“I put smiley faces on almost every character I draw,” explains London-based illustrator Lily Kong, "I believe making happy work is a fundamental element of my creative practice.” Lily’s illustrated world of greenery and squishy characters caught our eye due to its energy but also the fact that we couldn’t stop smiling.
Born in Newcastle, Lily grew up in Hong Kong studying “all of the academic subjects” in her secondary education. However, during this time it was art that really attracted her and so when it came time to choose a university, she left Hong Kong for London to study at Camberwell College of Arts. Her approach to the subject was initially influenced by her more traditional education in fine arts: “I used to do all these landscapes using acrylic on canvas,” she recalls. “I then went to uni, did a couple of shit projects and fell into illustration. It was charming. It was relatable. I loved it." Since then, Lily has been evolving in the field, developing a unique, effervescent style, graduating with a degree in the medium last year.
Vibrancy is the one word Lily stresses when it comes to describing her work. Although stemming from her use of colour, it is also the result of her technique and approach, combining a variety of lines. “I enjoy painting both digitally and traditionally,” she explains. However, drawing digitally allows her to experiment more freely with colour and brush strokes. “I have always had this strong urge to make improvements,” she explains. “Adjusting the colour saturation, correcting a mark or deleting a straight line just makes me so happy.”
A constant throughout Lily’s various smaller series are the rounded, bulbous characters who lounge on beaches or gleefully paint at their easel. When questioned who these Mr Blobby-like creatures are, she responds: “I drew these marshmallow babies because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the details or identity of the character. As a result, they all look almost identical.” Stemming from her love of drawing curves, as opposed to straight lines, the marshmallow babies set the tone and creates a narrative potential across all of Lily’s portfolio.
Lily’s inspiration largely comes from the world she inhabits. Stating Kew Gardens as one of her favourite places to “draw and chill,” she regularly documents her experiences and sightings in her work. In her series, A Record of Living Things she translated observations of daily life such as painting in garden or friends hugging into colourful and vivid scenes – far more inviting than the real world they originated from. In January of this year she contributed a painting to a cat-themed exhibition. As she has “so much fun drawing cats,” she developed it into a series complimenting the fluffy creatures. “Big thanks to my friends’ cats Dusty and Walter! I left my own cat back in Hong Kong for long ago that I had kind of forgotten how they walk and move,” she says.
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