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Work / Illustration

“I believe good work should be relatable”: Illustrator Lily Kong on combining humour and negative thoughts

London-based illustrator Lily Kong knows a thing or two about humour. Her work, with its child-like colours and squishy, bumbling characters, forces a smile on your face on even the greyest Monday morning. Her trick? Taking somewhat cringe-worthy, embarrassing moments and illustrating them with a sense of irony, slapping a big smiley face on her characters, no matter what the situation.

When we last wrote about the Newcastle-born, Hong Kong-bred illustrator, she was obsessed with making “happy work”. And while her signature smiley face has remained (for the most part), over a year on, her work has begun to tackle darker themes, using the subtlety of humour rather than going for all-out joy. Back then, she explains, “I drew inspirations from little moments in life. I still do now, but recently I have been researching about storytelling.” This research led Lily’s ongoing project, Emotional Moments.

Using a meme-like format, she illustrates a sentence or word. “I first record and reflect on whatever I have been doing, for example, climbing on my friend’s back when drunk, growing a cactus at home which almost died, sending a text to friends claiming I was OK when I was not. Sometimes these negative thoughts come to me and I wished I could be cheered up,” she explains. Inspired by one of her favourite writers, Bobette Buster’s words “Stories are the prescriptions of courage,” Lily turns these moments of negativity into light-hearted illustrations. “I believe good work should be relatable,” she says. “I would love it if someone would laugh about my piece ‘I got slapped real hard’, saying things like ‘Hell yes I got that too!’. Hopefully, we all get some comfort knowing people have experienced the same thing, gain a little courage and move on.”

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, I Got Slapped Real Hard

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, I’m Fine

On the commercial side of things, Lily has been running workshops for adults and children with clients like Tate and OJO. She recalls: "They were so much fun! I love designing interactive events. I enjoy transforming a concept into the physical realm. That’s what we did for Uniqlo Tate Late in April. My friend Holly St Clair and I asked the audience to create a 3D portrait with reference to Franz West’s giant heads sculptures. We enjoyed learning how creating a 3D collage work can be challenging when it comes to something we are so familiar with.”

Lily also recently produced a series of editorial spots for Intern magazine, taking the narrative of pre and post art student life to produce comforting works. In terms of what’s next for the illustrator, she says: “I love giving myself and everyone a challenge! Let’s sink to hell together.”

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, Catch Me If You Can

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, Don’t Hey Baby Me I am Not Your Child

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, I am Kind of Awesome

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, Friends

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, I’m Annoying

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Lily Kong: Emotional Moments, No

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Lily Kong: Heatwave

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Lily Kong: Skate Girl

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Lily Kong: Intern Magazine (footer image)