Do you ever blur reality with dreamworld? With a playful color palette and a blending of daily life with mischievous intrigue, Hong Kong illustrator Kat J. Weiss melts reality into dreamworld in her work, with a calm and self-assured hand.
It’s always tricky to get the balance between doing what you love, and doing what pays the bills. In an interview, we discussed what it was like for Weiss to pursue the freelance lifestyle and her message of embracing your messy inner dreamworld.
Some people have no idea what they want to do with their lives, I am definitely not that person.
Would you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in Hong Kong in a multicultural multi-ethnic home. My father is German, my mother is Thai and Chinese, which is a whole other story. Me and my brother grew up here, I went to an international school I have always loved drawing and art. There was one time when I wanted to be a marine biologist but I’m not good at math, so I went and pursued art. I think I’ve known since I was twelve that I wanted to be an illustrator. Some people have no idea what they want to do with their lives, I am definitely not that person.
Weiss studied illustration at SCAD, an art and design college with international campuses, including one in Hong Kong where she started before moving to the main campus in Savannah, Georgia. After a stint in New York, she moved back to Hong Kong working as a graphic designer. The structure of office work left her unsatisfied, finding the work limiting when it comes to creativity.
What is it about being in an office that doesn’t work for you?
I think it would have been fine had I had more time to myself to be creative but I just wasn’t having that work-life balance. Plus it was far away from my home so traveling back and forth took a lot of time as well. So at the end I thought okay, I’ve made my experience here and now I want to go on to my new adventure and try on my new challenge of working freelance. It definitely is a challenge. I’m nowhere near to making a self-sufficient living, I’m definitely privileged to have support from my parents to be able to pursue this life. But yeh, I don’t think it’s worth being so unhappy and in a workplace that I don’t really like.
Going freelance, did you find that creativity that you were looking for?
Yes, I am so thankful. Every day I try to remind myself; I’m so thankful I have the freedom to do all this work I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
Was it scary?
Was it scary? Yeah it was and I’m still trying to figure out “How am I going to make a more stable income?”, “How can I get more commissioned?”, “How can I sell my work more?”, “How can I sell it online, but how can I sell it in person?”. It definitely is scary and intimidating. That’s still something I’m trying to figure out, I’m not gonna lie. But I guess.. have I found my creativity again? Yes I have.
How has your German-Thai-Chinese background had an influence on your work?
I think about this a lot. To be honest I’m not sure because it can be quite hard to explain why you have the taste you have. But I think one part of it could be, I used to go to Thailand a lot when I was younger. Thai traditional art is very decorative – I find that my art is very decorative. So perhaps there’s a connection there. As a child, because my mother was a flight attendant, I had the privilege of being able to travel a lot so having been exposed to travel influences my creativity. There are so many possible answers here. And then I guess the final thing that influences me; I didn’t have a strong practical art education in high school, I just didn’t have that going to the German stream [at international school] but I did have a strong theoretical background – my art teachers really encouraged us to think and talk about art critically.
A critical outlook to art?
Yeah I think that being able to think critically and look critically at art helps you to build your taste, later on I think that probably helped me but I’m not sure if that’s connected to me being half-German or coincidental. That’s an interesting question, I’ve definitely thought about it a lot but there’s not a clear cut answer.
As an illustrator, you have a range of different materials and mediums to choose from to create art. For a while Weiss enjoyed using pen and its unpredictable nature to do ink drawings, but now she blends her art style with watercolors, digital drawing and likes the texture that working with colored pencils achieves.
It’s important to branch out and use different media. I think before, I had this mindset that my style is my ink drawings. […] I think that it’s sort of unhealthy to not allow yourself to grow and experiment so I’ve been branching out more to watercolor painting and colored pencil, and again having the ability to think critically about my art I was able to eventually find the overarching element that kept it all together, and just keep that in mind and in that way still be able to build a consistent portfolio. The thing about drawing with pen is – I still really enjoy it, especially when it comes to sketching or warming up because like I said, it is unpredictable. It is an intimidating media, you have to think very carefully about the marks you’re about to make.
Some of the characters that Weiss creates are a menagerie of playful critters, colorful women with bright hair, and her dumpling-inspired characters and noodle princesses.
My style is a combination of drawing these cool fashionable sophisticated girls plus these cute mischievous characters that maybe you want to adopt. I know my following really likes these characters so I know I’m going in the right direction there. It’s like a combination of the two which maybe seems a bit weird. I guess I’m trying to make that weirdness my thing. My style is very collage and pattern-like. It’s surreal and psychedelic, I’m inspired by psychedelic art so I try to make my work kooky and sort of like the art I’m inspired by.
As well as illustration figures and characters, one of Weiss’s favorite illustration styles is pattern-making. The patterns work on mugs, cushion covers, clocks and bedcovers.
My art is very pattern-like so when I’m not doing illustration I like to design patterns. That’s like combining graphic design with illustration in a way. I like designing patterns because I think that adding surface patterns to everyday surfaces kind of gives a certain joy and charm.
It’s like blurring reality with a dreamworld.
One of Kat’s biggest influences is Seiichi Hayashi, a Japanese illustrator and comic artist.
What I like about his art is that it’s very flat. […] He normally has a very cool fashionable modern girl which I relate to and instead of dimension for the background, [it doesn’t seem] dimensional it seems more ornamental. Something about that style really draws me in and makes me want to create something as well. It’s like blurring reality with a dreamworld in a way. Something about that really captivates me.
Do you start off with a character or a theme?
I guess that there isn’t really a theme. [The point is] that I’m trying to represent a weird maybe contradictory bizarre dreamworld that doesn’t make complete sense – why is she holding a fish? I don’t know. I guess I want people to be inspired to embrace their messy inner worlds in a way and see that it can be a beautiful thing.
Would you say that’s the message of your art; for people to embrace their messy inner dreamworlds?
I would probably say that’s one of the main messages. For me I’m capturing my messy inner world, I definitely have an over active imagination which sometimes is a bad thing but I’m trying to show the good side of it.
You can check out more illustrations from Kat J. Weiss on her website. How do you embrace your messy dream world? Leave a comment below or hit the ‘heart’ button to show you enjoyed this article.
Looking to read about other artists and designers we’ve featured on NONAGON.style? Check out our interview and Brownstone home tour with feng shui practitioner Marie Burgos, or read about how Trent Jansen created his Broached Monsters furniture collection based on the Indigenous Australian stories of Dreamtime.
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