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5 Questions with Marie Toh

Published 24th October, 2019 in Behind the Book

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got started as a designer?

Hello! I’m Marie, an illustrator from Singapore. I’ve always enjoyed story-telling, and drawing it out in particular, which would explain how I ended up in animation. After graduating, I still wanted to continue telling stories, but not in the form of animation, and that was when I started illustrating. When my first illustrated children’s book was published, it became the turning point for me to take illustration more seriously, and that was how I decided to go to London to do an MA in it.

Can you speak to how your roots have effected your work and the differences you’ve noticed working in each locale?

Being away from home for the first time made me very hyper aware of what made me, me. From my race, gender, upbringing, illustration style; it was like rediscovering myself both as a person and creative. It was really refreshing to see it, almost from a third persons perspective, how my upbringing made me lean to certain themes and aesthetics and how I am still growing. London gave me a much wider world view, exploring so many different things thus being able to have a bigger perspective of people and the arts. Now being back in Singapore, I am in another season of rediscovery, which I am excited for.

The biggest difference in working in both countries is how illustration is valued. London, having such a long and well established history of world class illustration and artists, companies and clients are generally more attuned to the market rates and what is to be expected. Singapore is a young nation, so naturally we have a long way to go in terms of the clientele and artists working together to create a more creatively educated environment. But that being said, I’m always in awe of how much talent there is, which really motivates me to work harder. On top of that, we have such a unique culture that is an unlimited source of inspiration that makes me very glad to be home. So far working both on sides has been pleasant and the jobs have all been both equally interesting and exciting. 

How do approach each project you work on, and how did you come to this design, for In This Desert, There Were Seeds? Can you illuminate some of the intricacies of it, that might not be obvious to our readers?

It depends on the project and clients expectations, but on a more general take, I would usually read all the content (if its a book, poem or some sort of written text), take into account all that is expected from the client then start researching for visual cues that would match the texts. After that it’ll be a few rounds of sketches and colour options. Once the client and I are happy with the drafts and concepts, that’s when I start on the final artwork.

The cover for In This Desert, There Were Seeds was inspired by a short story that includes the words that were used for the title of this anthology. At first I wanted to take a more literal narrative approach to this beautifully written tale, but after some discussion and sketches, we decided to go for a more abstract way so as to encapsulate the other stories as well. I’m a huge James Jean fan and so I wanted to incorporate some of his vibrant colours to this. The idea behind the illustration was how the ‘death’ of a small seed produced different plants, all of which had ‘faces and minds’ of their own.

The stories in this collection are concerned with our shifting sense of community and identity, as well as our frustrations with existing political, social and economic structures. Has this affected your praxis as an artist?

Personally, not so much yet, because everything is constantly changing. That being said, some countries situations have caused me to think more and be concerned and not take for granted the ‘peace’ we have now (in Singapore). While its definitely not perfect, it is functioning. I’m not the most eloquent person in this area, but as a citizen, I do think it’s the responsibility for each person in this country to keep their country, be it its leaders or society, in check.

To learn more about In This Desert, There Were Seeds read 5 Questions with Elizabeth Tan and 5 Questions with Jon Gresham—Elizabeth and Jon were the co-editors of this anthology.

Marie Toh is an illustrator from Singapore. She works with both digital and traditional mediums, such as embroidery and print making. She enjoys finding beauty in everything—from the mundane to the horrible—adding subtle surreal touches to give a sense of mystery and dreamlike state in her works. She has worked with The Projector, BooksActually, Anticipate Pictures, Epigram, Culture Trip, Ethos Books, Lomography, Penguin Random House, Expedia, Singapore Tatler and more. She also has an unhealthy obsession with hair, films and meme worthy cats.

We publish high-end literary fiction, crime and the best short stories currently being written in Australia.

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