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Memory and subconscious in the work of Andrea Wan

Andrea Wan has seen the world. She was born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada and studied illustration at Designskolen Kolding, Denmark. Her experience in these parts of the world have given her a lot to draw upon (literally!).

She is an illustrator and visual artist in Vancouver. Andrea is one of the four artists featured in our collaboration with Booooooom, so we wanted to get to know her a little bit more. We talked with Andrea to ask how she is able to incorporate all of these divergent experiences in her works of art. Here’s where our conversation went:

Hi, Andrea. How’s your day been going so far?
I just got up and so far I’ve been sleepy.

We heard that you’ve been traveling as well. Could you share what you were up to and where did you go?
I was traveling in Europe for a month by myself. I went to Berlin, Geneva, Antwerp, Brussels, Barcelona and London, visiting friends and exploring the cities. It was an amazing trip and I met a lot of lovely people while I was there. I’m still adjusting to the reality at the moment.

I’ve been looking at your drawings and they seem to flow from one idea to the next. They also usually meld people and landscape together. Why is that?
I’m interested in exploring themes such as memories, the subconscious in my art and I see the drawing process as a way to discover myself.

When it comes to ideas I always try to be as spontaneous as possible, as the drawings have to reflect how I feel at the moment. Sometimes I repeat subjects that means something special to me such as horses, ghosts, and sometimes I switch to new ones. I like putting my characters in an emotional landscapes to set the mood for the piece. Drawing is like having an ongoing diary, where all my deepest feelings and anxieties are recorded down and kept secret.

If you had three words to describe your work, what would those words be?
Intimate, dream-like, subdued

Could you share a bit of your long history with illustration with us?
As a kid I loved hanging out at my parents’ design studio where there were a lot of books for inspiration and art supplies to get me into the habit of creating things. I was encouraged to draw and make crafts instead of buying toys. I remember messing around with the photocopier and Paint program on the old school Mac a lot.

In high school I was just doodling monsters while spacing out in classes that I wasn’t interested in. Does that count? I thought art lessons in my high school were boring because the teachers only wanted to see pretty things, so I ended up skipping most of the classes.

You mentioned that 8 months you spent in school at Europe were like 3 years. Why is that?
Travelling alone and living in a foreign town for some time definitely made me grow up a little faster than usual. It wasn’t only about school, but the whole experience of adapting to unfamiliar environments. I gained a lot than what I’d expect in that 8 months.

Could you share some moments of inspiration that you had in Europe? What things did you see, people did you meet that influence your work today?
During my program in Denmark, I remember walking by the textiles studios in the school and being fascinated by the big weaving machines and the cool patterns they can make. Observing these textile designs made me pay more attention to the patterns in my work. I was also inspired by the landscape and the architecture and stories from northern mythologies that I heard. Most importantly, the people I met played the biggest part in the whole experience especially those who are passionate in what they do and devoted to making their ideas happen.

You balance being a freelance editorial illustration artist with being an artist. Could you share how they’re each different?
Commission work has certain restrictions to be followed – pushing those restrictions to make something exceptional is the challenging (and also fun) part. Art on the other hand can be done at my own pace. Since my work is very personal, its harder to emotionally detach myself from it, but at the same time it can be satisfying when others feel connected to it.

Given the choice, which one would you rather be?
Doing both illustration and art gives me the perfect balance. I can’t really imagine doing only one at this point. Other than editorial I have also worked on other types of project, many of them lies in between the 2 categories. Ideally I’d like to be commissioned as an artist so my art isn’t restricted to the gallery setting.   

What do you think are the biggest challenges for someone in your line of work?
I think the biggest challenges would be maintaining your own unique voice while working for others. its important to take certain risks to push the boundaries given by the clients and yourself.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by pretty much everything around me: people, places, moments, and how I relate to these things. For visual inspiration I like to look at works by other artists and textile patterns in clothes.

The series deals with the “After Life.” What does that mean for you visually?
To me it means leaving one’s body and going on a journey, migrating from one world to the next.

What were you inspired by when designing this particular wallet?
Some of my characters fit well into the theme of afterlife, so I wanted to incorporate them into the wallet design. I imagined these creatures from the underworld coming out from the water and then hiding their spirits in shells on a beach. They live in the shells and patiently wait until they’re ready to move onto their next lives.

Do you believe in the After Life?
I believe in it, because its more fun to think about it. In the Chinese culture I grew up with, there are interesting stories about one’s journey in the underworld before his rebirth. After death, the spirit is brought to a court accompanied by cow and horse headed guardians. The judge would tell him all the major things he has done in his life and then decide what he deserves to be next. Lastly, the spirit drinks a soup that makes him forget everything in his previous life, and walk over a bridge that leads him to his next life.

If we did have an Afterlife, what do you think yours would be like?
Maybe I’ll end up working for the government as the underworld court painter.

What’s next for Andrea Wan?
I’m currently preparing for a solo show coming up this October at Catalog Gallery in Vancouver. I’m also working on a couple other projects and a small zine.

Check out Andrea’s Poketo x Booooooom wallet at
More from Andrea at
More of here.

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