Meet Koanne Ko
What's your background?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong and left for California to continue my education when I was 16. I started off in a community college not having the slightest clue what I wanted to major in. I was studying everything, from astronomy to psychology.
Then one day, I saw students carrying big portfolio cases and drawing boards coming out from this tiny little entrance. I didn’t realize until the second semester that there’s an Art Department in the school!
As a kid, I wouldn’t say I drew a lot, but I knew it’s something I found joy doing. Except having arts and crafts class at school, that was pretty much it. So when I saw the Art Department, it struck me that art was something I’d completely forgotten about. It’s also something I never thought I would pick up again, but I did!
I transferred to Academy of Art University in San Francisco two years later and studied traditional illustration there. The illustration school emphasized a lot on traditional drawing and painting and looking back, I really appreciate all the traditional training I received there. After graduation, I moved back home to Hong Kong and now work as a full-time illustrator.
What's your medium of choice when you're creating art?
I use mainly pencil and watercolors, iPad if I do digital.
Pencil is mainly for personal work and practice. I use mechanical pencil too as I don't need to sharpen it to get a pointy tip. Also because I work small, mechanical pencils allow me to get more consistent and delicate lines. But as handy as it is, the quality of line work just has more character with pencil in my opinion. I use H, 2B, 3B, 4B and 6B.
As for drawing papers, when I am just doodling, I do it on cheap papers, papers that aren't really made for drawing. Art materials aren't cheap, but I admit they are expensive for a reason. But not all expensive brands will suit your style. Be open and experimental with all types, you might get unexpected results.
While watercolors are used more for commercial work. I've tried different brands, Van Gogh, Winsor & Newton, Sennelier and a Japanese brand called Kuretake. I personally really liked the honey-based Sennelier watercolor as the water bleed mark the paint generates is really beautiful.
Kuretake is beautifully packaged and it's very economical for its price, colors are quite vibrant and saturated with some interesting colors.
When it comes to watercolor paper, I am still in search for this perfect paper, I use mostly the smooth hot-pressed paper, as my watercolor style is quite tight, I find hot-pressed paper more controllable.
Sometimes when I need to get a traditional painting done, I will do color roughs with Photoshop or on iPad beforehand to try out different possibilities with composition or colors. Digital medium is very forgiving, it's quick and saves you many papers! I tend to be less cautious with colors when I am painting digitally. It's a great tool when you want to experiment with colors and compositions.
I switch between medium, pencils, watercolor, acrylics, soft pastels, oils, digital...I would really love myself to be able to handle all kinds. But I'm least comfortable with water-based medium. I still struggle a lot when doing watercolors or inks. It's really something I need to work on.
How did you build your creative habit?
When you are into something, making time for it will never be an issue. Even if it is, you will not complain about having so little time, you will only be grateful and appreciate that 10 minutes of doodling time that you squeezed in amidst your busy schedule. You could be working three jobs and still manage to make time to draw. If you like something enough, you will know how to prioritize and make time for it.
Drawing helps me let go of my emotions, it's almost like writing a journal. I do it at night before I sleep. It's a great tool to converse with my inner self. Build that intimacy with yourself, you will like the calmness it gives you.
When you do find yourself in a creative rut, how do you get out of it?
Don't look at it as something to worry about, we all go through that once in a while. If you rush to get out of it, you will only be more stuck. Being in a creative rut could be you overworking yourself, or you had been in your comfort zone for too long that what you're doing no longer surprises you and you are getting bored with your own work.
At times like that, you need to stop pushing yourself so hard and get out of your daily routine and do something different, something art unrelated if possible, and a social media detox!
There's a technical side to drawing, you don't really need to be creative and full of ideas to draw and you can still practice the technical bits! When in a rut, I will make time to take online classes with artists I admire. Learning new knowledge brings you new insights and inspiration that help you get out of the rut.
Portraiture is pretty much the only thing I draw...but I just took an online class to learn to paint landscapes as I was always curious about how landscape artists/urban sketchers simplify shapes and still have enough details to make a nice and interesting composition. (I have not done more than 10 landscapes drawing/painting up till this point of my life). Their techniques have also helped me a great deal when I draw and paint portraits. It's interesting to see how ideas and techniques intertwine and apply even when the subject matter is different. You will go back to your old spot but see things in a new light, new perspective.
Learn something different, it doesn't even need to be art related, just something that's out of your comfort zone!
Which of your recent artworks most expresses who you are now as an artist?
The painting is called the “Moon Child”. I made it two years ago as a key visual for my solo exhibition.
I always have a little obsession with the moon. I am a moon child (Cancerian) myself and a very typical one, and I can relate to a lot of characteristics of a Cancerian.
I am a very private person and prefer to keep things to myself. As mentioned before, drawing to me is like writing a journal, it's something only I, myself, need to understand. Using symbols has become my way to express my feelings subtly. I prefer for viewers to find the relation through the strokes, colors and mood, not in words.
Moon is non-luminous but it causes tidal waves that are twice as strong as the Sun. I really like this idea of the moon. You don't need to be loud, just appreciate those who notice your beauty.