We were pleased to take a little time to get to know South African Illustrator and designer Daniel Ting Chong. Daniel is a well known illustrator with a dynamic portfolio working on several projects including the recent cover of Design Indaba magazine. Known for his ‘messy’ style Daniel’s work is engaging and inspirational. Daniel was born in 1987 in Cape Town and is a third generation South African Chinese. Studied graphic design at Vega School. He is emerging as one of Cape Town’s top creative talents following a series of commissions from clients and design collaborations with leading international brands including Nike, New York Times and PUMA.
Thanks for the interview. You are an award winning designer from South Africa. How did you get started in illustration? Give us a little background info about you.
I’m 23 years old and I was born in Cape Town. I’ve loved drawing ever since i was young. I had this really weird obsession with drawing different birds. I took art and design at school and that’s when illustration began to play more of a serious role in my life. I used to sketch a lot in books and on any paper I could find, and when i started to teach myself how to draw on the computer, it opened up a whole new world. I started to explore with vectors, shapes and shading, and I also played around with sketching directly on the computer. I went to Rondebosch’ Boys’ High School and studied design at Vega, after which I worked at the design studio The President. I am currently running my own studio, which has allowed me to work on a diverse range of projects. It’s great, I love it.
We are always curious about how artists find their inspiration – Who are some of your influencers? Where do you seek inspiration?
There are tons of people that are influencers in my life. I’ve always said that inspiration is in everything you do. It’s in the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, your family and friends. When I am looking for inspiration, there are tons of books to go through in my studio. I’ve also got folder on my computer with jokes, funny pictures and specific images i really like – those help a lot. Inspiration comes from tons of research, sketching and ideas bubbling in sketchbooks. I often do a lot of research before i start any project.
You were recently commissioned to design the cover for the 4th Quarter issue of Design Indaba? Tell us a little bit about the project, what was your inspiration and process behind the project?
This was a really really cool project to work on. I was asked to design the Design Indaba cover surrounding the idea of DIY (Do It Yourself). So i wanted to incorporate that idea into the cover, but more so, I wanted to make it interactive rather than just creating an illustration. I wanted the reader to know that there was something more tangible about the cover than just its aesthetic appearance.
I wanted to work with typography for this project, which is why i made a template that can be cut out to form a 3D typography that spells the word DIY. So one would cut out the template and glue it together to create the letters. I looked at lots of instruction manuals one would find in constructing, for example, a desk or chair.
I liked the way the images were illustrated. They were mostly outline illustrations with a bit of type.
I looked at many different ideas before coming up with the idea of typography. Initially, I wanted to make a pop up and had some other ideas but i thought the typography idea was much more successful.
I took inspiration from this and illustrated all the objects one would need to create the DIY letters. So i illustrated a pair of scissors, cutting blade etc. I set the type with the illustrations on the cover in quite a messy way. I had a few regulations to work around. I had to keep the format of the Design Indaba magazine and master head. I wanted to incorporate the Design Indaba master head with my illustration, so i edited some of the master head and had some of the template over the master head so it wouldn’t feel so disconnected from the rest of my illustration. It was a really fun brief and i only had about 2 or 3 days to finish it. I also chose to use a silver pantone for the cover as i believe using really beautiful inks on paper makes one appreciate something more.
Some of your work consists of painting and dimensional design? Could you let us know a little bit about it? What is dimensional design, how did you get started?
I like to paint and design. I feel I need to do them both to survive. My design work consists of clean lines and typography, whereas my art is very messy, consisting of layers of colours that is chaotic and is all over the place. I feel that my art balances my design work as they are so contradictory in terms of style. I like to keep them separate as they are two very different disciplines for me. My art is my hobby and find it acts as my ‘break’ from design. My art is very loose and unpredictable, because i believe mistakes do not exist in art. In contrast, my design is very specific and provides a function that moves beyond aesthetics.
I really enjoy doing three dimensional work. I find it exciting as it provides another layer to one’s work when your illustration or design doesn’t live in a computer screen or frame. It pushes you to understand the medium you’re using to express your work. You run into problems and things when trying to move your work into a dimensional space. But that’s the best part, because you learn and explore things. You understand different substrates and that’s where one grows as a creative. Explore and play. Dimensional design hasn’t been a conscious decision for me, i think it’s just been a natural process for me and me wanting to explore different areas of design. The dimensional design projects i do usually start off as self motivated projects, as i believe self motivated projects make you grow as a creative.
What would you say is your favorite tool when working on a creative project?
My favorite tool would have to be my sketchbook. This is the most powerful tool everyone has at their finger tips because this is where every great idea begins . I believe that all of one’s thoughts and ideas are the key to creating a strong core, which is the foundation of a successful project. Ideas sometimes separate people more than a style or direction of work.
There seems to be a strong collaborative environment with illustrators in Cape Town, what has been your experience working in a collaborative space? Who are some of the artists that you have worked with in the past?
Yeah and it’s great that so many people collaborate in Cape Town. I worked on a really awesome collaboration project in 2008. I worked on a project with the Film Company, Fly On The Wall. We did this project for Discovery Channel where we had to paint ‘the fate of the earth’, but we had to paint in a circular canvas and we were on a time limit to paint. I worked with 6 other artists, to name a few – Warren Lewis, Ree Treeweek (The Black Heart Gang), and Motel7. I also did a cool VJ project with Jannes Hendrix from The Black Heart Gang. We did this 3D mapping show at The Assembly. I’m currently working on a project with the musician Sibot on some synced visuals to sound project.
I also share a studio space with Jordan Metcalf, Adam Hill, Emma Cook and Gill Benjamin. It’s an awesome space to be in as we bounce ideas off one another for the work we do. We feed off each other and inspire each other by providing input or watching ridiculous YouTube videos. We are also going to be forming a studio together and we currently have some projects in the pipeline already. I’m really excited about this. I also worked with Andrew Berry (photographer), who is one of the co-founders of the blog we-are-awesome.com . We worked on a successful tequila campaign earlier this year and we will also working on a big project next year.
Do you think your environment, being from Africa, influences your work, your style? If so how?
Yes, definitely. I would say more so in my art pieces than my design work. With my art, I’ve recently done some African portraits of different cultures in Africa. I recently did some portraits of the people of the Masai tribe. I also like to use a lot of bright colours in my work and Africa is very colorful, from jewelry to clothing. I’ve also been looking at different types of jewelry from different African tribes and the symbolism behind them. So i would some maybe more influence in the colours and sometimes the content of my artwork. In my design work it would be more so the type of style of illustration, thicker black lines and in away a more naiveness about it – for example those typical Barber Haircut sign boards and African movie posters have this naiveness behind it which influences my work for specific projects. Also looking at African type from sign boards, posters, shop signs influence my work.
Any advice for up and coming African illustrators or artists?
Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep creating and creating and creating. Have fun and explore. One learn’s so much through play. Do self motivated projects and have dedication towards every project you do. Most importantly, believe in the work you do. Look at what others are doing around you, but do it different. Work hard and find the way you want to stamp your name on the Earth.
Finally, any up coming projects we should know about?
I’m working on all kinds of projects at the moment. I’m currently working on an exhibition this December for a tattoo show where i have to paint on a mold of someone’s arm. Really fun. As I mentioned earlier, I am working with Sibot on some visuals to go with his new sound he’s producing. I am also working on a photographic project, where i’m putting together some lookbooks. Currently, I am designing an iPhone app for a company in Australia. There is an exhibition with Kidrobot and Toy Toi next year where i am customizing a Munny toy. I’ve just been asked to work on this super secret project for Red Bull. I don’t even know what it is yet. Otherwise I am currently working on the production of the pillowcases i designed, and I’m doing some illustrations here and there. Will keep you guys in the loop!