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Artist Tess Moh on labours of love and creating personal community projects

Tess Moh is a free-spirited illustrator and artist who enjoys the little things in life and hopes to bring joy to those who encounter her works.

She has won two community-based art competitions in 2010 and 2019, and these have spurred her to dedicate more time and energy to her craft.

Now, when she is not doing art, she finds herself cooking delicious food and baking muffins in the kitchen, or creating funny comics to the delight of her family and friends.

Tell us more about this self-initiated community project you worked on! During 2019's Chinese New Year, I shared my first comic recipe on social media, featuring my father's signature roast pork recipe. This drew several heartening comments from friends and family about how fun this concept was. I did not revisit the idea of comic recipes until late April 2020 when Singapore was still in the midst of the Circuit Breaker (CB). Due to the lockdown restrictions, many had to adjust to life at home and from that emerged many home chefs documenting and sharing their daily/weekly fare. Pictures of home-cooked meals and baked goodies permeated my social media feeds, and since I love illustrating as well, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice to compile a cookbook pooling recipes from the community... in comic form?" With that, the Community Comic Cookbook (CoCoCo) was born. With CoCoCo, I hoped to share much-loved recipes contributed by generous individuals with others, especially families with children who constantly have to think of fun activities to keep their young ones occupied during the lockdown. I feel that parents are not only able to get their children involved in home-cooking, but also treat this as an opportune moment for family bonding. Ultimately, I hope that home-cooking will be made more enjoyable with comic recipes. But really, anyone and everyone is welcome to enjoy these comic recipes!

How was your experience working on the project? The project was a huge labour of love, but I enjoyed every minute of it. From the given written recipes, I did a quick thumbnail sketch of how the recipe would look like in comic form, including its pace, perspectives and framing. Thereafter, I researched on how specific ingredients looked like. Then I dove into the actual ink and colour work. In addition, I drew cartoon versions of the contributors themselves and placed them in the comic as a way of acknowledging and thanking them for their generosity.

During the CB period, I gave myself about a week to finish 1 recipe so that the recipes could be published in a timely manner. However, the number of recipes I received grew and I arrived at a bottleneck. Since I was not able to complete all the recipes during the stipulated period, I had to space the recipes out after we emerged from that lockdown. Eventually, I managed to complete all the recipes that were given to me.

What did you learn or discover through this process?

I've learnt to be more relaxed with my art. I am usually tense when doing my final linework, making sure that each stroke is perfectly drawn. However, I learn (and am still learning) to live with happy accidents because they are a true expression of the artwork I am creating. If you could give a piece of advice to another creative who’d like to work on such personal projects, what would it be?

Go for it! Throw yourself into the work. These personal projects always serve as outlets of self-expression where you are in full control. In a way, it nourishes one's personal growth in addition to improving artistic skills. In the process, you will discover your niche and an audience who finds meaning in your work as you share your talents with the world.

What moments make creating the work you do worthwhile?

One of my friends shared her mother's signature recipe - Eurasian Devil Curry. This family recipe originated from her mother's grandmother, and has been passed down from one generation to the next. It was amazing that I got to see a picture of the original recipe handwritten by my friend's great-grandmother, and it was such an honour to share in this special part of my friend's family history that has been very well-preserved. What made it more meaningful was that the comic recipe I drew became a gift to her mother in time for Mother's Day! Similarly, when I embark on other projects (e.g. comics, children's books, portraits), I am honoured to be a part of creating designs/illustrations that bring life and meaning to the people on the receiving end, and ultimately, to myself too.

Do you have any other suggestions on how creatives as a community do more work that inspires change?

I would say that each creative will need to do some introspection first on what is meaningful to the creative him/herself. It is only when a creative feels very much for something can this feeling be transferred onto the artwork which may inspire change in others and possibly the community at large. However, I don't think it is a matter of doing more (or less) work, but doing meaningful work regardless of the quantity. If a creative can produce one powerful and authentic piece of work in his/her lifetime, then that is also equally inspiring.

Check out Tess, her work, and the rest of the Community Cookbook recipes on her Instagram !


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