I was quite blown away the first time I saw fashion illustrator PandaPanda‘s works. There exists a beautiful balance between the realistic and whimsical in her artistic renditions of various fashionistas who have caught her eye. Just take a look at her drawings on her Blogspot and Tumblr websites, and you will see what I mean.
The name “Frida” in the melancholy-tinged name for both her websites is actually the name of PandaPanda’s missing cat. “She used to wait for me down the road in the neighbourhood and when she hears my bicycle, she knows how to run back home to wait for me at the door. I don’t know where she has gone. After I left Singapore for an internship overseas, she just disappeared one day and never came back.”
That’s the story behind the name “Frida”. What about her alias “PandaPanda”?
“Well, I love pandas a lot. They are extremely philosophical creatures (that’s why they’re selective over their mates and therefore they are endangered). And their name just sounds cute if you repeat it twice.”
I asked her when she discovered the illustrator in herself, and she says that she isn’t sure if she actually knew that there was even one in her at the beginning. “I was just… always drawing, you know? I used to draw all these paper dolls with cut-out clothing and play with them. Sometimes, I would even create houses and make-believe worlds on paper. It’s just something that I have always been doing for playtime when I was a child.”
And this “something” from her childhood has ultimately turned into a passion for her.
It isn’t always the sunshiny aspect of life that inspires this artist. It’s loss. “I tend to start a project when I experience some kind of loss,” she explains. “It’s so cliché, the whole ‘tortured artist’ syndrome but it’s kind of true. Experiences over intense feelings would move you to vent it, and in my case, it’s through art.
Of course I would love to be moved to create something out of positive feelings like love and happiness, but I guess, being a quarter-lifer, it comes with a whole set of hard experiences. It’s something that tends to occur more often, the negative things. But I’m really inspired by just pure living too. I love being in the camaraderie of my friends, my lover, good music, a dance floor, night breezes, exploring new cities and making new rituals.”
So what exactly draws her attention to a person and makes her inspired to illustrate them?
“Usually I get vibes, be it from their clothing or appearance in general. They don’t have to look exceptionally or conventionally ‘beautiful’. Something off-kilter about their look… something special. Or it could also be a quiet sort of confidence despite wearing something understated and subtle.”
PandaPanda calls herself a hardcore traditionalist when it comes to traditional art versus digital art. “I just find the tactile nature of pen on paper a lot more wholesome in some way, more organic. Makes me feel good.”
In her opinion, digital illustrations personally make her feel like they’re very constricted and metallic, despite how intricate some of them can be. “It’s just not my style!” she exclaims. “Everyone has different aesthetic whimsies anyway. I do have to admit that Garance Doré does digital fashion illustrations brilliantly, though. She uses it really well to show its softness and organic quality, despite it being digital.” She adds that she is also a fan of graphic novel illustrator Dave McKean, who uses both digital and traditional mediums fantastically.
It’s quite surprising to hear that PandaPanda isn’t exactly planning on making fashion illustrating her full-time career. “I am not trying really hard to put myself out there, but I’m just glad that people drop by and like what they see. However, I’d rather people recognize me as an artist, because I do work in many other mediums and forms as well. This fashion illustration project is just one of my many ways of expressing myself,” she explains. “Of course, I would love to be able to do this professionally. I’ve always dreamt of having a career in art. Alas, I am not so fortunate.”