The children’s book illustrator Eng Gee Fan has been causing a sensation on the international illustration scene since 2016
WORLD KNOWN Mexican painter Frida Kahlo lived an inspiring life. Born in 1907, she had a terrible accident that left her temporarily bedridden. While recovering, she took up painting.
Eventually, Kahlo became one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and her reputation lives on decades after her death in 1954.
Her empowering and inspirational story was made into a children’s book published in 2014 entitled Frida Kahlowritten by Spanish author Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara.
However, what most people may not know is that the book was illustrated by local artist Eng Gee Fan.
Eng’s quirky, colorful visual style perfectly encapsulates Kahlo’s own spirit.
“Frida Kahlo is my first picture book for children and has played a significant role in my career. Isabel [the author] saw my work online and thought I was the illustrator she was looking for,” said Eng, 35.
“Frida Kahlo is the second title in the book series Small people dream big. We didn’t expect the book series to be a success!” said Eng, who is quite surprised at the book’s popularity with children.
Eng draws Kahlo’s character like a cartoon, but childish. The cute, playful and distinctive digital art characters with rounded shapes and bright colors are designed to complement the story and message of the book.
Eng admits that she has “continuously created and illustrated a range of characters and illustrations with a loveable and endearing style”. Although most of her vibrant illustrations are created digitally using Procreate and Photoshop, she also does the drawing and coloring by hand.
But imagine the pressure to illustrate the story of one of the world’s greatest artists, Kahlo. It couldn’t have been that easy.
We wonder where Eng drew the inspiration for her challenging and creative work.
“Research is the key! I worked on the book for months and it took me a lot of time to research everything about Frida,” she revealed.
“Frida was known for her iconic subjects, extensive series of self-portraits, and her love of wearing traditional Mexican clothing. So I had to be precise in translating these real-world features into illustrations, but I adjusted them to suit my illustration style,” added Eng, who incorporated her own interpretation of the late painter into her sketches.
passion for illustration
Art and illustrations are about expressions of the heart or sometimes the soul. Ideas in their head are converted into images on their computer screen or drawn on paper.
Looking back on her childhood, Eng recalls that her passion for illustration began when she was a child.
“My first attempt at drawing was inspired by Japanese manga Sailor Moon,” She said.
“After studying graphic design at a local college and developing a passion for illustration, I got into the art market.”
After graduating, she worked as an in-house graphic designer for almost two years, but later decided to quit what she describes as a “boring job.”
She gets her inspiration from her own environment. Sparkling ideas while completing mundane tasks or visiting unusual places.
“Ideas are everywhere. I often get ideas in the shower,” says the intuitive illustrator.
“A fun chat with friends might also spark a great idea,” she added.
Most of the time, she gets her inspiration from photos on Pinterest. “It’s visually stimulating and helps me generate ideas for my illustrations.”
Eng confessed, “I like storing ideas and beautiful things, and yes, it’s addictive.”
One of her most outstanding achievements was her first submission to an international competition in 2019.
She said: “After receiving the news that my work had been shortlisted, I decided to fly solo from Malaysia to Portugal to attend the four-day activities and ceremony.
“I unexpectedly won third place. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” she said.
She was also longlisted for the World Illustration Awards (UK) and received a Merit Award from 3×3 Magazine (USA).
“My artwork for the exhibition, Bad Taste: An Illustration Exhibitionwhich was curated by Meet The Kawan and received an honorable mention 3×3 magazine.”
“I am very honored and humbled to be part of this amazing collection of talented artists from around the world,” said Eng.
She also illustrated a planner cover for local stationery brand ana tomy.
“I also like doing something by hand,” revealed Eng, who doesn’t just limit herself to digital, but has also explored unconventional canvases for her art and even ventured into craft.
“I used to draw my characters on a material called shrink plastic and turn them into different products like earrings, necklaces, pins, magnets and others.”
“This is a unique and delightful gift for customers. I stopped making them years ago after getting busy with work. I’ve been fascinated with polymer clay lately,” added Eng, who has ventured into jewelry making.
“I will explore more ways to combine this material with my characters in my future artworks.
“I hope I can organize an exhibition just to show my polymer clay figures.”
We hope Eng will continue to grow in her creative career and inspire others.