Formerly an artist-in-residence at Rimbun Dahan and the Light Grey Art Lab Iceland Residency, Charis is making illustrated microfiction inspired by SEA. She designs geeky baju, sketched the 14th General Elections, and explained asexuality by way of sambal. Her work has been recognised by the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles and shown at Light Grey Art Lab as well as other galleries around the world. See more at http://charisloke.com and follow her on Twitter/ Instagram @charisloke.
How did your time at Brown University affect your career path?
When I was at Brown, I was able to choose each and every course I took; there were no core requirements except for what I needed to attain my concentration in biochemistry. So I took classes in medieval history, comparative literature, animation, science fiction and fantasy, biological design, art, and illustration. In fact, only 60% of my transcript is made up of science classes while the remaining 40% are humanities and arts classes. This meant that I learned how to think in different ways, to see problems and solutions from various perspectives, and also to communicate ideas in new forms. I never saw my career path as being fixed; I knew that having this broad background and soft skills like creativity and communication meant that I could easily work in different fields.
How did you go from biochemistry and molecular biology to art?
I’ve always done art, ever since kindergarten – it was a hobby I pursued and started to take seriously in secondary school. I taught myself to draw/ code websites/ use Photoshop from books, online tutorials, and lots of practice. In college I also took the time to go to illustration conferences and gatherings, learning about the industry from more experienced artists. By the time I graduated, I knew I would not be doing science any longer. I taught English and Art in local government schools for a few years before deciding to go freelance full-time.
“I knew that having this broad background and soft skills like creativity and communication meant that I could easily work in different fields.”
What are some of the major challenges of your industry?
It depends which part of the industry you are working in. I’m an illustrator and I focus on illustration for publishing as well as non-profit/NGO work; I don’t do advertising or commercial work very often. When it comes to the world of Malaysian publishing, there isn’t really a market and thus less demand/budgets for illustration, and clients often don’t know what the standards for illustration rates and practices are. So you have to educate them as to best practices, and be aware of fair rates so that you aren’t taken advantage of. But nowadays I tend to work with overseas publishers – the assignments are more interesting, they generally value my input more, and obviously the budgets are better!
What are the skills or attitude needed to succeed in your career?
Illustration is all about problem-solving according to the needs of the assignment. You have to be able to understand what the brief needs and to provide several proposals for solutions. The best illustrators know a lot about the world – they read, keep up-to-date with news and the latest happenings, often have other non-art skills, are very curious, and contribute a lot to the community.
Has there ever been a moment where you felt like giving up on your craft?
No. People have said negative things or refused to acknowledge me before, but I don’t create art for them and nor do I need to prove myself to them. I make my work for the folks who appreciate it, and for myself.
Where do you feel your industry is headed?
There has been a movement back towards hand-drawn illustration, away from vectors. The warm touch and quality of hand-made art seems to be in demand. That will continue to set us apart in the future, as more and more things become easily automated or generated by AI.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
People who post their work online and then say things like “this is so bad, I drew it in five minutes” or “main-main je”. If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody will.