With Mooncake Master in the bag, we took a breather and caught up with @launshae to find out more about her life as an artist and illustrator.
Hi Dot, thanks for taking time out to chat with me about your work and life - it's not about an edit or deadline for a change. So one of the things I've been curious about since we started working together is how you came to choose @launshae as your brush name?
Launshae is a name I made up as a kid to sign off on my drawings although recently, I found out that Laun Shae was an old ancient city in Myanmar.
Pretty good coincidence - mystery solved! Have you always been creating art?
I dabbled in art during primary and secondary school, and then for a year in JC. But I dropped it because of poor overall grades, plus my art teachers said I sucked. Maybe they were right based on how they defined good art. But why should anyone get to decide what good art is?
Since then, two decades have passed and my partner Winnie suggested I pick up art again. It took me a while to find my feet. I believed that, at best, I could capture and enhance visuals such as photographs but art, to me, sits closer to pure creation, which I didn’t think I was capable of. Anyhow I tried and over time grew to loosen up and enjoy myself. So much so that I quit my full time job in sustainability in March 2018 to better explore myself through art.
I think your experiences in school speak more to how art and creativity is regarded in Singapore. Well, whatever your teachers thought, I'm glad you found you way back to art. You've had more than a year now to explore art. What subjects or themes do you like to work with or find yourself returning to?
That is a good question, something I’ve not thought of before!
I would say a recurring theme has been mountains in varying forms. Perhaps because mountains offer a primal sense of safety and calm, especially for city folks like me who have become distant from nature.
Another theme that can be traced from my existing works is ‘weird’. I enjoy different ideas and expressions such as making yarn ooze out of dots, or sewing a story about explorer ants. Perhaps my mind works in weird ways, and I give myself permission to manifest that? Or perhaps everyone is weird in their own way, which is therefore not weird at all, but keeping it hidden inside?
What about your style? Do you have one?
I’m not sure if I have a style, which is something I was uneasy with in the early days. I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable to not produce works with a somewhat consistent style or theme, and to be recognized for that. When I scroll through my Instagram, I'm surprised by how jumpy everything looks.
I've decided to call myself an ‘experimental artist’, which is a self-appointed title in tune with the saying ‘the only constant is change’. Perhaps someone standing outside looking in can better see what my style is and share that with me?
I think your weirdness is your virtue. Your art is full of colour and quirk. Which is precisely why I approached you to work on our board game Mooncake Master. What was your experience like working on it?
Mooncake Master was my very first commercial art project and I'm grateful that you guys trusted me enough to work on your first board game! There's so much that I've learnt through the process. One of the main things I picked up was how to create vector illustrations. I always believed it to be difficult and was glad to have the opportunity and impetus to learn and discover what an incredible tool it is.
If the artwork is well received, people might simply credit the illustrator but behind the scenes, all of us had to work on it. You gave me valuable inputs which were crucial to directing the illustrations towards their final landing point. Daryl would share his feedback on how the information design could be improved. I also received valuable advice from my partner who was a veteran designer turned hermit. She shared advice such as how reference books can be gleaned for inspiration, and that I could use grids to produce more pleasing layouts.
How did you find inspiration for the artworks?
In Mooncake Master, the brief was for the artworks to be Asian, modern and nostalgic. I looked for fitting references from books and Pinterest for inspiration, which melded with my natural inclination towards cute things. Perhaps that is a bit like what Singapore is, a melting pot of different needs and styles mashed up into one unique culture.
You make it sound so straightforward, but I for one know how many drafts we cycled through, and how many designs will never see the light of day. What was most challenging and rewarding, working on Mooncake Master?
There were certainly lots of personal challenges, mainly around having to learn different things from scratch. In terms of illustrations the most challenging part was creating the mooncakes. The first part involved making the top-down cross sections of the mooncakes look recognisable. Imagine horizontally slicing off the top crust of the mooncake and peering down at it, what would it look like? We went through many versions to find the right look. Some versions looked too abstract and graphical while others looked more like pizzas or pineapple tarts! I was quite relieved when we finally reached something we were happy with. The second part revolved around ensuring that the mooncake had symmetry - that when the four quadrants joined up, they should line up exactly.
I suspect the most rewarding part is yet to come, which is hugging the actual printed game once it’s ready! It's so exciting to see something you’ve worked on materialise as a tangible object that people can interact with. Often our work is abstract and intangible, which makes it all the more gratifying when you're able to see the impact of your work.
What's next on your plate, besides illustrating the Roll and Write game that we'll be starting on next month?
Recently, I've been drawn to sewing and mending, as well as embroidery. Mending and altering clothing and bags with the sewing machine is highly satisfying. There's a sense of power feeding the fabric through the machine and watching it come out transformed. There's also a sense that order is created out of disorder, for example, when sewing a frayed cloth edge into a neatly encapsulated line. I'm looking forward to getting some basic embroidery needles to make yarn art. There's so much potential in what can be created, and there's something so appealing about the chunky furred look of yarn.
Awesome, I think I've seen some examples of this on your Instagram. Finally, before we close, is there something you want readers to take away from your sharing?
Yes there is. I would love for more of us to believe in ourselves. In the case of art, what we create doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to be worthy of creation. Rather every piece is important because it's a unique expression of who we are, which is worthy of celebration. This is something I am trying to learn myself. The diversity of expression in nature and in each of us is what makes life endlessly fascinating.