Serene is perhaps the most apt description of illustrator Hoi Chan’s work. Muted colours, not to mention soft and delicate textures, are contributing factors to the quiet atmosphere in his illustrated worlds and today, we are lucky enough to have the New Orleans-based artist talk us through them. It all started in Hong Kong where Hoi was born and bred until the age of 17. “My family is a typical big Chinese family,” he tells It’s Nice That, while recalling a childhood constantly surrounded by many family members.
In contrast to this hustling and bustling atmosphere however, was Hoi. Referring to himself as “the odd child who liked to hide in the corner of the library,” he preferred to be by himself rather than around others; “this was how I recharged myself,” he adds. In turn, this solitary feeling has made its way into his tranquil illustrations. Lone characters can be seen peacefully taking in the world around them, observing their surreal vicinities. “The choice of colour and characters always seem kind of quiet,” the illustrator adds on his signature visual language, and in terms of the mood portrayed; “it’s more internal than external.”
It was at the shopping mall where Hoi first came across the medium of illustration, discovering a huge book store where he pored over the publications. “It was the first time I was introduced to the endless possibilities of art and also conceptual thinking,” he adds on the extensive section housing a myriad of foreign art and design books. He went onto study graphic design at the School of Visual Arts when he got older but, in spite of this, he always knew that his passion lay with illustration. Throughout his degree, Hoi would try and incorporate illustration wherever he could, and gradually, he realised this was the direction for him.
Now residing in the midst of the culturally-rich city home to jazz, Hoi is in an idyllically inspirational place to fuel his illustrations which have been commissioned by the likes of The New York Times, The California Sunday Magazine and Quartz; just to name a few.
It was during his last two years of art school that Hoi’s style really came into its own. By then, he knew what he liked stylistically – an aesthetic “full of organic textures” – which evoked an intimate and nostalgic feel within him. It was “a subtle connection,” he says on the matter. From here, the illustrator started experimenting with a variety of processes to further this aesthetic, buying a scanner (even though it was a large expense for him as a student back then) and playing with the interacting textures.
Using this technique, the illustrator learned to combine organic and artificial textures to create his unique style. Taking photos of anything that caught his fancy, scanning unusual objects, and then experimenting with how the two styles could compliment each other, it took a while for Hoi to perfect this process. But boy was it worth it. As time went by, he gathered more and more inspiration from nature photography and film, two mediums which taught him a lot about composition, and more namely, perspective. On this, he explains: “I rewatched The Red Turtle by Michaël Dudok de Wit recently. The craftsmanship of the scenes and the simple but powerful storytelling strikes me again and again.”
Moments likes this allow Hoi to grasp the power of the arts time and time again. Through a simple yet detailed storytelling process, one image can have a whole lot of impact. It’s an emphatic quality seen across all of Hoi’s work to date. His cover for The Washington Post Weekend for one, packs a punch in its seemingly simple composition but intricately detailed individual elements. Evoking the soft side of nature to echo the baby steps people are taking to venture out and about once more, the illustration encapsulates a childlike inquisitiveness of being out in the world. An excited feeling of picking up sea shells on the shore, or being in a new wondrous place with endless objects to explore.
Elsewhere in his work, Hoi goes back to his childhood home of Hong Kong and explores the difficulties its people have endured recently. A personal illustration embodies his two month stay back at home, the culmination of Hoi becoming more culturally and politically engaged with the ensuing topics affecting his family. “There is a magic in going back to the place you grew up, it was almost like a piece of a puzzle I left there and I can only feel whole whenever I go back. After I went back to New York, feeling like I have to create something for myself to visualise the experience,” he finally goes on to say, “all of the elements in the image were separated but also feel as a whole at the same time.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.