This week we had the privilege to interact with an aspiring digital artist Melissa Foo (Instagram @Mellowillustrates), who charmed us with her bubbly and cheerful personality. It was a real eye-opener to explore her keen insights as someone who’s at a crossroads in her career path.
Hello! Tell me more about yourself. What’s your field of study/work?
Hi! I’m Melissa Foo, but I go by Mel and I’m a nature & landscape digital artist. Currently, I’m a business undergrad studying marketing. BUT my whole heart is in designing and of course, illustration.
Tell me more about your childhood, what got you into art? When did you discover your innate flair for digital art?
I think I’ve always been creatively inclined since I was a kid! But honestly, I was enrolled into a lot of things that were not related to painting/drawing, like those drama enrichment classes. I was also playing piano for quite some time. For art specifically, it really had to do with what I was observing around me. I would always draw my favorite cartoon characters after watching TV, I would draw on my textbooks, and I would draw for others to befriend them as a kid (word of advice: don’t draw for free).
I think growing up with free access to the internet spurred my curiosity even further and I would always follow along tutorials by other artists, like Mark Crilley.
Digital art became ‘real’ to me after I saw digital tablets at those IT fairs I think, I can’t remember. But I got my first Wacom Bamboo Tablet in Primary 5 and was instantly hooked. I started cartoon characters on Microsoft Paint, and just really experimenting with it! I didn’t touch digital art again until 2018 during my first internship, it was then I had spare time to kill in-between designing. Since then, I’ve just been practicing and eventually developed my own niche and style.
Digital art is a trend that gained traction recently, what did you do before then? Did you explore other art forms? What made you go back to digital art? What software do you use to create these beautiful artworks?
Before this, I painted with acrylics on canvas and really explored Impressionism, which got me started in landscapes. And I got back to digital art really because of the convenience and portability, I liked that I could do it anywhere, and didn’t need to worry about physical storage space. Procreate on my iPad is my go-to these days! Although I’ve experimented with Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint before.
I noticed that you usually paint and create beautiful scenery/works of art. Where do you get your inspirations from?
Mainly a mixture of many Pinterest pins, music, my imagination and the moon. I try to switch things up from my usual landscape from time to time!
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced working as a digital artist? Do you get full support from your parents/relatives?
I think a challenge I faced for a while was finding my own voice and niche, and really just being comfortable with putting myself out there. I used to be really embarrassed about my art and lacked much needed confidence. It was really about staying true to what I liked to draw yet sticking to a consistent vibe and aesthetic. It’s really been about a balancing act. I take note of what content does better, how to engage with others on the platform, how I can improve my own content pillars, while ensuring that I still grow as an artist.
Other challenges are just pushing myself to treat this more than ‘just a hobby’ and to make it more as a lifestyle. I think it took a lot of introspection for me to admit to myself that working as a creative (be it design or illustration) is not just what I want, but it’s a necessity. Especially in an environment in Singapore where artists are ‘non-essential’ and not really encouraged in the system, I just realised I don’t subscribe to that old school train of thought at all. And I don’t like to compromise on ambitions I have!
As for support, my parents have been neither for nor against digital art. I think they understand that it’s my ‘thing’ because during my downtime, I literally only draw. They do like seeing my illustrations though and are always willing to encourage me to do what I want. My relatives know I’m the artsy one, and my first few commissions were from them actually.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists who wish to pick up this art form?
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy! Digital painting may be more forgiving, but to make it visually stimulating can be a challenge sometimes. Be willing to experiment with different brushes and settings as you draw so you will learn how to create your desired effects.
What I want to mention is this: don’t feel pressured into spending exorbitant amounts of money on gear. You don’t need to buy an iPad or Procreate to start, or even a Wacom tablet. A Huion Tablet goes for around $35SGD++ and there are free softwares like Krita. What’s important is that you take the time to practice. Watch tutorials, look at reference images (it’s OK to trace over them if you want to practice) and build up your visual library. Explore colours and create your own palettes, Adobe has a great tool for that, you can even extract colours from images there.
Also, get feedback and never be satisfied!
How do you feel about the art scene in Singapore?
I think it really depends on the type of art you’re talking about! I feel the dance and performing arts scene here is quite buzzing and I know a lot of great local musicians too and have friends in bands. As for digital art, there is a small community but it’s not like super loud. I can say the art scene here is thriving more and more though.
What do you do outside of Art commissions? What are your future plans/goals?
I do take commissions from time to time although I don’t really publicise it much at the moment, however I am launching a store in collaboration with yumeco very soon. I also freelance as a designer through personal contacts!
Yes, I do intend to go into the industry full-time. I haven’t planned like every single step along the way, but really if I could live off my art alone that’ll be swell. I also really enjoy designing which is a great career pathway too, and along the road I would love to go solo and be a one-woman show. Maybe start an agency or create content related to art and design. After my degree, I’m pivoting to study Concept Design & Illustration at 3Dsense Media School taught by @artgerm (check him out!) and other talented folks from Imaginary Friends Studios. Really looking forward to that.
Any further thoughts?
Don’t be afraid to be idealistic! If you can visualise something very clearly, hold onto that vision and know that it’s meant to be; even if you don’t always know how you’re gonna get there!
Check out Artist Melissa Foo on her socials for more digital art!