Local Artist Sitji Chou On Cats, Daydreaming And Future Collaborations

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by Thalia Stopa | Sitji Chou’s own bio reads as follows: “Chou is an animator and illustrator surviving in Vancouver. He is shy and bad at talking/writing about himself.” This is an accurate self-description, but it omits to mention his indelible charm, fiercely observant wit and obsession with Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Chou’s personality comes through in his personal artwork, which generally consists of playful observances on human and animal behaviour, a knack for storytelling, and a penchant for colour. His work was also just short-listed for the Vancouver Mural Festival’s Independent Mural Contest. Prior to hearing the contest results (Andrew Tavukciyan was announced as the winner), I sat down with Chou over a happy hour beer. Introducing the delightful…

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When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? I think the first time I thought I could be an artist was in the first grade when I was the best at drawing Dragon Ball hair and anime eyes.

What’s the one tool of your trade that you absolutely could not live without? Photoshop! I end up using it a lot for work and for personal stuff, so I’ve fallen out of practice with traditional stuff. It’s also a lot less messy and there’s an “undo” button.

What are the ideal conditions for your creativity? Being inspired by people around me really boosts my creativity. It’s incredibly motivating when everyone is doing their own project with such passion that their energy ends up rubbing off on me. Not being distracted by food also helps a lot. I work on personal projects really late at night too, since that’s when I’m the most driven, although I don’t know why. For animation specifically, the creative stage is definitely at the beginning with all the planning. Once the gears are in motion, though, I usually end up turning the creative part of my brain off.

Your art features a lot of animals! What’s your favourite creature? I’m super drawn (lol) to cats, horses and birds. I think they are so fun to draw. When I was going through school, I used to obsess over the symbolism in my work; at this point in my life though, those aspects aren’t nearly as important to me. I also really love mermaids, but I don’t really draw them very often. The Little Mermaid was my favourite movie when I was little, and I aspired to embody some of Ursula’s qualities. She was very body confident and ambitious.

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Your ‘spirit animal’, so to speak? I’ve been asked to give an artist profile before, and I first described myself as a lethargic cat trapped in a human body. That description was rejected because it didn’t really give the reader any information on my work or history, but I think it gets across who I am pretty succinctly. I’m very shy around strangers and I internalize all my feelings so that they aren’t ever apparent. I’m also skittish when things change, but I very quickly accept my fate.

Favourite animator? I have a lot! I think the one that’s had the most profound influence on me is Masaaki Yuasa. There’s so much energy in the way everything moves and he doesn’t rely on perfect anatomy or realism, but emotion instead. Igor Kovalyov and Priit Pärn are also animators that I really look up to. All three of these animators also have very distinct styles.

The weirdest source of inspiration that has come your way? Most of the time, my inspiration comes from just daydreaming. I think the weirdest (and most inappropriate) place that I’ve been inspired by daydreams was at a funeral.

You seem to travel a lot. What’s your favourite place that you’ve ever been? I went to London by myself last year and it was so wonderful. I set my own pace and spent two weeks walking everywhere. I really fell in love with the city. Earlier this year, I went to Seoul, Taiwan and Shanghai with a couple of friends, and all three of those cities are just amazing. Definitely the best part of traveling through East Asia is the food. Getting a basket of soup dumplings for $2 CDN is what dreams are made of.

Yum! Do you have a favourite place for dumplings in Vancouver? I like the dumplings from this restaurant in Burnaby… It’s attached to a Best Western, haha. I think it’s called Jin Jiang and the soup dumplings are really great.

Favourite cheap eats? Definitely Hawkers Delight on Main Street.

What about a meal that you think is worth the splurge? It’s not even really that expensive, but Les Faux Bourgeois is great!

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Where haven’t you been that you are dying to visit? Porto! A friend of mine has been a few times and tells me how great it is every time she’s back.

What project are you most looking forward to? This year I am collaborating on a short film with my friend, H. Kristen Campbell. I’m super excited to dig in and make something really fun with her! We’re treating it as a love letter to Hong Kong.

What can we look forward to from you in the next few months? A few weeks ago, a project I helped out on with Giant Ant was released on Spotify. The spot I worked on was about Trans rights and I was very excited about it. Check it out if you get a chance! In the coming months, I’ve set my sights on doing another short film. Meanwhile, I’ve just been posting little gifs or illustrations on my Instagram. They’re mostly drag-queen oriented. Besides those things, all my other projects are mainly contract work.

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