Meet the Maker: Bel’s Art World
Illustrator and printmaker Belinda Chen from Bel’s Art World grew up in a ceramics factory in Taiwan, before moving to London 12 years ago. Today you’re likely to find her either travelling the world exploring flea markets, sketchbook in hand, drinking tea and drawing in east London, or creating multi-coloured screen prints inspired by childhood memories and dreams in her local printmaking studio. We caught up with Bel to find out more about her life and inspirational illustrations…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I am Belinda Chen from Bel’s Art World and I’m a freelance illustrator, printmaker and full-time daydreamer. I draw cute and silly faces.
I grew up in a small town in north Taiwan call Yingge which has a long history of producing ceramics. It was pretty amazing when I think back. My family’s factory was massive and full of places to explore. My younger sister and I enjoyed playing with the clay while my mum was painting pots and ornaments nearby. I watched my uncle patiently filling moulds with liquid clay, my grandad dipping ceramic biscuits into glaze and we loved waiting for the magic to happen when they came chugging slowly out from the kiln. I can truly say that craft has been instilled in me from a very early age!
If I wasn’t an illustrator, I might be an artisan baker or a hot air balloon pilot.
You’re originally from Taiwan. What brought you over to London and how does the creative scene here differ?
I was working as a full-time graphic designer and children’s book illustrator in Taiwan. One day I felt it was time for a change. London had so much to offer – so many museums, events and top-notch exhibitions. I think London is one of the most diverse cities in the world and very open-minded when it comes to art. In Taiwan, it’s pretty traditional – illustrators aren’t really recognised as true professionals, unless they’re really famous or win some international awards. I was really attracted to London as a creative hub, and it’s the ideal place to explore my creativity and develop my work.
How did Bel’s Art World begin?
I used to spend a lot of time working in the university printmaking studio. After I graduated, I tried to print at home and used different printing studios and realised how much I enjoyed working with silk-screen print, so I started focusing on creating hand-printed little zines, greeting cards and limited edition art works.
I normally start with rough sketches and draw different elements. I like the mixture of hand-drawn and digital.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My inspiration normally comes from childhood memories and dreams. I also take a lot of inspiration from the Surrealist art movement, my travels and exploring flea markets. I always carry a sketchbook with me and I often look back at my sketchbook to digest and develop ideas. I also like collecting references on Pinterest. To get into the right mindset I need plenty of tea, a fun playlist, an organised workspace and lots of staring at the sky…
What happens next? How do your ideas become reality?
I normally start with rough sketches and draw different elements. [You can see some of Bel’s sketches on her Pinterest board Pencils, Brushes and Thoughts.] Once I’m happy with the drawing I then scan the images into my computer and start adding in colours and textures using Photoshop. I like the mixture of hand-drawn and digital.
If the illustration is destined to be a screen print I then work out the layers, as each colour is printed separately. I then transfer the images to the screen and print the layers to build up the final piece. Some of my prints have up to eight colours, which is a lot of screens, so they take a while to print!
Where do you work?
I work in a corner of my compact East London flat and at a printing studio called East London Printmakers. My workspace at home is bright and colourful. It allows me to daydream and provides inspiration. The book shelves are also in reachable distance, which is useful if I am feeling a bit stuck. East London Printmakers is a completely different working environment. It’s a shared printing studio and a very sociable place. I feel really productive when I work there and also benefit from working with other like-minded artists.
My workspace at home is bright and colourful. It allows me to daydream and provides inspiration. The book shelves are also in reachable distance, which is useful if I’m feeling a bit stuck.
You’ve collaborated on lots of exciting projects, including the Lucky Dip Club x Folksy box. Can you tell us more about those?
I created a couple of two-colour lino cut images for John Lewis’ frame collection a while back. They were A3 images of deer in woodland and an owl in a snowy forest. I also created some ink-drawn floral patterns and little icons of fruit and herbs for Marks & Spencer, which they used on their scented candle packages.
The latest Lucky Dip Club collaboration was my favourite. The brief for this collaboration was ‘breakfast box’, which was really exciting for me because I just love breakfast! I designed a Cereal Van image for a tea towel and my first enamel pin ‘Bowl of Yay’. I love how Leona and the Lucky Dip Club focus on supporting illustrators and makers and celebrate independent business. It’s such a wonderful community and it feels very rewarding to see subscribers from all over the world enjoying my creations.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
Working with Hello Kitty on the Hello Kitty Hello 40 book for their 40th birthday, and if all goes to plan my works are going to be sold in the most amazing gift shop in the world: the fantabulous V&A!
If you weren’t an illustrator and printmaker, what would you be?
I might be an artisan baker or a hot air balloon pilot.
My inspiration normally comes from childhood memories and dreams. I also take a lot of inspiration from the Surrealist art movement, my travels and exploring flea markets.
What’s a perfect day in Bel’s Art World?
I would wake up with the view of a tropical forest and spend the morning exploring and drawing. In the afternoon I’d swim in the translucent azure-blue sea, with whales and dolphins beside me. Then I’d chill out on a golden sandy beach with a pink sunset and dance until the sun goes down.
The brief for my latest Lucky Dip Club box collaboration was ‘breakfast box’, which was really exciting for me because I just love breakfast!
You grew up in a ceramic factory and now make a living as an illustrator and printmaker, so we’d love to know, what does craft mean to you?
Craft reveals history, stories, emotions and also represents determination, passion and who we are. Working from a sketch to the realisation of the final piece is the most satisfying feeling and the most rewarding achievement in the world!
Get 15% off Bel’s Art World with the very special code YAY15. Only valid until 8 August 2016.