From Paper To iPad

Michael Ng (@mindflyer), Illustrator and founder llustration Arts Fest

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Where do you get your inspiration from? What kickstarted illustration as a career?

There was no sudden Eureka moment along my long journey as an illustrator - very simply, I’ve been obsessed with pictures in books since I was 6 or 7 years old! I’ve also been lucky to meet lots of great people who have inspired me, gave me opportunities, and taught me some of their tips along the way. After a few freelance projects — when I still had zero experience or training — I realised how much I enjoyed working with brands on commissioned drawings and I’ve been continuing to work since 1989.

What are some of the tools that help you in your work over the years?

I still keep a paper notebook, just like when I first started - way before computers and the internet. However, my digital workflow is getting more reliant on my iPad Pro, which I use with notetaking and productivity with apps like Notes, OneNote, and Google Keep. I also use apps like Evernote, Instagram, and Pinterest to store images, text and links that inspire me.

In terms of workflow, I like doodling my initial ideas on my phone and iPad in OneNote, and once I shortlist these ideas, I copy them over and work on them in detail using creative apps like Procreate or Adobe Fresco. Then, to finalise the artwork, I bring it into either Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator on my MacBook Pro.

I used to travel with a bulky drawing tablet together with my laptop, but in the recent years have found that just traveling with an iPad alone gets the same job done - it’s so much more convenient and lightweight.

How has the illustration scene changed from when you first started?

Back in the day, people didn’t understand fully what local illustrators could do; many brands and agencies who reached out to me were primarily looking for someone who had a pair of good drawing hands to help them visualise ideas through drawings.

These days, illustrators here have garnered more respect, and we’re seeing an increasing number of illustrators with their own unique styles, which people have come to appreciate. The scene has definitely become more diverse, and now there are much more opportunities for work.

How do you decide what approach to take for any particular topic?

My mantra for this is to understand the brief fully, meaning it’s absolutely essential that I walk away from the brief with a clear image of what the artwork will look like in my head. I then sketch out different versions and do lateral takes on it, and pick the best one.

What made you organise the Illustration Arts Fest?

We felt the need to have a stronger community and base for illustrators to hang out and meet likeminded people, and we wanted to organise more events to promote illustrators and the great work they do.

Before this, we were organising ad-hoc and monthly events for a decade before realising there was a bigger opportunity to run a proper annual festival, where we could celebrate our work and make an even greater impact in the creative community.

And what was the biggest difficulty in starting that?

In the beginning, our challenges included giving people the confidence that we could pull off something like this, and getting the right talent to form our core team. We had no experience in running a festival, and till today rely completely on our illustrators and volunteers, not seasoned event specialists, to run the show. After three years, we’ve learned on our own how best to organise our Illustration Arts Fest for the coming years.

Being an all-volunteer organising team is a big task, and getting support from not just people who are passionate about illustration, but who also share the same vision, is not easy! Finding a suitable venue partner was also difficult at first thankfully we were given the opportunity to work with Lasalle College of the Arts, who have backed us for our first three editions of the Illustration Arts Fest. We are continually looking to work with likeminded folks in the creative space and are thrilled to share that we have a new venue partner working with us for IAF 2020.

How do you see the Illustration scene in singapore developing?

Personally, I find there are more opportunities, and more interest and respect for local illustrators these days. Even though the market here is still small, it is now more exciting and lively, and I feel that regionally there is so much potential for growth. Though the market has matured somewhat, we still push hard for good practices when hiring and using illustrators. We hope to see more Singaporeans collecting illustrations/ illustrated products, and we hope to see more clients crediting and recognising artists for their work.

At the same time, I find creative programmes like Apple Orchard Road’s Today at Apple give artists a wonderful platform to interact and share their work with audiences, while allowing aspiring artists an opportunity to attend and learn the tools of the trade, in a setting that is friendly and accessible.

I hosted my very own session at Apple Orchard Road as part of The Big Draw, a visual literacy charity that promotes the universal language of drawing as a tool for learning, expression and invention, and it was a great chance to share what I know with everybody.

What would be your dream project?

To design a park for daydreaming. In it there will be giant slides, viewing towers, climbing frames and rides styled from my colourful fantasy creatures and dreamscapes.
My Reading Room