Singapore-based art director and illustrator Kezia Gabriella’s work is inspired by the beauty of the everyday, “like a conversation that I had with my partner, things that my neighbours said, an article that I read, food that I had for lunch, and so on,” she tells us. Despite this, Kezia’s works are anything but pedestrian, instead, they are filled with vibrancy thanks to a bold colour palette, a combination of digital brushes, and unique compositions and characters.
Currently, Kezia works as a freelance illustrator alongside running a creative collective called Antinormal with her partner Nicholas Oh. A career within her chosen medium wasn’t always the plan, however. “During my childhood, I used to draw on any surface I could find — school textbooks, walls, invoices in my parents’ office — I was borderline obsessed with it. However, I used to think of drawing as a hobby and did not really consider it as a career choice,” she recalls. This all changed after Kezia completed her degree and started working full-time – as illustration became a way to unwind from her hectic 9-6 day job in the advertising industry.
She started off by “illustrating hilarious office stories or things that I overheard from my friends,” she recalls and, soon after, quit advertising to purse a career in illustration. Today, Kezia primarily produces editorial projects and brand illustrations, each complete with her oddly-shaped human or animal characters as the focal point. “Usually their poses and proportions don’t really make sense, and I use body gesture, a lot of stretch and squash, and dead-panned expression to showcase the emotions,” she describes. These distinctive figures are based on objects that Kezia finds around her home “like bottles, lamps, and food packaging,” which she then slaps “a face, arms and legs” on to.
While the colours and characters of Kezia’s work change, one thing that remains the same is their energy, something which seems to stem from her restlessness and need to experiment. “The way I approach my works is ever-changing. I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with just one way of doing things,” she remarks on why she constantly flips between techniques and media. This also applies to the kinds of projects she likes to work on. “I get excited when there is an open-brief that challenges me to work with a medium that I’m not familiar with,” she says. “There’s a beauty in not knowing how your work will turn out.”
This means that Kezia’s portfolio is full to the brim with exciting work, both for clients but also with self-initiated projects. Recently, she completed a piece for a column in Medium called My Therapist Says. While editorial often requires you to be literal, Kezia was able to introduce abstract patterns into this piece “as visual cues to portray self-interests in a conversation.” In another project, she created illustrations for the packing of an artisanal beer brand. “The brief was to create an artwork that visualises the flavour profile of the brews,” she explains. “I played with vibrant colours and loose outlines for my characters, creating a scene that brings the flavour to life.”
In a more personal project, Kezia’s been producing works that are inspired by Henri Matisse. The series consists of artworks depicting modern life, “like being a coach potato, doing chores and being occupied with our phones – all painted in his colour palette.” While these pieces are inspired by the famous artist, they very much bear the hallmarks of Kezia’s work: distorted shapes, a combination of patterns, giant hands and an unusual perspective. “I like drawing crowds, clothes, and people interacting with each other because there are a lot of things going on,” she says. “A lot of people say that they don’t know what to look at when they see my work. I want to emphasise freedom and randomness as the core of my works. It’s almost chaotic, I think, but hopefully in a good way.”
Ultimately, it’s this element of chaos that means Kezia’s work portrays what she loves about illustration so much: “There’s no so-called ‘right’ way of doing things because there are many ways to visualise the message that you want to convey.” This means it’s a medium which “encourages everyone, artists or non-artists, to create and voice their opinions,” she concludes, astutely.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.