Bubi au Yeung was born and raised in Hong Kong where she works as an illustrator and multimedia designer. She has since had the opportunity to work on projects with a variety of companies including CrazyLabel, Playlounge and Poketo amongst others. Her first vinyl toy ‘Treeson’ was produced in 2005 and quickly become a favourite with fans across the world. Her Pictoplasma exhibition Be Nice & Simple presented a series of ink drawings, exploring harmony of form and line in simple shapes that make up the unique and whimsical world of Bubi.
Describe your background childhood and journey into design…
I am a multimedia and toy designer and also an illustrator. I was born and have spent most of my life living and working in Hong Kong. It’s one of the busiest cities in the world. I lived with my Grandparents before I was 16, and at the time I was always drawing – in the telephone book, in the newspaper – I realised early one how much I loved drawing, but never considered it would become my future career.
I got a BA degree in Language and Information Science, so I worked for a social communication company as a developer after I graduated, and met a lot of creative and open minded people there who encouraged me to draw and create. After some time I built my own website to share my work on the internet, and this gradually lead to my first freelance jobs. Meanwhile I continued to develop my personal design and illustration projects.
What are you main inspirations and influences?
All kinds of music and travel inspired me, and the spiritual world. Music is a necessity for me, like food and what I create is a kind of art for our eyes but music is art for your ears. Sometimes I am simply inspired by melody in a song or a song title. When I travel I get to experience seeing different cultures and tasting local food in different countries and of course meeting lots of different people truly widens my horizons, influencing ideas and inspiring me to input new elements of vision into my work.
Since I was a child I haven been quite fascinated in the spiritual world as I have a vivid imagination and wonder how the nonexistent live in different dimensions. It nourishes my imagination in creating stories.
A few of the speakers at Pictoplasma discussed their fear of failure – have you ever experienced doubts in your work? How do you manage and overcome these emotions?
There is no formula for making successful art. As I am not a full time artist my time is previous so for me I simply try to create instead of letting the worry of failure distract me. Frankly, failure is no bad thing. I can always learn from my mistakes and start again. My only struggle is spending too much time trying to perfect the final creation.
Do you have any creative heroes? Who has had the most impact on your career and drive to become an artist?
Yes, I am full of admiration for artists like Vincent van Goph, Picasso, Andy Warhol and Wu Guanzhong. Edward Hopper and Paul Klee also. There are many countless creative souls that have truly inspired me since I was young. I get inspired by artwork with simple lines, shapes, distinctive use of colour and brush strokes. When I was attending art class in high school my first project was about the study of a painter, and I randomly picked a book from the library about Paul Klee. At the time my knowledge of art history was pretty limited, and his work had quite an impact on me. He transformed the cruel realities with abstract shapes, and line and his works are illuminated with light and joy, expressed in a certain kind of simplicity that I admire greatly.
As well as drawing and painting, you’ve made a growing collection of vinyl toys, of which Treeson is your most well known. Tell us about him. What does he represent?
Treeson is a creature raised by trees in the forest – that’s why I named him Treeson, meaning son of a tree. In 2005 I worked at NGO, which focused on environmental protection and related issues, which lead me to read a lot of articles about deforestation which inspired the character. I’ve always had this feeling that there was something hidden in my heart – I don’t know what it is, but I wanted to express this through Treeson which is why the branch sticking out of Treeson’s heart is there. It reflects this feeling I have.
Collaborating with CrazyLabel helped make Treeson into my first vinyl figurine, and after that I began to create different stories for Treeson and other characters, which lead to more figures being made including Baby Treeson, GhostB, PandaB and numerous sizes of Treeson figures.
In your talk you mentioned the chaos of Hong Kong and how living there can feel quite overwhelming and claustrophobic. How has this environment influenced your work?
Hong Kong is a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. Traditional and modern, old and new merge to create a distinctive culture. I was born and lived there for most of my life, and its fast pace is a driving force and motivation for me to finish work efficiently. As I have grown up in such a culturally diverse environment I live and long for ‘breathing space’ in my mind and in my artwork which influences how I draw.
What are your future plans? How do you see your work as a character designer evolving?
The world changes so fast and having a simple, unique style is not enough. I keep trying to think of different ways and mediums to draw and design in, and I hope I can develop and diversify my work.
Animation and children’s books seem like an interesting route – is this an area you are keen to explore?
I love making books and animations with my characters and both mediums help convey the story in a traditional yet vivid way. Whenever I see my characters appear in books or moving image I feel they could live in their world permanently and cease to exist outside of that. I believe most of my characters represent facets of me, and those characters and personalities develop from my inner world, connecting with experiences I had as a young child who was left handed and forced to old chopsticks, play and draw with my other hand until I was in Kindgergarten.
In Hong Kong people who are left handed are ridiculed. My grandparents were told I needed to be trained to use my right hand instead, so I was being forced to use my right hand for home work and I have vivid memories of my hand shaking as I was trying to write my name in Chinese characters.
Ever since that difficult feeling and unpleasant experience has stayed with me. It had a great impact on me and my desire to stay true to myself. Some of my characters such as Treeson and Whispering Spirit, and GhostB all got hurt, but they can still survive and smile somehow, and I connect with them spiritually and subconsciously.
Can you tell us what you are working on right now?
Yes, I am working on the design and production of Whispering Spirit as a vinyl figure for a Shanghai toy store. As Treeson will be 10 years old next year I am also planning to release something special to celebrate the anniversary. I’m also exploring new creative collaborations.