Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview - Dawn Tan

I first encountered Dawn Tan at a market more than a year ago and completely fell in love with her work. She was selling prints of her food recipe creations and I just loved her use of watercolour, her lovely style, distinctive compositions and most of all, the subject matter! Yum! I began following her delightful blog and early last year snapped up the chance to be in Dawn's very first watercolour class for adults where, with her guidance, I created a very special artwork I will treasure forever.

Dawn is already a talented educator giving private art lessons to kids and adults but will add another string to her bow this year when she begins a Diploma of Education. This will qualify her to unleash her teaching and artistic talent in schools. Oh, how I wish I could be one of her lucky, lucky students.

Dawn with her partner Darren at Finders Keepers, Sydney 2011 (Photo credit: Dawn Tan. Source.)

Dawn's star just keeps rising. She is regularly commissioned by Frankie magazine to create product illustrations, has collaborated with Douglas and Hope on a limited edition 'Burger and Fries' melamine set, created a 'Kitchen Range' with Harvest Textiles and continues to sell her amazing foodie prints in her shop. And did I mention her Meaty Pillowcases? You have to see these! But enough from me. Let's hear from the lovely Dawn Tan herself!

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements.
Hello! I am Dawn and I'm an artist, art teacher, blogger and big-time foodie all rolled into one! I spend most of my days painting food that makes me hungry. I have just only an ever-so-slight obsession with food. No. Actually, I'm lying. I have a HUGE obsession with food. So much so, I spend ALL MY TIME reading up on recipes, and the history of foods, drawing and painting them. And my love doesn't stop with the 2-D form, I turn my drawings into useable things such as cups, plates, pillowcases, bags and tea towels. You see, I have separation issues. I need to surround myself with my food 24-7! Even when I sleep! Oops! I think my biggest achievement would be making it into the press, with my over-the-top love for food! At least I know I'm not crazy and over-obsessed! Especially when others share my love for meaty pillowcases and give them as gifts to friends and family! I think it's really nice when others appreciate what I do and share it with others. Hehehe!

Prep for watercolour class Dawn ran for a corporate event recently. (Photo credit: Dawn Tan. Source.)

When did you know you wanted to work creatively (from a young age or did you come to it later?) and what steps did you take to make it happen?
I knew from a young age I wanted to be some sort of artist/creative when I grew up! Others had ambitions to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, policeman, I wanted to be a crazy arty person! I didn't know what exactly, but I just knew I wanted to make art all my life! I’ve always loved making and painting things. As a kid, I really hated maths and science. BORING! Art was the best thing ever! I remember when I was in high school, spending my recess at the art room painting away. It was only natural to want to be an artist, given that I love art so much. Nothing makes me happier than making things!

So anyway, right after high school, I went straight to design school and taught little kids art while schooling. I fell in love with painting and illustration towards the end of my design diploma and after a year of working, I hopped onto a plane and moved to Melbourne (from Singapore) to do a degree in Fine Arts (Painting) at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). I graduated early last year and haven't stopped making crazy bits of art!

Could you describe a typical work day? How do you balance art and the administration side of freelancing?
Well, every day's quite different for me. Because I run one-off home art classes alongside weekly art classes at a private studio, and sometimes also run workshops in schools, I kind of work my schedule around my teaching schedule. But most days when I'm not teaching, I work at my dining table from morning till evening. But of course, I try and make it a little more exciting and epic by singing along off-key to huge diva tunes. I think singing makes it fun and dramatic. And it helps me pick up the pace too when I'm having a slow day. Oh and most days, I try to fight my urge of running to the freezer for some ice-cream. Very, very bad, especially when you're drawing and painting yummy food all-day-long.
Photo credit: Dawn Tan. Source.
Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or before you start working on something new? How do you motivate yourself?
Yup! I enjoy doing 10 headstands in a row, followed by a huge back-flip and a somersault! Ah. No, I'm just kidding! Hehehe. Hmm. Rituals or routines...Not really actually. I kind of like letting the day unfold by itself. Of course I do the usual stuff like sitting at my desk and checking all my emails first. Making cups of iced tea, having breakfast while watching the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy (my idea of waking my hands/brain up). After all that's done, I get down to business and work like a maniac! 

I usually go through several sketches and lots of visual research first before starting on a new piece. For example, when I was working on a fruity piece last year, I spent about half a day sourcing good reference pictures of fruits, along with the histories and fun facts behind each fruit. Lots of reading actually! Took quite a while! After all the researching, I then sat down to do some layout sketches, and worked with the pictures I got. I tried lots of different compositions before finally deciding which one I liked best. Then I went on to drawing them in on my nice good quality paper, followed by the scary but fun task of painting it all in! All in all, it takes up to 2 weeks sometimes to complete a piece!

'Fruit Chart' by Dawn Tan. Source.

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating?
I absolutely love creating with pencils, nice buttery paper and watercolours! I love how versatile and portable watercolours are. The transparency of the paint attracts me to it too! I think there's something ever so soft and gentle about it. I just love it!

Photo credit: Dawn Tan. Source.
What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'?
I try and walk or 'window-shop' it off! Or alternatively, I be nice to myself and treat my tummy to a lovely good meal. I sometimes go to the movies. (I secretly love the trailers before each movie. I find them all inspiring!) And I like going on a hunt for nice colours and patterns out on the streets. I find it helps me take my mind off things!

Photo: Dawn Tan. Source.
Thank you so much for joining us, Dawn, and taking time out of your crazy busy schedule to answer these questions! I loved hearing about your work and creativity and I love the fact that I can hear your voice in these answers. You're amazing!
Be sure to check out more of Dawn's work at the links below. But a word of warning, it'll make you hungry ;)

Explore Dawn Tan's website.
Check out her shop.
And here is Dawn's lovely blog.