Freda Chiu: #EWF18 Illustrator

Julianna Toth  

Freda Chiu, a Sydney-based illustrator is behind this year’s festival artwork. Freda was one of many who responded to EWF’s very first Emerging Illustrator Call-Out – charming the team with her captivating contrast between light (colourful figures) and dark themes.

We speak to Freda about her passion for horror films, how to succeed as an illustrator, messages within her illustrations, and (of course) what she’s currently reading.

What was the inspiration behind EWF’s artwork?

I was very inspired by the diversity of creative ideas and perspectives of writers who partake in EWF, as well as the way storytelling connects people together. With these concepts on board, I created something that was fun and emphasised progression- ie.  morphing into something new and better, without using stereotypical imagery normally associated with writers (eg. books and pens).

You do a lot of artwork for books, literary organisations and publications – is this intentional?

In a way, yes. Since childhood, I have always had a love of learning and reading, so I’d wanted to contribute to the industry from an early age. The first book I wrote and illustrated was when I was six years old and it was about a pig who ate too much and exploded. I received a Principal’s award sticker for my efforts and I think it was at that point, I knew I wanted to be an illustrator of stories.

My first illustration gigs after graduating from university was with a couple of literary magazines and it gradually snow-balled from there. I’m really lucky that the jobs I’ve landed have always had a positive message or interesting narratives and issues behind them- things that I believe in and feel strongly about.

What is it about horror films that fascinate you (narrative, aesthetic or visuals)? 

For me, its the whole experience- feelings of the unknown and being left with an overly active imagination hours (or days!) after watching a film. I’m not into jump scares or gore, but I love horror films where you don’t necessarily see any ghosts, but they mess with your head and make you think.

Is there a particular message you try to portray through your illustrations?

For my commercial work, there’s normally already a message I’m required to portray, but for my personal work, it’s all about not taking yourself too seriously and to have a laugh at things that society often deems as morbid.

Lately however, I’ve been focusing on expressing energy in my work through colour and composition. I’ve been working on a couple of projects for children’s publishing, something I’ve always dream of doing and hope to do more work for. Through my art, I hope to have a positive impact on kids and teens.

What event are you most excited about at EWF 2018?

That’s a tough one, but Amazing Babes and Speakeasy: Death sound amazing!

What are you currently reading?

I recently bought a bunch of books from a friend, so I’m in between reading Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s beautiful graphic novel, “This One Summer”, and “Drawn To Life” which is a collection of legendary lectures from long-time Disney animator and educator, Walt Stanchfield. Learning about drawing for animation as well as teaching it has helped breathe life into my own illustrations and making me rethink the way I work.

For people looking to make a career out of illustration, do you have any tips?

Be true to yourself and what you want to do in life. If you want to start a freelance Illustration business, be aware there might be people who doubt or judge you at the beginning, but try not to let that affect your decisions or lose sight of your goals. It’s a very competitive industry and riding off your talent is not enough – you need perseverance, flexibility, business acumen, and be prepared to work extremely hard.

Also, think strategically about how you will achieve your goals and have a plan.  Don’t be ashamed to have a day job while you’re building your profile, and don’t be ashamed of enjoying it either! I worked in a bookstore for many years which gave me financial stability, allowed me to save my creative juices for when I got to the studio, taught me about the publishing industry, and bought me time to make work I loved that eventually lead to more projects. When you’re financially stressed, it’s difficult to make good work.

Lastly, surround yourself with people who you feel inspired by, be genuine, and help each other out!

Freda Chiu is a Freelance Illustrator, Artist and Educator at The University of Technology Sydney. She has worked for clients including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sony, Penguin Random House, and The Lifted Brow across a range of print, digital and outdoor applications. Her work is inspired by a love of horror films, children’s picture books, comics and good stories.

Check our Freda’s incredible work!
Instagram: @_fredachiu_