February 22, 2013

Spotlight: Eileen Kai Hing Kwan

Don't let her lovely clothing line fool you; Eileen has some wonderfully
frightening thoughts churning around in that head of hers.

At first glance, the illustrations of artist Eileen Kai Hing Kwan might seem as though they each have different creators; she's responsible for helping formulate an exhibition on Lewis Carroll, she has a clothing line with her twin sister and she has created artwork for stories on dandies, foxes and even hiccups. However, upon closer look, each of her works have two glaring similarities; they almost always have an ethereal, storybook feeling, and they're each created with painful precision. I have trouble believing her eyeballs haven't yet sprung from her head and rolled away begging for a break - the details in her illustrations are just that exact.

As for her storybook themes, Kwan admittedly enjoys creating images based on nightmares, which have been described as "dreamlike," "weird and wonderful" and even "something must be wrong inside your head." But aside from her sometimes strange imagery, Eileen seems like your terrifyingly lovely girl next door; she recently graduated from Middlesex University, likes cleanliness, lovely clothes, and potatoes and is currently based in London, where she works as a Freelance Illustrator and Web Designer. Lucky for us at THE LE SIGH (and you!) Eileen gave us a little peak into her wonderfully odd brain and fantastic illustrations:

THE LE SIGH: You and other artists just finished a homage to Lewis Carroll in the exhibition "Curiouser and Curiouser." Could you tell us more about that?

EKHK: I helped organize and curate the successful "Curiouser and Curiouser" exhibition which celebrated Lewis Carroll's 181st birthday, alongside two fellow Middlesex Illustration graduates Alex Moore and Abigail Moulder. They're both great artists and good friends! The show consisted of many talents including Middlesex graduates, current students and tutors. One of the show's unique factors was how different and varied all the artists' works were, including digital, collage, pen and ink, watercolor, lino and pencil.

For "Curiouser and Curiouser" I drew some of my favorite characters and lines from Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, including the brilliant "Who are you?" scene between the Caterpillar and Alice, and the fantastic line, "'What a curious feeling!' said Alice. 'I must be shutting up like a telescope,'" when she shrinks after drinking the "Drink Me" bottle. I really enjoyed being able to draw whatever I liked with the freedom graduating gives. Overall, a great first show and we've already started planning the next.

TLS: A lot of the work you do seems to evoke fairy tales, fables, or other storybook themes. What about them draws you toward depicting them in your illustrations?

EKHK: I've explored many forms of illustration, including editorial, animation and others, though I would say my favorite form is narrative/storybooks, as I love telling stories through pictures. Also, I find it fun choosing the right moments to capture in a story and adapting a piece of text to become an exciting visual piece for adults and children to enjoy. I'm also interested in fashion illustration, which would be great to get into in the future, if possible. 
TLS: The amount of detail in your work is incredible! How long does the average piece take?

EKHK: I'm a self-diagnosed OCD and neat freak, which is carried into my art; my need for detail is a passion as well as an obsession. It's difficult to give a clear amount of time spent on a piece as I tend to work on and off or in splurges, so a drawing can take a day or a week or a month depending on how I like how it's going.

TLS: Do you have a favorite storybook?

EKHK: I really like the work of Oliver Jeffers, who I know best through his picture books. I had the opportunity to meet him when he visited London last year and he was such a lovely person. My work is very different to his, but I enjoy the playfulness and simplicity of his illustrations. My favorite children's storybook would be his The Hueys in the New Jumper, a story about little egg-shaped beings called Hueys who all look the same, do the same and think the same. The story's about this one little Huey called Rupert, and how he shocks all the other Hueys by being different and knitting and wearing a bright orange jumper. It's a story about individuality and not being afraid to step out of the norm. As an art and fashion driven individual, I really support this. It's a delightful read - I'd recommend it.

TLS: Your store Y.h is a collaboration between you and your twin sister Cathy, which I can imagine might get difficult sometimes. What's it like having your sister as your business partner? Who does what?

EKHK: It's great, to be honest! Cathy is like my best friend alongside my twin. Yes, there are times when I wish I could shut myself up in an umbrella, but we work together like tea and biscuits. What more could I ask for in a business partner? We both do designing/printing and publicizing together. Individually, I handle the admin. side and Cathy ensures everything stays above a certain level of quality and Y.h's branding. What a lovely balance.

TLS: A number of your illustrations are of dapper animals, bears specifically (top picture). What's your favorite animal?

EKHK: Oh, I do love dapper, well-dressed individuals. It just had to become part of my work! My favorite animal is surprisingly not bears, but penguins. They're nature's naturally tuxedo-donning animal. Love them.

Eileen and Cathy recently started TEES FOR SHE, Y.h's branch of t-shirts featuring their brilliantly designed prints for ladies! Yes, yes, they already have TEES FOR HE, all of which can be found online. Also, check out some more of Eileen's work on her blog; we hope she keeps the momentum going. The world could use more odd brains and the fantastic images born there.

Written by Molly Morris