
What are three things you are obsessed with at the moment?
Sadako, Sadako, Sadako.
What do you do when you get time off?
Reading at a quiet cafe. Haha… to be honest, half the time my mind is somewhere else while my eyes are wandering between the pages. There are also times when I’m so absorbed in reading I’m completely transported to another realm.
What if you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it?
I think I should spend that extra hour on health and well-being but knowing me… that hour would most probably drifted pass in vain.
What is one thing you want to see or do before you die?
I want to see the aurora.
Can Can for Arcade, Singapore.
Is there something that fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Drawing is not my hobby.
What websites do you use for inspiration?
I don’t particularly have one. My sources are quite random.
View more of Sokkuan’s works at http://www.sokkuan.com/.