MaryAnn Loo is an artist and illustrator from Singapore with a whimsical body of work. We recently spoke with her about her artwork and her inspirational story.
What is your background, and how did it lead to your current work in illustration?
ML: When I was 8, I was discouraged from being an artist and stopped drawing. My creativity emerged in other forms, such as creative writing, song writing, and acting, over the next 20 years. At 28, through an “Introduction to Drawing” class in college, I reconnected with my childhood dream.
With the support of a life coach, I organized and curated my first solo exhibition within 2 months in early 2013, including creating 30 new paintings. The exhibition was held for a week at a gallery-café in Singapore, during which 17 paintings were sold. At this time, I was also commissioned to illustrate a series of three children’s books by a local author. I couldn’t believe that I had become a professional artist in such a short time, without having gone to art school!
Everything about my artist’s journey so far has been based on learning from my life experiences and through interactions with other visual artists in my community. While I’ve done various kinds of commissions in the past 4 years (including portraits, paintings, and murals), my passion is really about exploring my own imagination, and bringing these ideas and stories to life.
My illustrations are based upon my personal experiences and interests as I continue to explore and evolve not only as an artist, but also in other areas such as relationships, leadership, and life coaching.
ABI: Your body of work is whimsical, and features mostly penguins. How did you choose this direction?
ML: When I began the creative process for my first exhibition, I wasn’t certain about the kind of artworks I wanted to create, but I just let myself flow with it. All I knew was that I’ve always wanted to live among the clouds, so I started to paint the sky on a few canvases.
In one of theses pieces, after drawing a hot air balloon, I wondered who could be in the basket using love to propel the balloon upward into the clouds. I thought, “What if this was a creature that has the potential to live in the sky, but in reality doesn’t – a bird that cannot fly?
Somehow, “penguin” stood out for me, but I put it aside first and stayed open. Then when I painted a sandcastle on a cloud and wondered who lives there, I realized it’s the same penguin that had just arrived in the hot air balloon!
Excitedly, I looked up “penguin symbolism” on the Internet, and was very aligned to what I read. And thus an entire series of 30 artworks emerged, expressing the stories of these sky penguins in their world of love, adventure and possibilities – where dreams come true.
Over the years I’ve discovered that my creative process works best when I allow my ideas to emerge organically. Since my first exhibition, the penguins have continued to appear in my artworks, and they evolve together with the ideas and themes.
ABI: What do your collectors find most compelling about your art?
ML: Besides the dreamlike quality in the whimsical world of my art, my collectors enjoy connecting to the stories in the artworks, and the deeper meanings and themes behind them.