WORLD-RENOWNED Mexican painter Frida Kahlo lived an inspiring life. Born in 1907, she met with a terrible accident that left her temporarily bedridden. While recovering, she began to take up painting.
Eventually, Kahlo became one of Mexico’s most famous female artists, and her reputation lives on, decades after her death in 1954.
Her empowering and inspirational story was turned into a children’s storybook published in 2014 titled Frida Kahlo, written by Spanish author Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara.
However, what most people may not know is that the book was illustrated by local artist Eng Gee Fan.
Eng’s quirky, colourful visual style perfectly encapsulates Kahlo’s own spirit.
“Frida Kahlo is my first children’s picture book, and it has played a significant role in my career. Isabel [the author] saw my work online and thought, I was the illustrator she was looking for,” said 35-year-old Eng.
“Frida Kahlo is the second title in the book series Little People Big Dreams. We didn’t expect the book series to be successful!” said Eng, who is quite surprised over the popularity of the book among children.
Eng draws Kahlo’s character like a cartoon but childlike. The cute, playful, and distinctive digital art characters with rounded shapes and bright colours are meant to complement the story and message of the book.
Eng admits that she has “constantly created and illustrated a series of characters and illustrations with a lovable and endearing style.” Although most of her vibrant illustrations are created digitally using Procreate and Photoshop, she also does the hand-drawing and colouring.
But imagine the pressure of illustrating the story of one of the world’s greatest artists, Kahlo. It could not have been that easy.
We wonder where Eng drew the inspiration for her challenging and creative work.
“Research is the key! I worked on the book over the months, and it took me a lot of time to research everything about Frida,” she revealed.
“Frida was well-known for her symbolic subject matter, extensive series of self-portraits, and her love to wear Mexican traditional attire. So, I had to be precise when turning these real-life characteristics into illustrations, but I ‘aligned’ it to my illustration style,” added Eng, who incorporated her own interpretation of the late painter in her sketches.
Passion about illustration
Art and illustrations are about expressions from the heart, or sometimes the soul. Ideas in her head are transformed into images on her computer screen or drawn on paper.
Looking back to her childhood days, Eng remembers that her passion for illustration began when she was still a child.
“My first drawing attempt was inspired by the Japanese manga Sailor Moon,” she said.
“I became involved in art markets after studying graphic design at a local college and developing a passion for illustration.”
After her graduation, she worked as an in-house graphic designer for almost two years, but later, she decided to quit her job, which she describes as “a tedious job.”
Her inspiration is drawn from her own surroundings. Ideas spark while she is doing mundane chores or visiting unusual places.
“Ideas are everywhere. I often come up with ideas in the shower,” said the intuitive illustrator.
“A fun conversation with friends could spark a great idea, too,” she added.
Mostly, she gets inspired by photos on Pinterest. “It’s visually stimulating and helps me gather ideas for my illustrations.”
Eng confessed: “I like saving ideas and beautiful things, and yes, it’s addictive.”
One of her most distinguished achievements was her first submission to an international competition in 2019.
She said: “After receiving the news that my work had been short-listed, I decided to fly alone from Malaysia to Portugal to attend the four-day activities and ceremony.
“I unexpectedly won third place. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life,“ she said.
She was also long-listed for the World Illustration Awards (UK), and received a Merit Award from 3x3 Magazine (USA).
“My artwork for the exhibition, Bad Taste: An Illustration Exhibition, which Meet The Kawan curated and got an Honourable Mention by 3x3 Magazine.”
“I feel very honoured and humbled to be part of this amazing collection of talented artists from across the globe,” said Eng.
She also illustrated a planner cover for local stationery brand ana tomy.
“I also like to make something by hand,” revealed Eng, who does not confine herself to just digital but also explored using unconventional canvas for her art and even ventured into crafts.
“I used to draw my characters on a material called shrink plastic and turn them into different products like earrings, necklaces, pins, magnets, and others.”
“This makes a unique and adorable gift for customers.I stopped making them years ago after I got busy with work. Recently, I have been fascinated with polymer clay,” added Eng, who has ventured into jewellery making.
“I will explore more possibilities of combining this material with my characters in my future artwork.
“I hope I can organize an exhibition just to display my polymer clay characters.”
We hope Eng will continue to evolve in her creative career and inspire others.