Her drawings encapsulate the demeanour of socialites and fashion icons in a frenzied runway show, gleaming with bright lights. So glamorous and très chic — overwhelmed in a vibrant imaginary world with feminine brush strokes, gradient watercolour finishing and poised human silhouettes. Meet Penang-born Eleen Tan, an art lecturer who does fashion illustration on the side for well-known fashion names in Malaysia.
Eleen is wearing Emily Two-Way Mules
Hailed from a land so famously known as Pearl of the Orient, Eleen has had a humble upbringing with a family so supportive of her artistic pursuits. Being the eldest in her family has not deterred Eleen from achieving her one true goal: pursue art and design for a living. Although, Eleen recalls a time when her parents were concerned about her choice. ''They did try to change the choice of my career because they always thought that being a lawyer would bring in more money and it has a better future than being a designer or an artist. Maybe it's because I am the eldest child in the family, I always have a very clear vision of who I want to become. Fortunately, my family is very understanding and they finally allowed me to pursue my dream in art and design after I received a scholarship to study in an art college. My family's support plays an important role in my achievement today." Eleen started her artistic journey in The One Academy majoring in illustration. Later on, she furthered her studies in UK where she graduated in First Class Honour and received her BA (Hons) in Visual Communication. Her passion for fashion illustration prompted her to continue her academic journey and graduated again to attain her MA Visual Communication with Distinction, majoring in Fashion Illustration at Birmingham City University (BCU) in UK.
"I think I am greatly influenced by my grandmother. My grandmother loves fashion very much.."
Such determination is commendable. What cultivated her flair for art and fashion? Eleen explains, "I think I am greatly influenced by my grandmother. My grandmother loves fashion very much. She loves designing her own clothes and she used to discuss with her tailor about the fabrics and designs. She always brought me along to the tailor's studio and all I did was sit there, looked at the design sketches and got inspired. Furthermore, she spent so much time drawing and colouring with me, which is one of the happiest childhood memories I have with her. I spent most of my childhood with her and it has a great impact on me as a fashion illustrator today." In her college years, as fate would have it, Eleen attended a mini fashion illustration exhibition and was so impressed with what she had seen. She was inspired and that led her to the direction of her career today.
Alia B and Yoke & Theam for KLFW 2017 as illustrated by Eleen Tan.
Cassey Gan and Yoke & Theam for KLFW 2017 as illustrated by Eleen Tan.
To date, Eleen has had seven years of working as a freelance fashion and lifestyle illustrator. She's worked with leading fashion magazines as well as local and international fashion brands. Meeting and dealing with her clients have made her improve her social skills. She admits "I was very shy and a quiet student back in college. I didn’t get to socialize much because I was busy with my assignments and projects. However, as time goes by, my social environment started to change as well as the people I meet. That gives me the initiative to approach people and make new friends since I started working in the fashion industry. Through these years, I have learned that networking and getting exposures are very important in supporting my career." Eleen remembers her first paying gig as a fashion illustrator, "I got my first paying job from my colleague who introduced me to a media company to create fashion illustrations for each issue of their fashion magazine. I started getting different contacts from there since then."
Eleen is wearing Emma Two-Way Mules
Sketching is what she busies herself with when Eleen is not working on any projects for her clients. Don't be deceived by her perfectly put together illustrations, completing a masterpiece is not an easy feat — it starts with doing a thorough research on her subjects and finalizing her references. Her ideas and inspiration will then be translated onto a piece of paper in a form of sketches using various traditional art media such as pencil, ink, marker, charcoal, gouache, and watercolor. The final touches will be edited through digital retouching software to give her masterpiece a modern touch.
Just like these animated illustrations which Eleen has done for us.
"There are many different ways to release my negative vibes, such as taking a walk, going on a road trip, shopping and having coffee with friends. But drawing is definitely one of it."
Art is therapeutic for Eleen. When she faces one of her down days, drawing helps her to express her emotions. She tells us "There are many different ways to release my negative vibes, such as taking a walk, going on a road trip, shopping and having coffee with friends. But drawing is definitely one of it." It is admirable to see someone like Eleen who prospers in her choice of life path, taking the road less taken. Pursuing art and design has always been her number one passion and it has served her well even on a personal level. Back in the days, it is a common consensus that working in this industry won't put food on the table. Today, there are vast opportunities out there for designers and artists like Eleen with technology being made attainable to the world population. Eleen believes it is a matter of managing your lifestyle. "I think no one or not even majority of people will ever think that the money is good enough. I would say things would eventually work out as long as you are happy and passionate about what you are doing. Do your research, analyze it, set yourself a clear direction and do it consistently. Do not forget it is a digital world now. People are able to socialize and showcase their works worldwide and make money out of it."
Our takeaway from getting to know Eleen is that, life is not always about reaping monetary rewards. Do what you love to do and if you want it bad enough, success is already yours. Enjoy it. For Eleen, she loves meeting new people, making new friends and learning new experiences. Her philosophy in life as she tells us is, "Just be true to yourself and things will fall into the right place for you." And who does she aspire to become? "The best of myself."
We spent a sunny morning with Eleen over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. She showed us her sketches and even did one in honour of this feature. Hear what she has to say about our shoes which she got to try for the first time—in her own words.
You got to try on our shoes, what do you think of them?
You never know how a pair of shoes will fit until you wear them. Yoke & Theam shoes are very comfortable and stylish. Some people say you have to bite the shoes before wearing them. I don’t think I need to bite any of Yoke & Theam shoes.
Would you say they suit your taste and style?
Yes. Most of them match my taste and dressing style perfectly.
Which is your favorite design?
The Emma and Emily heels.
They caught my attention immediately when I first saw them. At first, I was very curious about the detachable shoelaces because they look a bit weird to me. However, I was surprised with the comfort of the heels when I tried them on. I must admit that Yoke & Theam is a very considerate shoe brand. The materials chosen enable their wearers to walk in style and comfort.
I wore the Emily heels to all of the fashion shows I attended during the KLFW 2017. I didn’t feel any pain after the full-day fashion show marathon.
The Emma and Emily heels are detachable and have limitless styling abilities. How would you style them formal events and a night out?
The Emma and Emily heels are perfect for both a formal event and a night out. They complement the formal and smart office lady look. They also stand out when you style yourself in a chic and stylish look for a fashionable night out with your friends.
What do you think about our #ytwalkoflife campaign, casting light on inspirational and strong females like yourself?
I think #ytwalkoflife is a very inspiring campaign sending positive vibes to motivate everyday people. It is also a platform for us to share our stories and experiences to inspire other people to be a better version of themselves.
Photography: Shammie Ng
Styling: Saerah Ridzuan
Wardrobe & Illustrations: Eleen Tan
Location: Kopenhagen Cafe
Yoke & Theam Walk of Life
We celebrate strong and independent women of all age, gender, race and sexuality. #ytwalkoflife is our very own initiative to showcase aspiring personalities to our consumers whom we consider our loyal friends. Our belief is that each individual possesses compelling stories that are unique and inspiring - from fashion darlings to expressive artists, to everyday people - let their life narratives play a part in filling the pages in your book of journey. Take a glance at what it's like to be in their shoes as we feature one personality each month.
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