Artist Kitty N. Wong tells Riva Hiranand about life as a fashion illustrator and her collaborations with brands and artists.
A graduate of fashion design from Toronto’s Ryerson University, Kitty N. Wong always knew fashion would be her calling. The 28-year-old moved to Canada at the age of eight, returning to Hong Kong in 2011 and worked as a fashion designer at Li & Fung before switching to illustration. Wong recently underwent an illustration residency at the prestigious School of Visual Arts in New York.
When did you discover your love for illustrating?
I’ve always loved drawing. When I did fashion design, sewing was such a hurdle and I saw it as something I had to do, whereas drawing was something I loved to do. After working as a fashion designer, I realised it wasn’t for me, and so I decided to become a full-time illustrator.
How did your career as an illustrator begin?
At first, it was really slow. I had to put myself out there and rely on word of mouth. My career really kicked off when I met Paola Sinisterra of Tangram, who asked me to collaborate with her. She was throwing a Halloween party in Chai Wan (which she now does for Duddell’s), and I did the invitations.
How did you build awareness about your brand and your services?
Sometimes people won’t really understand you’re looking for work until they meet you in person. Real life interaction is really important. It took some time, but I just had to put myself out there.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an artist?
Space. After being in New York and realising how much free space I had to do work, coming back to Hong Kong is a challenge. I work out of a studio in my room and it’s small, so I can’t make bigger paintings. Also, in Hong Kong, people are always rushing you!
What inspires your work?
Women that I see on the street or at an event who are really stylish, wearing crazy patterns or extravagant makeup or who are in pop culture. My favourite things to draw are women in fashion. I use gouache, an opaque watercolour.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on with brands?
I’ve done a lot of live drawing events for Lane Crawford, where I’ll do an illustration of guests within three to four minutes. I had the chance to do some comics for Dazed Digital, which was amazing as they are fun to work with. I did another project for Maybelline New York where I designed their point of sale displays and social media ads in Hong Kong.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
No, I’m full-time illustrating. It has come to the point where enough potential clients know about me, and I’m so thankful it’s going well. In terms of style, I’m really into comics right now; I discovered my love for them during my residency in New York.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Being able to work for myself, to produce work and put it out there. At first, I was so afraid to create something that was ugly or bad, so I just wouldn’t produce anything but now I’ve got over that hurdle.
Are there any social issues you are passionate about?
I’m very into feminism; women’s rights issues are close to my heart. In Hong Kong, it’s such a commercial and financial city, so what’s good is that there is a lot of support for entrepreneurial women.
If you could change one thing about Hong Kong, what would it be?
Smoking on the sidewalks. It’s disgusting. I feel like I’m always stuck behind a cloud of smoke!
What is your ambition?
To become more fearless in my work.
What motivates you?
Seeing the super talented people around me and their work. Travelling too; when I went to New York it opened my eyes to how talented the people around me were.
What is your greatest personal trait?
I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself.
What is your biggest weakness?
I’m a bit too disorganised.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Having a television marathon and binging on shows like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or The Good Wife.
If you were a drink, what would you be and why?
A gin and tonic because it’s clean and delicious.
Who would you want to be stranded on a desert island with?
Jimmy Fallon – he could entertain me in many ways.
If your house was burning down, what three items would you save and why?
I have a stuffed monkey called King Kong Baby, so I would take him, my passport and try and grab as much of my work as I could.
What is your biggest fear?
Getting to the end of my life and realising I was too afraid to come up with the work I wanted. You get a lot of briefs as an illustrator and you tend to just create within that brief. In Hong Kong the clients are a little bit safe, they never want anything too crazy. You fall into a trap where you self-censor, and I don’t want to self-censor in my work.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
I hope to have my own family.