What is a Flabjack I hear you ask? It’s not a tasty oat-based sweet snack, it’s a delightful character created at the hands of illustrator Ton Mak. These friendly characters can be found in a number of mediums – in paintings, toys, soft sculptures and even rugs. One thing that’s consistent across all Flabjacks, however, they’re full of personality.
Born in Hong Kong, Ton has dotted around the world from New Zealand (where she grew up) to the UK (to study), Shanghai (to work in advertising), and is now based in sunny San Francisco. “As a kid, I was terribly shy,” she tells us, “and my mother encouraged me to draw to help navigate all the thoughts and feelings.” From then on, drawing has always felt natural to the humorous illustrator. It was while working in advertising in Shanghai when she finally decided “OK, I think I’m ready to put all my focus into the world of Flabjacks.”
A versatile character that can be found on many a material, the Flabjack never fails to incite a wee chuckle. All the characters have a similar expression on their face which doesn’t necessarily mean one thing. Open to interpretation, the Flabjack could be feeling anything from “joy, angst, excitement, emo feels” and so on. There is no one right answer. “I like the idea of this expression being ambiguous,” adds Ton.
Other than the Flabjacks, we can find Ton depicting the more mundane objects in life. Drawn to the character in something as seemingly ordinary as a spring onion (yes, she is currently in the process of making a large rug of a spring onion), Ton likes to spotlight the forgotten or the overlooked. Rugs have become a relatively new staple for the illustrator. It was while strolling down a San Francisco avenue when she came across a storefront with some “fun and quirky rugs” on display and recalls of this instance, “it was like material love at first sight.”
GalleryTon Mak: Pansy in Pants
Ton was walking with a friend, who, coincidentally is a punch needle artist. When she expressed this interest, Ton’s friend gave her a speedy tutorial and handed over her tool kit for Ton to try out. “That same night,” Ton remembers, “I stayed up late watching YouTube tutorials, then just got completely hooked.” The result is a host of joyful creations that could not fail to make you smile even on the dullest of days.
Flabjacks with watermelons and tomatoes for heads sit happily in their colourfully striped T-shirts with mouths perfectly positioned in between two big round eyes. There are turtles, axolotls, pears, tigers, avocados, snails, bananas, a packet of fries and much much more expressed in the inexplicably charming manner. Amongst these friends, during lockdown, Ton has also embarked on some doodling projects. A particular highlight is called Pansy in Pants. She’s been around for the past seven or eight years but it wasn’t until recent times when she’s come to the forefront given the stay-at-home lifestyle.
“She loves hibernating at home alone,” Ton says of Pansy, “and doing really trivial and mundane stuff, or, nothing at all. Despite a predominantly indoors life, her life is A+ solid. I find it aspirational.” With Pansy close by her side, Ton is also working on her first solo show in Shanghai titled 12345 Day Care. Having opened in June and showing until 16 August, the exhibition revolves around the idea of creating a daycare for adults. It’s for everyone really. Featuring a colourful funky space and interactive games, it was a sure challenge to put on a show without being there in person. But with Shanghai opening up again, Ton’s show is sure to bring joy to whoever sets foot in this adult-sized daycare. If you’re in Beijing towards the end of the year as well, Ton is currently working towards another solo show at the end of 2020. So stay tuned for more! There are also some new toys on the horizon. Fantastic.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.