The Q&A: Ileana Soon

By Peggy Roalf   Monday August 7, 2017

Q: Originally from Borneo, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Los Angeles?

A: I have mixed feelings about working in LA, being so far from home. On the one hand, I really do miss where I come from—the culture, the food, the environment, but at the same time, LA has been somewhat of a gateway to another world where I feel like the possibilities are endless and where dreams do come true.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A:Yes definitely! I draw in my sketchbook a lot especially when I travel or visit art museums. When I initially started using a sketchbook, there was a lot of pressure to make good drawings, with the fear that other people would somehow view the sketches. For some reason a few years ago, I started drawing almost exclusively in my sketchbook with my left hand (I am right-handed). Doing so was liberating, as I did not feel confined by the need to make good drawings anymore—since it was almost never going to be as good as the right handed sketches. This liberation was the beginning of a new chapter in my growth as an artist, as my drawings were suddenly imbued with more life than before.

The main difference between the art I draw on paper vs. the computer has been the use of my left hand for analog, and my right hand for the computer. It is my responsibility to meet the brief of the assignments I get, and deliver the best work I possibly can. Thus, the professional work I do is very calculated and has a streamlined process… I throw caution to the wind less often than I would in just creating art for myself.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: It would have to be my computer… I can't do my work without it! 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: I plan my professional work very carefully, and know from the beginning what the end result should look like and when it would be in its best form to deliver to my clients. I know the art is finished when it has gone through this process. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: As a child my favorite author was Roald Dahl, and my favorite book of his was a collection of short stories he wrote called Over to You.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I recently finished a book called When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It has stayed with me ever since I read it, as some of its themes (facing one's mortality, finding one's calling in life) are themes I have been thinking about lately. Looking through the world through someone else's life when faced with a terminal illness changes one perspective, and I hope I can live everyday with gratitude and a sense of purpose beyond myself. 

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: The medium I would gravitate towards would be digital as, it is the primary medium in which I work these days! 

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: I find that experiencing the full breath of life and embracing the emotions that come with it help immensely with the assignments I get and work on. More often than not, I get work from an emotion an Art Director has felt through an illustration they have seen somewhere, and contact me so that I may bring something similar to a project they have in mind.

With that said, I am fairly young and have not yet had the depth of experience as someone in their 50s, for example. To compensate for this, I try to read a book a week (key word is try) and reading daily and being a big fan of movies and TV, help a lot in placing myself in someone else's shoes and seeing and feeling emotions through experiences imagined that I have not personally gone through yet.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art?

A: The most significant moment that has influenced my work has actually been a conversation with one of my mentors Steve Turk (very successful and brilliant illustrator). I remember I was transitioning from a lower term student to an upper term student at the time, and had shown him my portfolio of work to ask for his advice moving ahead. At the time, the bulk of my portfolio consisted of technically focused drawings (think accurate perspective, detailed line drawings), which I was very proud of (and had placed a lot of time into). In a gist, he told me that these drawings were technically sound but lacked emotion. 

I thought about his advice a lot after our chat, whilst reflecting on all the work that I loved. I realised then that the work that moved me was compelling because they were emotionally stirring. From then on I decided to pivot my work in that direction to the best of my ability.

Q: Who was the [Thunderbolt] teacher or mentor or visiting artist who most influenced you early in your training or career?

A: There are a few mentors that I owe everything to. Paul Rogers, Steve Turk (as mentioned), Brian Rea and Bob Kato are all heroes of mine. They were all my professors at Art Center and have always taken time out of their busy schedules to give career, illustration and life advice. I would consider myself incredibly lucky if my career was even half as amazing as theirs in the years to come.
Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Hmmm, if I could choose anything, it would be a meal from my hometown called Ngui Chap (beef noodle soup). It cannot be found outside of Sabah (Borneo) and it is the most divine bowl of noodles I have ever tasted in my life.

Ileana Soon is an illustrator/designer who grew up in a small seaside town in Borneo, Malaysia, before making her way to Los Angeles where she currently lives and works. She has worked for clients such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Scientific American. She has also won multiple awards from American Illustration, Communication Arts and The Society of Illustrators West.

Instagram: @ileanadraws
- I currently have work on view at the London Transport Museum in London until September 2017
- I also will have work on view at Somerset House in London as part of The World Illustration Awards
- In December I will be participating in Giant Robot's annual Post-It Show in Los Angeles



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