Czech matchbox designs inspire An Chen’s angular still-life illustrations
The illustrator discusses the historical references which inform her dynamic visual style including British modernist linocut prints and matchbox designs from Lipnik.
- Elfie Thomas
- 28 February 2022
An Chen is obsessed with “clean angular lines and shapes”, she tells It’s Nice That. “I can’t explain the magic but they really make me happy and I always have a lot of fun experimenting with different combinations of geometric shapes.” Inspired by the “power and speed” of the compositions in British modernist linocut prints, the illustrator experiments with vector illustration to inject her angular style with dynamism. While she loves to depict still life subjects, the resultant illustrations are anything but “still”. Splicing each organic form into bold planes of colour, her illustrations evoke a powerful sense of momentum.
An originally began experimenting with angular and geometric shapes as a graphic designer. The decision to change her focus to illustration came when she was working on the illustrative aspects of an exhibition map for a client: “I felt I was playing with shapes like children making building blocks. I didn’t have a tedious feeling like I used to when I was creating graphic design layouts.”
But once she made the initial decision to swap career paths, An wasn’t sure what her next step should be. An epiphany came to her when she discovered a children’s book back in her homeland of Taiwan. The book was Owen Davey’s Mad about Monkeys. Inspired by the innovative use of vector illustration within its pages, she found out that both illustrator and publisher were based in the UK. So, without further ado, she decided to move to the UK and study an MA in children’s book illustration.
Here she discovered the wealth of visual sources which now enrich her distinctive visual style. She encountered the work of British modernist lino-cut printers, Russian avant-garde artists and also began researching 1950-60s matchbox designs from the Soho Lipnik factory. Fascinated by the “warm grainy texture” of the matchboxes, she set about trying out techniques to mimic this quality. Now she has perfected the method, using mono-printing and the Photoshop mask effect to produce the pleasing, retro texture which characterises her illustrations.
While the illustrator has gone on to work for a wide range of editorial clients including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and Tribune Magazine, one of her favourite projects to experiment with is the Instagram still-life challenge. She enjoys creating “tension” by interpreting the natural, organic forms of plants with her bold angular style. We recently saw these geometric plant designs grace the packaging of the OMSE X Sproutl rebrand alongside the work of Thomas Hedger and Cha.
Using meditation and a “just breath and draw” mantra to guide her practice, An imbues the rich historical references in her illustrations with a unique and contemporary feel. But recently, she’s felt the desire to return to her Taiwanese roots for inspiration. In her future work we can expect to see the Czech and British modernist influences integrated with spiritual references to Taoism.
An Chen: Still Life 6 (Copyright © An Chen, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.