Saturday, February 23, 2013

Inking Success

Known for his intricate designs on coffee cups, CHEEMING BOEY, the author of When I Was a Kid, recently toured Malaysia and Singapore to share his passion and inspire young artists. ALYCIA LIM spoke to him in Singapore

WHEN his eight-and-a-half-year relationship ended in 2006, Cheeming Boey packed his bags and left for Thailand for a breath of fresh air. While looking for something to occupy his time with, he stumbled upon Scott Dikkers’s I Went to College and It Was Okay, and was immediately inspired by it. “Having just broken up with my girlfriend at that time, I thought perhaps I should start a blog, and one day she would read it and know that I had changed for the better,” he says.

Thirty-four-year-old Malaysian-born Boey decided that he would use a style similar to Dikkers for his new blog, where he would come up with a cartoon strip each day to document his daily life. “I also thought that, maybe, I’d become popular from my blog. And then it all happened. I mean, the most unlikely thing that I thought would happen, happened.”

As if based on a script, Boey’s life took an unexpected turn when he started drawing on Styrofoam cups around the same time. “When I first drew on a cup, I didn’t expect much from it. In fact, I didn’t expect anything. It was just something I did for fun. Then a friend asked me what I would do with them, and I told him that maybe I could sell them one day.”

It was only when that friend told him the cups wouldn’t sell that Boey decided to take his cup art seriously. “I wanted to prove him wrong. My friend told me no one would buy that ‘crap’, and that was what challenged me to seriously begin to promote and try to sell my cups.”

With lots of patience and determination plus a spirit of competitiveness, he eventually found an avenue to do so at a small arts fair. “The cups were never part of my game plan as I always wanted to do something with my blog first. However, when my cup art started going viral, people also began discovering my blog.”

Today, Boey’s coffee cup art has drawn the attention of artists and art enthusiasts from around the world. A piece of work can take anytime between one day and a month or longer to complete, but it’s always almost in black and white with minimal colours added. “Sometimes, less is more. When you put on too many colours, it can distract you from the drawing itself,” says Boey.

Despite the positive interest he has garnered for his delicate pieces of art, Boey remains steadfast in his daily blog updates. “I like storytelling. Each cup tells a story, but it’s not personal like the blog. I also have fans who have been following my blog for years, and it is important not to let them down.”

Remembering a time when he was close to giving it up entirely, Boey says he is glad he kept the blog going. “It takes me two to three hours a day just to come up with a simple blog post, and I don’t make any money out of it. But looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give it up because it’s the glue that holds everything I do right now.”

He recently published a book, When I Was a Kid, as a reflection of his childhood. Appearing on the bestseller lists in Malaysian bookstores recently, the book, says Boey, is a compilation of his memories as a child growing up in Johor and of his schooldays in Singapore. “The style of my book is very similar to my blog. The only difference is, the book revolves around stories of my childhood, instead of my current day-to-day life.”

Sharing memories of his childhood, the author admits he didn’t always have it easy. “I was a fat kid, and didn’t do very well academically. Six days into Junior College in Singapore, I dropped out and went to the US.”

He has been living in the US ever since. However, the alumnus of the Academy of Art University (AAU) in San Francisco still considers Malaysia and Singapore home. “I try to come back once every six months to visit my family and enjoy the food back home. I love this place, but I only wish there was more emphasis placed on the arts.”

In his tour around Malaysia and Singapore to promote When I Was a Kid, Boey explains that he has a greater purpose in mind. “I’ve always been interested in helping the art industry in Malaysia and Singapore get up to speed, and my books are not my main purpose for touring this part of the world. I want to share how animation is done overseas since that’s the industry I was in originally, and the importance of art.”

He advises aspiring artists and designers to work hard and believe in their work. “I’ve had failures, but I’ve always been willing to take risks because I learned to fail from a very young age. If you try something once and it doesn’t work out, try again.”

Asked if he currently has anything up his sleeve, Boey cheekily replies, “Well, I’m building a bicycle, but everything else is a secret for now.” He did, however, spill the beans about his second book. “My next book is going to be about my travels in the US, but the publication date has yet to be determined.”

With so much going on in his life right now, one can only wonder if this has always been a planned journey for Boey. “I think everyone wants to come out on their own eventually, but for me, it’s happening much earlier than I thought. I’m not complaining; it’s probably a good thing.”

At the end of the day, Boey’s biggest driver is the need to prove himself to others. “I want to make a statement with my work. If the world didn’t care and didn’t say anything about it, it cannot be a statement.”

Reproduced from the October-December 2012 issue of Quill magazine


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