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Paint the Story, narrate the art

Som Kanika / Khmer Times Share:
Seng Ek Visal is now serving as a textbook illustrator for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Supplied

Since he was a little boy, Seng Ek Visal has always seen himself as an artist. Starting with following his father’s footstep as a traditional artist, Visal eventually goes his own way and discovers a passion in illustration and storytelling. He was chosen by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport for be the leading artist in a project aimed at promoting culture among children. Som Kanika sits down and talks with the young illustrator about his career.


GT2: What was your early life like? And how did it affect your art career?

Seng Ek Visal: I was born with an artist’s blood running through my veins. My father is a painter and a kbach (decorative pattern) expert. He painted murals in temples and pagodas in Kandal province. His paintings have always been my source of inspiration. I started drawing when I was just a little boy and had my apprenticeship under my father. I arrived in Phnom Penh in 2006 to study the foundation of art. One year later, I was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal University of Fine Arts. Even while as a student, I received some commissions from individuals and organisations. Meanwhile I was also working as a painter at the night market to earn my livelihood. Now, I am working as an illustrator for the Ministry of Education, doing illustration for children’s textbooks for children all over the country. It has indeed been a long journey, but I feel blessed to have chosen this path.

The backbone of Visal’s works is the deep understanding of the anatomy of each story and the personality and feeling of their characters. Supplied

GT2: Your background is watercolour painting but you have moved to digital art. What are the reasons behind that and have you run into any challenges making this shift?

Seng Ek Visal: I made that move in 2015. The main reason I did that is because of the high demand for digital art in the current market. Initially, it was very difficult as I could not even draw a line with a stylus, nor could I draw emotion that I wanted to show in my drawings. Maybe I had become very used to pencil and watercolours. However the upside is, drawing on a digital board allows you to erase and correct your mistakes easily. For me the watercolour paintings allowed for more emotional illustration and it gives you a direct connection between you and your artwork. However, lots of practice and patience allowed me to adjust to the digital style.

Despite the challenges in this industry, I am still inspired to continue doing this work because it always gives me self-satisfaction and many moments of fulfilment. This passion that I have and the contentment that I feel are privileged moments which not many people get to experience and it gives me a concrete purpose of walking this path.

GT2: How do you come up with your characters? Is there any special process or technique?

Seng Ek Visal: For an illustrator to possess the ability to bring his or her character to life, it requires a remarkable skill which can only be acquired with endless practice. Laziness is out of the question for an artist who wants to master his or her field. The more you practice, the more you are able to enhance your strength and recognise your weakness. Also, when it comes to illustrating, one will have to understand the anatomy of the character as well as to nurture the energy of your drawing lines. Observing other people’s artworks is also significant because by examining other peoples work, you will learn how to make sense of your characters and it also provides you with more ideas to explore.

GT2: What are the steps you have to go through in order to complete a book?

Seng Ek Visal: First you need to have a full understanding about the storyline given to you which you have to illustrate and get a feel of every character. Only then do you come up with a storyboard, on which the sequences of the story are created and dialogue and purpose of the characters get portrayed. After drawing the characters, you have to get feedback of the ideas and artwork from the writers and other stakeholders in the project. These adjustments might be repeated several times before the colours and realistic lines are finalised. The entire process may take about 1-3 month, before the book is completed.

GT2: Do you have any message for the young people out there who wants to walk on the same path as you to become a professional artist?

Seng Ek Visal: Young people today have many platforms and opportunities to showcase their artwork more so than during my generation. There are many organisations and conferences offering opportunities for young people out there to show off their talent. They can also enter various competitions to receive more experience and knowledge in this field.

All they need is to get the courage and take that first step, everything else will fall into place.

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