We are supposed to meet in a cafe with quite an intriguing name - “Touching”. As soon as I google the place, the name becomes self-explanatory - their Fb page is full of pictures of two raccoons that reside in a place. They look extremely cute, but an alarm bell rings in the back in my head and I just hope they keep them for a good reason, not only to attract the clientele. Thankfully, all my concerns disappear later on as I talk to Cindy and her husband - great animal rights advocates and fans of all fluffs. But, fluffs topic later.
Cyndi greets me with a warm smile and we exchange quick introductions with her and her husband. Food is being ordered and I can’t help myself but turn my heard in all directions to catch a glimpse of all illustrations hanging on the walls. “Touching cafe” is holding an exhibition of Cindy's works and it just feels like all the animals from Cindy’s imagination were invited for the dinner too. Her newest project, calendar for 2020, is a tribute to the delicate relationship between humans and wildlife. In Chinese culture it is believed that everyone has a spirit animal (hence the Chinese Years of Animals) and Cindy’s idea was to revisit that tradition in a subtle, but meaningful way. Animals can teach us about things that we, humans, forget easily while we live in our urban jungles. Cindy’s illustrations encourage us to get outside and seek that lost connection in nature, but at the same time not to be too serious and just enjoy simple things in life.
I was intrigued by how did she manage to perfectly depict so many wild animals while living in Taipei. The answer is simple; the ZOO. Cindy is a frequent Taipei Zoo visitor (she has a year pass!) and her routine there looks more or less like that: her partner drops her off at the opening hour. Her first stop: birds section. Birds are particularly active in the morning, so she has an opportunity to observe them. As the day passes, she moves gradually to the next sections of the ZOO. It’s important that she scores for the bigger mammals in the afternoon, while they awake. Cindy has her favourite spots where she snuggles with her sketchbook and diligently studies furry and feathery friends. Crowds are passing, and she just sits there, admiring and documenting, till the ZOO closes around 5 pm.
I asked if crowds are not annoying while she is working. “Actually, I enjoy being surrounded by people. I don’t need to talk to them, but I know they are around. On the contrary, while I work in my home studio, it’s me and my two dachshunds all day long. Even though I love their company, I miss seeing people”. Like many other freelancers, Cindy faces the challenges of loneliness and isolation. She is considering coworking space, but at the same time as an illustrator, she appreciates her cozy space where she has a setup desk with all her tools. And these are super important because even though all her illustrations are digitalized, she always values the good old pencil over Photoshop brushes. “I like authenticity, and pencil adds to that genuine texture on the drawing” she explains. Cindy pays great attention to the details (look how beautifully she draws the hair) and only H family pencils can fulfill her urge to create the finest lines. Of course, working for a client has more limitations and often, to speed up the work, she draws the base with a pencil, scans the artwork, and colorizes and polishes it in Photoshop. So do you prefer working for someone on your own projects? I was interested. Again, the question was straightforward. “I definitely prefer working on self-initiated projects, like the 2020 Calendar. It gives me much more freedom to express my thoughts and focus on the details as much as I need”. Sourcing clients is not easy, Cindy mentions, but she was lucky to have few amazing brands reaching out to her (Timotei, Restaurant in Taipei for the murals, French toy producer DJECO for fabric designs). Her goal is not to depend on the clients but to produce her own books and accessories with her illustrations. I wondered how she keeps herself motivated and has always the head of full ideas. But for Cindy, illustrating is a vent of an endless stream of her deep, often personal thoughts. She wants to be truthful to herself and her viewers. She tells the story about the complexity of relationships, love, and mental health in such a touching, beautiful way, that there is no doubt it comes straight from her heart. She is a visual advocate of wild animals, that are close to extinction; she is a silent supporter of everyone who struggles with their emotions; she is a strong woman, who proves, that vulnerability goes together with confidence.