Making art from the heart

Since 2016, children’s storybook illustrator Ang Ji Phan has been making a splash in the international illustration scene.

WORLD FAMOUS Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived an inspiring life. Born in 1907, she had a terrible accident that left her temporarily bedridden. While recovering, she began painting.

Eventually, Kahlo became one of Mexico’s most famous female artists, and her reputation lives on decades after her death in 1954.

Her uplifting and inspiring story was made into a children’s storybook published in 2014 under the title Frida Kahlowritten by Spanish writer Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara.

What most people may not know, however, is that the book was illustrated by local artist Ang Ji Phan.

Eng’s whimsical, colorful visual style captures Kahlo’s spirit perfectly.

Frida Kahlo is my first children’s picture book and has played a significant role in my career. Isabelle [the author] saw my work online and thought I was the illustrator she was looking for,” said 35-year-old Eng.

Frida Kahlo it is the second title in a series of books Big dreams of little people. We didn’t expect the book series to be successful!” said Eng, quite surprised by the popularity of the book among children.

Eng draws the character Kahlo like in a cartoon, but in a childish way. Cute, playful and distinctive digital art characters with rounded shapes and bright colors are meant to complete the book’s story and message.

Eng admits that she has “constantly created and illustrated a series of characters and illustrations in a sweet and lovable style.” While most of her vibrant illustrations are digitally created using Procreate and Photoshop, she also draws and paints by hand.

But imagine the pressure of illustrating the story of one of the world’s greatest artists, Kahlo. It couldn’t be that easy.

We wonder where Eng drew inspiration for her complex and creative work.

“Research is the key! I worked on the book for several months and it took me a long time to learn everything about Frida,” she said.

“Frida was known for her symbolic themes, extensive series of self-portraits, and her love of wearing Mexican traditional clothing. So I had to be precise in turning these real characteristics into illustrations, but I “tailored” them to my style of illustration,” added Eng, who included her own interpretation of the late artist in her sketches.

Passion for illustration

Art and illustrations are expressions that come from the heart and sometimes from the soul. The ideas in her head are transformed into images on a computer screen or drawn on paper.

Looking back on her childhood days, Eng recalls that her passion for illustration began when she was still a child.

“My first attempt at drawing was inspired by Japanese manga. Sailor Moon” she said.

“I got involved in art markets after I studied graphic design at a local college and got into illustration.”

After graduation, she worked as a full-time graphic designer for almost two years, but later decided to quit her job, which she describes as “a tedious job”.

Her inspiration comes from her own environment. Ideas arise when she goes about her daily activities or visits unusual places.

“Ideas are everywhere. I often come up with ideas in the shower,” said the intuitive illustrator.

“A fun conversation with friends can also generate a great idea,” she added.

She is mainly inspired by photos on Pinterest. “It’s visually stimulating and helps me gather ideas for my illustrations.”

Eng admitted: “I like to save ideas and beautiful things, and yes, it’s addictive.”

Proud Achievement

One of her most outstanding achievements was her first entry in an international competition in 2019.

She said: “After getting the news that my work was shortlisted, I decided to fly alone from Malaysia to Portugal to attend the four-day events and ceremony.

“I unexpectedly took third place. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life,” she said.

She was also nominated for the World Illustration Awards (UK) and received the Merit Award from 3×3 Magazine (USA).

“My works for the exhibition, Bad Taste: An Exhibition of Illustrationswho curated Meet The Kawan and received an honorable mention from Magazine 3×3.

“I am honored to be part of this amazing collection of talented artists from around the world,” said Eng.

She also illustrated the cover of a diary for a local stationery brand.

Beyond Art

“I also like to do things by hand,” said Eng, who isn’t limited to just digital but has also explored using non-traditional canvas for her art and has even ventured into needlework.

“I used to draw my characters on a material called shrink plastic and turn them into various items such as earrings, necklaces, pins, magnets and others.”

“This is a unique and delightful gift for clients. I stopped making them years ago when I got into work. Lately I’ve been getting into polymer clay,” added Eng, who has decided to go into jewelry making.

“I will explore more ways to combine this material with my characters in my future work.

“I hope I can put on an exhibition just to show off my polymer clay characters.”

We hope that Eng will continue to develop in his creative career and inspire others.