Isabel Tong of ISATISSE shares with us the inspiration behind her work and living in Hong Kong as an independent artist
At Honeycombers Hong Kong, we’re big fans of all things local and artsy, some of our favourite local artists include Zlism, Cath Love and Alana Tsui. ISATISSE is an independent illustration brand created by the illustrator and designer Isabel Tong in Hong Kong. With a studio in PMQ, ISATISSE is known for her distinctive big headed and adorable characters. Isabel has gained a significant following in the past few years, and we had the pleasure of talking to her about her enticing and slightly satirical works.
Hi, Isabel. Thanks for sitting down with us. Can you tell us a bit about what you do and when you started ISATISSE?
My other job is actually as a product designer, and I first started this brand in 2014. It’s a brand with a mix of fashion and fashion accessories with my own illustrations. I often get inspired from my little fantasies, or funny things that happened to me and my friends – and I extrapolate the bits and pieces and create something new. ISA- is my name, Isabel, and -TISSE, well, I got it from the artist Henri Matisse, as he’s an illustrator that I really look up to.
Is there a message you want to convey through your illustration?
Basically it’s to say that no one is fundamentally perfect, so it’s okay to be not okay. And that we should enjoy the bittersweet moments in our lives. As you can see, the characters I draw are all very flawed and don’t fit into society’s typical standards. But just because you have really heavy eye bags and are not-so-skinny figure, doesn’t mean that you’re not pretty. It’s authentic, and real, and you should be confident with yourself no matter what; there’s no need to be picture perfect.
How do you improve your artwork and create your own style?
I check out things at bookstores, websites and see what different people do. I try to learn from them and incorporate these new elements when I’m working. Just a fraction of them though! I still like to have my own style, but I feel like I can improve myself through these practices. People always say that my work is quite recognisable.
Your style of drawing is unconventional yet wonderfully quirky. It kind of reminds me of the artist Polly Nor. What gravitates you to such aesthetic choices (colours, lines etc.)?
Gosh! I love Polly Nor, I always check out her work. I’m really drawn to bright colours and intense colour contrast. They always catch my eye and have me contemplating life. The composition of colours stimulate my thought process, and also some of my friends say that I’ve been repressed for too long (laughter), so when I draw, I let all the rage and feelings out. Even though I look really reserved and calm on the outside, that’s not who I really am.
Has living in Hong Kong influenced your ideation and creative process?
Because there are so many things happening in Hong Kong you’re constantly being exposed and inspired, by things like weekend markets, gigs… It’s such a small city, so human interaction is also unavoidable!
Also, sometimes when we go out partying and pretend to really enjoy it, the fact is – we are not enjoying it. It’s the problem of fast-paced city life, so a lot of ideas just grew in my head through experiencing these types of things.
Are there any cartoonists, books or albums that have inspired you or helped you through your illustrator’s block?
I really like this local band My Little Airport, and I also like going to gigs. Unlike going to nightclubs, those places are more intimate. It allows you to check out new things and you get to meet some like-minded and genuine people.
ISATISSE, H406, Block B, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong, 中環鴨巴甸街35號