Graphic design is increasingly done using digital tools, but some Indonesian illustrators are pushing back with hand-drawn art work. (Photos courtesy of Angela Judiyanto)

Hand-Drawn Designs Make a Comeback With Local Illustrators

JULY 02, 2015

For Muhammad Taufiq, an illustrator better known by his moniker eMTe, his work represents dedication to the technique of hand-drawing.

“Lately, I have been trying to create work in a style that is not too computerized. It presents me with an opportunity to showcase my personal side, not to mention this technique also pushes me to be more focused,” he says.

In an age where graphic design — from comics to websites to packaging — is increasingly rendered by digital tools, it's not strange to hear some people might miss a more human touch. Perhaps driven by this, a coterie of local illustrators like eMTe are going back to their roots and exploring why they started drawing in the first place.

Even though he studied graphic design at the Jakarta Institute of Arts — a major that, of late, is arguably gaining more considerable prestige — Muhammad has always seen himself as an illustrator first and foremost.

“I have been drawing since I was a kid. I liked to make my own comics when I was in elementary school,” he says. “I ended up becoming an illustrator simply because I like to draw, and it is something that I enjoy until now.”

As eMTe, Muhammad is a prolific artist, mainly using watercolors and inks to hand-draw his illustrations. He has been commissioned for various commercial projects, from cover illustrations for books, to making artwork for magazine clients, cafés and property developers.

“When I studied graphic design, I learned that I should create an illustration that would suit its target market,” he explains. “When I do a project for kids, my illustration tends to be more playful with fun and colorful colors. While in a fashion project, my style tends to be looser with mature shade and dynamic figures.”

Indeed, eMTe’s illustrations cannot be pigeonholed, although most of them share some defining qualities, such as vividly drawn human figures — sometimes to the point of exaggeration — as well as a liberal use of color, which runs the gamut from cheerful to somber.

Because of his watercolor technique, each work is characterized by rather soft paint-strokes that have become his signature. “Even when I tried to create an illustration in a slightly different style, my friend could still tell that it was made by me,” the Jakarta-based illustrator says.

Expressions of art

Another illustrator whose drawings have featured on the likes of restaurant menus and online publications is Angela Judiyanto. Known for her detail-oriented illustrations that are equally whimsical and poignant, Angela has been commissioned by many leading names in Jakarta’s food-and-beverage sector, including Canteen, Poke Sushi and Pao Pao — a relatively new dimsum bar in Senopati area.

“My mother is a seamstress, and I used to copy her sketches. It was my first attempt of drawing,” says Angela of her early years. “In my academic journey, somehow I was always involved in the arts department, so growing up, I believe this is what I’m going to do.”

Akin to eMTe, Angela prefers to make things manually, citing the spontaneity factor it affords. “There are no certain techniques [that I always use], except when I am exploring stuff,” she adds.

Angela says that her illustration style mirrors her character and mostly engages with human forms, often veering between expressive strokes and surrealist portraits. “One thing is for sure, it’s never polished, neat nor perfect. It has flaws,” she says.

This fondness for incorporating rough edges into her work led Angela to delve deeper into the world of art, and she has participated in a number of exhibitions. She was chosen as one of the participants of Dia.Lo.Gue Artspace’s EXI(S)T program in its first year, a showcase of promising artists. “It helped me raise questions about myself,” she says.

She also held a joint exhibition with artist Yaya Sung titled “Blink/Gaze/Glance” back in 2013. “It is about how we perceive the world according to these three different approaches of seeing. For me, it’s more about how I see myself and connect it to [other people’s] way of seeing,” says Angela, whose favorite artists include Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and Lucian Freud.

In that exhibition, Angela rendered her illustrations in mixed media. In “15 Blinks a Minute,” for instance, she utilized ceramic bottles and acrylic paint on white cement. “I tried to capture the short period of time [between when our eyes blink],” she says. “I use this metaphor on how in short period of time you make a quick judgment of yourself.”

The power of collaboration

Collaborative projects with other creative types often present a unique opportunity for illustrators to unveil new sides of their work.

Recently, Muhammad worked on a book project together with writer and poet Aan Mansyur. Titled “Melihat Api Bekerja” (“Seeing the Fire Works”), the book is a compilation of Aan’s poems placed side-by-side with eMTe 's illustrations. Unlike other book projects in which eMTe’s illustrations were merely treated as a decorative element, here, he had the freedom to interpret his counterpart’s words in his own way.

“Essentially, I did not illustrate his poems. Rather, we have some kind of a conversation inside the book: Aan converses with his poems while I do it through my illustrations,” he says, adding that the writer became inspired to pen some of his poems after looking at his drawings.

After going through the painstaking process of making the book, an exhibition of eMTe’s illustrations was held in conjunction with the book launch at Edwin’s Gallery in South Jakarta last April. “Because of the volume of illustrations I created, as well as the book’s substantial content, I think it was great to have this exhibition,” he says.

In addition to the book project, Muhammad recently created illustrations for fashion designer Patrick Owen. His intricate artwork — featuring themes inspired by Papuan tribes, combined with modern lines in lively colors  — was applied to silk scarves and other clothing items. “This collaboration is very interesting because I can combine these two disparate mediums. Apparently, my illustrations can also be applied on fashion products."

Visually-driven digital applications like Instagram have provided a new place for these illustrators to showcase their works. After publishing his book, Muhammad noticed that many people would share his hand-drawn illustrations on social media. “This way, the book will have a longer exposure,” he says.

He also thinks that appreciation for illustrators is rapidly growing in Indonesia. “It is now easier to get information about what an illustrator actually does, and this might encourage more people to learn more about the art of illustration and eventually become one,” he adds.

Despite these positive developments, Angela is still concerned by how some people still view illustration as a decorative element only.

“I really wish someday people will buy something because they are attracted to an illustration on it or a certain artist who makes it,” says Angela, who is currently working on her own book project. “And I wish Indonesia would produce more great illustrators who are known for their singular styles and can represent the country internationally.”