Artist Behind The Art: A Truly Delicious Approach To Drawing
STORY: Nicholas Yong
09 November 2021
Warning: This interview confirm will make you hungry (my rumbling stomach can attest to this).
Follow James Lim aka james.ek on Instagram and your feed will be filled with sketches of appetising food - from kueh to croissants, noodles to ramen. James had literally travelled all around our island sketching his - and our - favourite eats.
Speaking of travel, you might spot James on your next MRT ride as he enjoys sketching people on their daily commute.
We speak to the 35-year-old about his love affair with food, his various collab works with big brands, and what should you do if you’re a newbie interested to try sketching yourself.
Your food art is super yummy looking! (Plus it feels to us like a new style of food review). Why draw food and what motivated you to do so?
I love drawing from observation, and, as a foodie, I love exploring food and flavours. It's like doing both things at once. My sketchbook is a visual journal - recording the food and places I've had and been to.
The chef takes time and effort to prepare yummy food; I can relate to that as an artist, to create something beautiful out of raw ingredients - just like how we fill empty pages with colours.
Observing the food gives me the opportunity to observe the artistry of its creator, as I translate it onto paper. I hope to justify the deliciousness of the food I savour by drawing it beautifully and "tastily". That's why my art also doubles as a food review!
What’s your favourite food to eat?
I love eating food that is simple and yet able to excite my tastebuds, triggering a “foodgasm” moment. I love something that's spicy, with a pinch of saltiness and sourness. If I have to pick, it's probably Thai cuisine! Thank God our country embraces all sorts of cultures, enabling us to experience many different cuisines conveniently especially at hawker centres.
What’s the most challenging food to draw?
There're usually two kinds of challenges I face - one being the complexity of the food, for example, a soupy noodle. I've yet to figure out a way to show the noodles (which are already a challenge, with all the lines and strands), and the ingredients that are submerged halfway in the soup.
The second challenge would be the food itself, as some dishes can only stay fresh for so long. Noodles will turn soggy, an ice cream will melt, and pancake soufflés will lose their fluff.
For items like these, I usually take a photo first, and sketch while eating them. I'll complete the finishing touches with their photos as reference.
How did your collabs with big brands like New Moon and Skippy x Udders come about?
These collaboration inquiries usually come from IG DMs, and the projects range from commercial works to campaign creative deliverables. I would say around 90% of the inquiries are food-related.
I am extremely pleased to be recognised by the big brands. I guess many are intrigued by how their products will be portrayed with my drawing style, and the possibility of extending their product as another form of creative content or collateral.
Which one was the most challenging and how long did it take to complete?
The most challenging one should be my work with the Snackz It! outlets. Never in my life did I think I would do murals in shopping malls from midnight till morning alongside the renovators.
My hands trembled as I painted at their first outlet, as I never worked with enamel paints before. It took around 3 to 4 hours as I was drawing on ridged metal sheets! It was really difficult in the beginning, but I got the hang of it as we progressed onto the other outlets (there were 6 in total).
Not only do the murals beautify the outlets, but I also hope that they increase the brand's sales - my friends told me that the mural makes them want to buy the chicken chop 😂. The sense of accomplishment is really high and refreshing, giving me the courage to work on more "out of the box" projects.
To be honest, all murals are difficult because of the large scale. I had inquiries for 4-metre high walls which I am incapable of nor experienced in doing. I hope that I am able to tackle these requests in the near future.
What are some of your most memorable partnerships and what made them so awesome?
There have been quite a few memorable ones but the most awesome partnership probably is the Amaravati project by MTI. A group of 26 sketchers from Urban Sketchers Singapore and four from various parts of India, including Andhra Pradesh, visited Amaravari in 2017, and sketched 29 villages there. It was a huge experience for us being abroad, understanding their culture, and knowing what to capture on paper. I was selected as the exhibition curator as well.
Another awesome thing you do are your #commutesketches. Tell us more about them!
Commute sketching is a global art movement that has been going on for a while. In Singapore, it was initiated by a group of artists who picked up the challenge of sketching while commuting. There are many awesome artists who inspired me to do so, such as Cherngzhi, Don Low, and James Tan.
We had a collab with SBSTransit in 2017 to exhibit our #commutesketches at their various transit interchanges and we have not stopped doing so since. It's a perfect chance to practice drawing "live" figures, making good use of transit time. I do miss the times when I could draw actual faces instead of masks, though.
Tell us more about Urban Sketches Singapore and Cafe Sketchers SG. How do these FB groups continue to promote the passion for sketching even under our current restrictions? What activities do you recommend for someone looking to start drawing?
Urban Sketchers is a global art community and our Singapore chapter began its art journey in 2012. Our motto is to 'See The World One Drawing At A Time'. USKSG (Urban Sketchers Singapore) is a local community of artists passionate about showing SG through on-location sketching.
Cafe Sketchers is one of the sub-groups that have branched out from the interest of drawing cafe interiors and of course, food! At this moment, we are hosting drawing activities online, monthly sketching themes, and collabs with other brands. Due to current restrictions, many started to explore their passion for art (out of boredom) and drawing is probably one of the biggest trends for both children and adults.
For beginners, start drawing simple things daily – you only need a ballpen and notebook. Build a habit of drawing and start exploring your interest with various artworks online and video tutorials. You'll be surprised by the amount of drawings you’ve done after a while! We've also concluded a global 24-hour “sketchathon” with IG live shows.
You also conduct drawing workshops. What inspired you to teach art?
Being a teacher was one of my childhood ambitions! I am merely sharing my joy and passion of drawing with others, hoping to give them one big push to kick-start their art journey. I love seeing others doing art, how they depict the same thing we see but with a different outcome.
In my workshops, I aim to boost confidence with drawing techniques. Many participants are now friends and regular sketchers as well. I am happy they continued to fuel their passion. They say the secret to happiness is to help others, and I guess I helped in my own way.
Who and what are your inspirations and why?
Two of my biggest inspirations are Marc Taro Holmes and William Sim. We have similar backgrounds and passions - coming from the animation industry, a relatable art style, and being adventurous by dabbling in new mediums. It is very exciting and inspiring to see their artworks and how far they have come! Other inspiring artists include Yip Yew Chong, Red Hongyi, and Vanont. I can't fathom their creative minds, but I hope to walk in their footsteps one day.
Café hopping also inspires me. It is how I journal my "food journey", tasting and recording all the delicious food I have. I also love the smiles of the hawker owners when I show them my drawing. For the love of food!