Vanessa Lim pays tribute to the wonders of the corner shop in her nostalgic illustrations

Remember when you were a kid and going to the corner shop to buy treats was the best thing in the world? Here, Vanessa Lim brings back that magic, but through illustration.

6 March 2020

Born and raised in sunny Singapore, Vanessa Lim draws on the nostalgia of her childhood experiences on the South East Asian continent in her latest project, 98¢ Plus Dreams. After working as a designer-cum-illustrator for several years in her birth country, she decided to shake things up creatively. “I felt that my work was kind of stagnant,” she recalls on this time, and as a result, made the brave decision to move to California in pursuit of a degree in illustration at the California College of the Arts. Having completed the degree last fall, Vanessa tells us about the work which helped her “find her ‘voice’” again; a kind of tribute to the corner stores she remembers as a child in Singapore.

“I am a 90s kid (always will be) and when I was growing up, going to the corner store was a treat!” Vanessa tells us about the nostalgic project. In her birth country, they are known colloquially as “mama shops”, and for the illustrator a trip down was just as good as a visit to the toy store, if not better. As a youngster, her first exposure to the visual arts was through her grandma. Vanessa remembers the way her grandma would carefully craft “so many beautiful objects using the simplest tools.” From handmade Chinese New Year decorations, to making her own clothes, blankets and pillow cases, Vanessa and her grandma would spend afternoons together making things and, most of all, having fun.

It was these early experiences that inspired Vanessa to make a go of illustration. Over time, she realised a yearning to make something of her own. With illustration, as she puts it, “you can literally build a world and it takes on any shape and form you give it.” For the recent graduate, “there are literally no boundaries and you can go as far as your imagination take you.” So when it came to developing 98¢ Plus Dreams, naturally Vanessa drew on her interest in corner stores. She makes it a habit it to visit the local stores when abroad, delving into the rich visual language in each piece of packaging and interior, where no one store is the same.


Vanessa Lim: 98¢ Plus Dreams

“Each one is outrageous and extreme,” says Vanessa. “Each is brimming with its own character. The overwhelming visuals, bootleg toys, old school candies and cluttered aisles, that is what draws me to them.” In turn, Vanessa’s project is a kind of ode to these stores, exploring the unapologetic advertisement language among its nostalgic qualities. Through a series of humorous illustrations and sculptures, she honours the “joyous lunacy” birthed by these stores while comments on the ubiquitous notions of consumerism. It’s also a way for Vanessa to pay tribute to the visual playground that is these stores, some of which, are sadly closing down only to be replaced by shiny shopping malls and supermarket conglomerates.

98¢ Plus Dreams started as a play on the store catalogue filled with ridiculous projects and now consists of a multitude of fun-filled illustrations and sculptural objects. “I would say that what ties my work together is humour,” adds Vanessa. “Humour is an important element in my life, and naturally, in my works too. It is what makes me enjoy making work too. It has to make my laugh.” Luckily for us, there is always a hint of silliness in Vanessa’s colourful artworks. In her eyes, “the more ridiculous the better” – something that we whole-heartedly encourage.

In her catalogue, there’s even a spread for “beat up produce”, inspired by a store that Vanessa happened to come across which actually sells real life, really beat up produce. And just like this, the illustrator and designer is inspired by almost everything and anything that she sees around her. Combining this curiosity with an interest in her multi-lingual upbringing, Vanessa’s practice is both original and observational. And as for the future, she hopes to continue pushing these interests in every kind of direction, ultimately, seeing where illustration can take her.

GalleryVanessa Lim: 98¢ Plus Dreams

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Vanessa Lim: 98¢ Plus Dreams

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

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.

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