With Kopi King done and dusted, we took a well-deserved coffee break with @yyishyan to find out more about her process.
Ok. The first thing we need to get out of the way is what’s your favourite kopitiam drink?
Teh halia siew dai! * There’s a stall in Tanglin Halt Market that sells really thick and fragrant teh halia. Love it.
That's quite an uncommon preference. Plus teh halia is not in the game, which shows just how much/little we've covered. What was your experience like working on Kopi King?
It was a huge learning experience especially since I don’t know much about board games, even less so about production. It was also my first time drawing food (or drinks) in a detailed manner. As I was drawing, I had to constantly ask myself if the drinks looked palatable.
One big takeaway for me was the exchange of ideas that took place when working with a team of people with different talents and ideas to offer. At the start, I did feel like a small burden for being unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator and formatting conventions which resulted in extra steps that could’ve been avoided.
A habit I picked up in my formal art training is the practice of making mindful decisions and evaluating them constantly to avoid unnecessary or arbitrary elements since the graphical elements in a board game should be functional and complementary, rather than merely decorative. Putting this into practice was a welcome challenge.
How did you get started as an artist?
I've been doodling for as long as I can remember. It’s a source of comfort and escape, both from boredom and reality, where I’d create stories about the things I draw. In school, I began to see art as a discipline, and appreciate the structured ways of thinking about art in general.
We love how the drinks turned out in Kopi King. Many fans have also praised your illustrations on Instagram. What's your art style?
I'm not sure I have a style. I tailor my work according to the needs of each project I get. Although the illustrations needed for Kopi King were quite straightforward, it was important to make everything look cohesive.
If I had to pick a defining quality, it would be the use of lines. There’s something amazing in how lines can make or break a composition, create a visual effect, evoke a feeling simply by arranging them in a certain way, or changing up its quality. My sketches make use of many loose lines, or clear and clean lines. They also tend to look rough, unpolished. When I draw for fun, I go with what feels comfortable for me. My personal goal is to be more experimental when I approach my future works.
'Retro' is another word used to describe Kopi King. Where did you find inspiration to render this?
I looked at real kopitiams. Some of the colours in Kopi King are based on the paint combos of old shops, as well as the use of red and blue in the “good morning” towels. Having references helps to shape and nail down the art direction of a game, but picking and choosing what and how much to use is crucial, especially since our goal was to create a modern yet familiar look to Kopi King without relying too much on nostalgia. I also paid extra attention to my kopi and tea, and learnt to accept the weird looks I got while taking (too) many photos of my drinks.
As an artist, how did you feel when Kopi King was finished? Is it finished?
It’s definitely satisfying and a little surreal to hold a tangible printed product after many weeks of development, discussion, feedback cycles and (occasionally) late nights. I grappled with self-doubt along the way, even after Kopi King was sent to the printers. I genuinely felt unsatisfied with my work and kept thinking about what I could have done better instead, worrying that my inexperience would cripple the game or if it would be well received. I guess this sense of pride and self-criticism results from wanting, like everyone else on the team, to produce the best version of Kopi King possible.
This is not a trick question: do you think artists are essential?
HAHAHAHA I would say no, only because I define essential as something we absolutely cannot survive without. But to really live, I think a world without art would be utterly miserable.
At one point of time in my practice I was greatly disillusioned, seriously questioning why I bothered to hone a craft that felt so “useless” compared to other skills. I’ve since reconciled my thoughts on this and concluded that art can’t save the world, but it can make it a little brighter. For me at least, art is an integral part of my life. It keeps me sane and comforts me in tough times.
Well put! Before we close, what's next on the horizon for you?
I’ve just started uni, so I’m currently adjusting to the huge change in environment. I hope to find the time and motivation to work on personal projects and art experiments, especially with watercolour and gouache - mediums and styles I’ve yet to fully explore! Collaborations, including interdisciplinary ones, would also be something I’m interested to try out should the opportunity arise.
I'm looking forward to seeing what else you create. Thank you Emma!
* ginger tea with milk, less sugar
Find out more about Kopi King