Meet Allison Eng, the Vancouver-based graphic designer and illustrator whose incredible drive and talent recently caught our attention via an unassuming local collaboration…
First of all, please introduce yourself to our Scout readers. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Allison Eng, I am a self-taught Hong-Kong Canadian visual artist working primarily in drawing and painting; I specialize in digital illustrations. I am a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, from designing film posters to creating marketing collateral for businesses. My freelance journey started a little over a year ago during the pandemic in March 2020, where I rekindled my interest in illustration. Fast forward to the Fall of 2021, when I decided to make the jump and quit my corporate legal marketing job to pursue freelance work. That’s me in a nutshell!
Personally, I first discovered your artwork via a postcard you created for One of a Few, where you also work part time. How does your love of fashion/style cross over or influence your artwork?
I have always loved fashion. To me, it’s the easiest way a person can showcase and exercise their creativity everyday. I think it definitely translates in my work too, because a lot of my artwork are portraits or feature people. When you see artwork that features a person, what they wear and how they are presented visually tells you a lot about the person and story. Ultimately, when someone comes across my work, I hope they are captivated and wonder, “Who are they? What are they thinking? Where are they going? What is the story behind this?”
I feel like the majority of dialogue around being a woman artist has been centred around the disadvantages, which are obviously important to address; however, I want to flip the conversation, and ask you: what are the advantages of being a woman in the arts, specifically a woman of Asian heritage living in Vancouver?
Sorry, I don’t really know how to answer about being a woman in the arts. I don’t feel like I’ve had enough experience to really say anything about it….most of the artists I meet are women too!
My cultural heritage definitely affects my work. I take a lot of influence from historical characteristics of South East Asian art, like Chinese scroll paintings or Japanese ukiyo-e prints. I identify very much as a diasporic artist and hope that my heritage comes through in the artwork I make, because it is important to me to have representation. Representation matters because it can shape how minorities see themselves and the world around them, and there is pride in seeing your culture and traditions being embraced around you. Being born and raised in Canada, Western styles like Fauvism or Surrealism also have a big influence on what I like to make as well. I hope my artwork showcases both of my backgrounds.
When did art first enter your life, and how has its role changed over time?
Art has been a part of my life since I was a child. I’m a single child so I spent a lot of time by myself growing up. I would draw all day – 6 to 8 hours straight, in my room, without talking to anybody. In high school, I was definitely an art person too – I spent a lot of time in the studio making my final portfolio and just having fun, honestly. I was accepted into an art university in NYC and Oakland, but it was too expensive for me to go, so I ended up going to UBC. I think I convinced myself I was too busy for art and pushed drawing and painting aside during university. I was partying, working two part time jobs, applying for grad school and then ended up completing my Masters in Management at Sauder. From there I worked in a few corporate jobs and wound up quitting to go back to what I loved most.
The silver lining for me during the lockdown was rediscovering my love and passion for art. Today, I’ve never felt more myself and happy because I am drawing and painting. There is a certain satisfaction to thinking of something, making it in real life, and sharing it with other people. I’ve met a lot of like-minded people and creatives this year because of my work, and am really enjoying the ride.
“I think anybody can be an artist. But an artist works when they feel like it, whereas a professional artist works even when they don’t – and I want to be a professional.”
How has the learning curve been since returning to illustration? What sort of discoveries about yourself have you made in the process of picking up this creative pursuit and how has that informed your artistic output?
I have always been able to draw a version of what I was seeing in my head onto paper, so I didn’t find there to be a big learning curve when it came to the actual illustration part. The biggest learning curve was using the technology – it’s such a different way of making something. Things would never look exactly how I saw it in my head. When I started to draw again, I was also using an old and glitchy Wacom tablet with a bootleg version of Photoshop that would close every so often. That was SO difficult to use just because the tech would glitch out and interrupt my workflow, and I would spend time trying to fix it or salvage my work. I also had to relearn Photoshop and Illustrator, which is quite daunting at the beginning for anyone out there who has ever used these programs. Having the patience to persevere was challenging during times where I felt discouraged. When I upgraded to my iPad on Procreate, it was so user-friendly and things really took off.
When I look back at where I started last year in comparison to now, I’m honestly so shocked at how much of an improvement I’ve made, not only in terms of style and technique but also mentally. I think my work evolved into something more mature because I practiced so often. And that was the most difficult part during the beginning – wanting to and making myself practice when I felt like everything I made was ugly. I told myself, “You have to keep practicing to be better than where you were at yesterday”. Now I draw even on my low days because I know that even though I don’t feel my best, it’s better than not doing anything at all. I think anybody can be an artist. But an artist works when they feel like it, whereas a professional artist works even when they don’t – and I want to be a professional.
Now that you’re getting back into the swing of things, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I recently opened my Etsy store here and plan to sell more products on there in the near future. I am in the process of minting an NFT so please follow my Instagram to be notified for when that launches. I am continuing to do freelance work and would love to do more film posters – I really enjoy working with the director and production team to develop a poster that represents their film. I would love for the opportunity to paint a mural one day as well.