Strokes of genius
Article from the Sun daily by Ong Kah Shin (posted on 27th Oct 2015)
IN the four years she was studying biochemistry and molecular biology at Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, Charis Loke was occupying herself with many things on the side. Being an artist at heart, Loke was attending all the animation, illustration and comparative literature classes she could find. She also learnt German, computer programming, African dance, and took lessons at the Rhode Island School of Design. To top it off, Brown University funded her to teach art classes to science students.
"Even though my Malaysian scholarship required me to graduate with a science degree, I spent most of my time in university doing what I loved after all – and that's the beauty of the American education system," said Loke.
She returned to Malaysia upon graduating, and joined non-profit organisation Teach for Malaysia (TFM) in late 2013. Loke is still serving under the programme, teaching English and art in a local secondary school while continuing to freelance as an illustrator. Her dream is to illustrate full-time, and conduct art workshops for the public instead of only teaching her own students.
"The ultimate goal is to keep making work that makes people think about the world around them, and inspires them to make art in their own way. That's what artists like Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid (Lat) and Shaun Tan did for me. I loved Lat's work when I was growing up and I still am a big fan now," said the 24-year-old.
What do you like about art?
I like how illustrators tend to be quite collaborative, and that the Internet means there is a lower entry barrier nowadays for people around the world who want to get into art, especially younger people who may not be extremely well off. When I was in secondary school about eight to nine years ago, I was trading art with online friends from many different countries, and that gave me the confidence to continue making art. It's so easy to put your work out there nowadays.
How is the American art scene different from ours?
In terms of art education, they do seem to have a more hands on approach compared to the theoretical one in our national art syllabus. And I suppose you get paid more for illustration jobs there. In both cases, there's the problem of people who think artists can work for free.
Which of your artwork are you most proud of, and why?
The Dinner comic that I made two years ago seems to resonate with a lot of people. It's an interactive comic about relatives who ask about your career choices. After I put it online, many complete strangers sent me emails about how they really identified with it. In terms of artwork, it's not great – the drawing quality is passable.
But it was about a topic that lots of Malaysians could identify with. So in terms of impact, I'd say that was something quite substantial and more rewarding than any awards.
What are some of the challenges that you face as an illustrator?
The same as other people, I think – trying to get better at capturing movement, using line and shape better, likenesses, perspective, and fluidity. All so that I can convey the ideas in my head better. You will never be 100% satisfied with your work, and that's part of being an artist.
Other than drawing and illustrating, what other aspects of art interest you?
Video games. I think video games are the future of art; I love playing them, and the relationship between storytelling and visual art that games encapsulate so well. I also did a bit of 3D modelling in university and would like to get into sculpting so that I can understand forms better.