Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is brought to you from the heart of France. Kmye Chan; a biologist by day and artist by night! Kmye’s artwork stands out with its unique and beautiful execution.
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work
Hi! My name is Kmye Chan, and I am a 31-year-old artist living in Paris, France. My work is primarily illustrative, and revolves around portraits of literary characters and folktales with a strong inspiration from Golden Age illustration. My favorite medium is markers on paper, mixed with ink washes and pencils. I actually trained (and still work) as a biologist: I am a researcher in genetics by day, and an artist by night.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of art?
I struggled with this a lot, for many years. I am self-taught, and have been doodling all my life, but by the time my artwork started to shape up, I was already in college studying science – and loving it. About the same time as I was entering my PhD, my artwork started getting attention. A few art job inquiries and gallery invitations started landing in my inbox, which was absolutely thrilling and made me realize that I was maybe good enough to work at pro level as an artist. However, as my science work piled on, I had less and less time for art. My skills were stalling, I was frustrated with myself, and seeing my online network of artist friends growing and improving so much faster than I did, I was sorely tempted to drop art completely. Eventually, though, I found a balance that works for me and that allows me to do a double-career as a scientist and as an artist. That’s when I realized I truly wanted that art career, too.
I am self-taught, and have been doodling all my life, but by the time my artwork started to shape up, I was already in college studying science – and loving it. About the same time as I was entering my PhD, my artwork started getting attention.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
I guess that’s partly answered above but – time and energy management (and its other edge, procrastination) has been the major issue for me. Having two demanding jobs, it’s hard to come back from a 10-hour day at the lab and get back to the drawing table after my commute. I used to say I didn’t have the time – the truth was that I couldn’t gather the energy most evenings, and would rather just sprawl on the couch with Netflix on for hours. I have become better at this, though, mostly through keeping a sketchbook and trying to doodle at least something small every day. After a few minutes I’ll usually find my groove, and move on to bigger things.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I love that feeling that I am speaking to the viewer in tongues. There are no words, but we are speaking a common language, communicating through graphical symbols and connections at an emotional level – colors, composition, mood, saturation, expression. As a kid and teen I used to perform in a theater troop (and was horrible at it): when I draw I get that same internal emotion as when interpreting something not just through words, but through body language, exchanged looks, and gesture.
I love that feeling that I am speaking to the viewer in tongues. There are no words, but we are speaking a common language, communicating through graphical symbols and connections at an emotional level – colors, composition, mood, saturation, expression.
5. What do you like the least about it?
That never-ending, nagging feeling that my work sucks, that I’m literally the worst and So-and-So would have done this artwork a million times better. It does feel better now that I appreciate everyone feels the same, including So-and-So.
6. You have such a unique voice, which really sets your work apart. Can you tell us a little about how this developed? Did it come natural or was it a conscious choice?
Thank you! Part of it was natural, part of it was choice. I started drawing without giving style much thought, by emulating the styles I liked, including manga, Art Nouveau, and French-Belgian comic artists. After a while, I started focusing more in an attempt to sharpen my skills, hone my strong points and fix my weaknesses. I made large boards of artwork I liked, and looked for the commonalities. It turns out I really like artwork with strong composition, high value contrast, linework, stylized rather than fully rendered, with a lot of detail and graphical impact. So I decided to use these as guidelines to develop my work (still a work in progress!).
I started drawing without giving style much thought, by emulating the styles I liked, including manga, Art Nouveau, and French-Belgian comic artists. After a while, I started focusing more in an attempt to sharpen my skills, hone my strong points and fix my weaknesses.
7. Who are some of your artistic influences and what do you in particular admire about them?
There are many, of course – but one of my favorite artists is Edmund Dulac. I love his compositions, his use of colors, and how expressive his illustrations are. In a different style, I love John Singer Sargent – his use of values, color and light is exquisite. Gustav Klimt is another favorite for his strong compositions and mix of flat graphical elements with more rendered parts, and his use of symbolism throughout his work. Amongst living artists, I am a huge fan of Claire Wendling who in my opinion makes the very best gestural drawing out there. Other names that come to my mind are Nico Delort, Daniel Danger, Marguerite Sauvage and Piotr Jablonski.
8. You were born in France and have since then moved to the United Kingdom. I personally draw a lot of influence from my home country in my artwork, but how has it been for you?
My home country influenced my work a lot. I grew up reading French-Belgian comic books, and that influence is still visible in my work today (check out Sambre – you’ll see what I mean!). Art Nouveau artwork is also pretty unescapable in Paris! However British illustrators grew on me long before I went to the UK, and moving there was like greeting old friends. The UK was a huge source of inspiration – the nature and wildlife is beautiful and was right on my doorstep in Cambridge, a completely different experience from the big city of Paris. I just moved back to France, so we shall see how that reflects on my work!
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Finding your support network is crucially important. Life as an artist can be lonely, and although this may sound weird and a bit ungrateful, being surrounded by people who love your art uncritically can feel unrewarding and cripple your growth after a while. For many of us it’s critical to find a group of peers at the same career stage – and more experienced mentors – who can give feedback and critical advice, but also who understand our struggles, who cheer with us in good times and pick us up in bad ones.
Finding your support network is crucially important. Life as an artist can be lonely, and although this may sound weird and a bit ungrateful, being surrounded by people who love your art uncritically can feel unrewarding and cripple your growth after a while.
10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work?
I’ve tried to make mine the philosophy of a talented artist and friend who unfortunately passed away too soon: make mistakes, learn faster. Try things. Experiment. Push yourself. Above anything, have fun, and don’t be afraid.
Thank you for reading, you can find more about Kmye Chan on her website as well as follow her on social media, links are below.
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.