Calvin’s work has two distinctive styles: digital illustrative work with textured layers, and hand drawn pen and ink illustrations. While his digital work is quite well-known, his hand drawn illustrations have been a new development over the past few years. He tells us about how his work process has evolved.
Neocha: How has your work process changed?
Calvin: I mainly use pen and ink in my hand drawn illustrations and artwork. I have been cautious in experimenting with digital coloring, and have found this to be more practical when it is for commercial commissions. There always seems to be the need for small adjustments and producing the work digitally is very helpful for editing. I still prefer to be working directly on paper or canvas rather than digitally though. I love trying to retain a certain rawness and imperfection by hand that you cannot replicate on the computer.
Neocha: What are some themes and ideas you’re currently obsessed with? What’s something you could draw over and over again?
Calvin: I guess I keep revisiting the themes of night and day, the sun and the moon. I just like it as a metaphor for our personalities, and how we as humans have this tendency to dichotomize – like the fleeting emotions of love and hate, introverted and extroverted characters, and our nature to view things as black or white. I have this affinity to express issues with dualities of past and present. Coincidentally my Chinese name is Ming, which is also comprised of the Chinese characters for Sun and Moon.
Neocha: What are you currently inspired by, and what inspired you to become a designer or illustrator in the first place?
Calvin: I keep comparing my work to music and this is usually what inspires me the most. It’s a bit hard for me to explain. Just like a musical score, it is a melting pot of different instruments, varied notes and compositions, and it can take a person on a short journey somewhere. I am also inspired by meditation and where this can take me for that day. I can shut the voice of my ego and it helps me to stay calm in times of stress and daily obstacles. I read a lot and I love good stories. I guess I can say I am not too good with words and respect writers who can make me fall into their world. I am very much a musical and visual person and find it amazing how writers can do the same with words, especially when they combine them together with pictures. That is why I love manga so much, especially classics like Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, and some darker stories from Suehiro Maruo and Junji Ito.
Neocha: Stylistically how have you changed?
Calvin: I have two very different styles. One is produced digitally and the other is hand drawn. I guess the medium does influence how I create an idea or how the work is born. For digital, my approach is more like painting as I use ready-made existing images and textures from random photos and I build up the work as paint. It’s never planned and I trust that something will develop from that. It is a scarier process but having the luxury in digital platform the paint never dries so I can craft and fine tune as I please. I have been developing this digital style for over 12 to 15 years now and it has had the most exposure and recognition.
A few years ago, I started to explore hand drawing again. For me, drawing is so much more personal and closer to my heart. I don’t think I’ve completely dropped the digital work but I am just following what inspires me right now and to create work and try to be push myself to new ways of expression.
Neocha: What would be your fantasy project?
Calvin: I have been quite lucky, as a kid I’ve always wanted to have a record shop and produce my own magazine, both of which have come true in my lifetime. As most designers who are also into music would agree, working on a record label is a dream come true. Most of my own goals for professional or personal projects have come true. What now? Maybe a bigger exhibition of my new works would be nice. I also want to work on a game with my illustrations and to make characters into toys both of which I am working on right now. I have also wanted to make my own music.
Neocha: What are you looking forward to?
Calvin: I have just completed a commission for a private collector and have a few others lined up which will keep me busy. Also building slowly towards a collection of small sized drawings that hopefully will run as a series towards my upcoming exhibition and want to also focus on a series of larger works. I’m looking forward to moving into a bigger studio space so I can create more diverse work.