Australian artist Angela Ho and her acid-infused character illustration
Melbourne born, and based in Hong Kong, Angela Ho is an illustrator who works primarily digitally using a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop.
Creating surreal compositions of playful and surreal characters, she works under the pseudonym ‘Ahoy.’
Tell us about your background and how you got into illustration?
I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the youngest of three kids to parents of Hong Kong and Chinese backgrounds. My parents spent really long hours at restaurants they owned – the bonus would be lemon chicken and spring rolls really late at night! We entertained ourselves a lot; we’d hold drawing competitions, play Spirograph, and make puppets. I remember going through a stage of reading through all the Snoopy comics, I loved them so much I really wanted to make comics and cartoons too when I grew up.
As a teenager I wanted to study fine art but my wiser brother thought I should do something which I could make a living from, so I studied for BA in Design at Swinburne University, taking illustration as an option. My parents were really supportive, which I really appreciate now that I live in Hong Kong and understand that it’s not quite the norm for Chinese parents to support the idea of a life in a creative field.
Now that I live in Hong Kong and understand that it’s not quite the norm for Chinese parents to support the idea of a life in a creative field.
Can you tell us about the local creative scene in Hong Kong? How does the city inspire or fuel your work?
In the eight years I’ve been living in Hong Kong I’ve seen the creative scene really develop, this feels down to some amazing collectives of people like HK Walls, the Clockenflap music festival crew who brought Sonar to Hong Kong for the first time this year, and many others like Hushup (music and art events), Push (electronic music) and Ricky Lai who started Open Quote, a store/gallery showcasing local artists. There are so many exhibition openings and festivals happening now it’s hard to know where to spend your time!
There’s still a lot of Hong Kong for me to explore but I love wandering into random little local stores which may be jam-packed with kitsch paraphernalia about the Chinese New Year, cute stationery or dried medicinal goods. There are oddities everywhere, like a teeny tiny narrow shop near me which is stark, except for a small glass counter displaying several small bottles and jars of Chinese medicine, and a kitsch giant two metre high statue of it’s logo – a jolly Buddha type guy with cherubic kids around him filling the back wall.
A couple of years ago, after saving for a while, I took a break from any paid work for about 9 months to basically play with my artwork. I started using brighter acid colours and let my sense of humour creep in too.
When did you relocate to Hong Kong?
I came to Hong Kong for a 4-month contract in 2008 to design infographics for the Beijing Olympics for the South China Morning Post, the main English language newspaper here. I’d never visited Hong Kong until then. Growing up and working in Melbourne has definitely given me a different visual sensibility to people born and bred in Hong Kong. I like that the world isn’t completely homogenised visually, even though the differences may be very slight a lot of the time.
In Hong Kong I evolved my work to what you see now under the Ahoy Illustration moniker. A couple of years ago, after saving for a while, I took a break from any paid work for about 9 months to basically play with my artwork. I started using brighter acid colours and let my sense of humour creep in too. During those 9 months I think I went a bit nutty, but I got a lot of joy out of such experimentation. I think if I’d stayed in Melbourne it would have been harder to give myself that type of breathing space.
My characters are generally gleeful with a cheekiness to them. There’s also a dark edge which a friend has described as an “uneasiness”.
We love the brilliantly surreal aesthetic you’ve developed in your visual work; your characters seem whimsically happy. Where do you find inspiration?
My work derives mainly from my own thoughts and feelings. Stylistically it has a lot of retro qualities… I like the innocence of brand characters and toys from the 1950’s, 1960’s and their seeming simplicity of shape and line. My characters are generally gleeful with a cheekiness to them. There’s also a dark edge which a friend has described as an “uneasiness”.
For inspiration Google and Instagram are my friends. I’m always browsing vintage posters, toys, and animations. There’s also a store across the road from me that I like to visit, full of vintage objects, including toys. More recently I’ve had classic Little Golden Books delivered and Sock Monkey books by Tony Millionaire – he’s one of my all time favourite artists. His stories are wondrous, fantastical and dark.
Is there a commission / project that you’ve done to date that you’re particularly proud of that you can talk us through?
I push myself to work to hard deadlines, and really commit and stick to when I deliver stages of a commission.
I was over the moon to recently do an illustration for Fast Company magazine, through my agent in New York (The Jacky Winter Group). I was pleasantly surprised that a predominantly business orientated magazine would take on my style. I’ve always been aware of Fast Company, even in Australia, so there was a massive smile on my face when I received the email from my agent flagging the commission. The process was very smooth, with exchanges of three rough concepts for a double page spread, in response to the story they wanted illustrated.
One was then chosen, which I then fleshed it out in vector with colour, and adding shading, with a couple further stages of refinement. I push myself to work to hard deadlines, and really commit and stick to then when I deliver stages of a commission. I also work as a freelance art director, and understand the necessity of needing to know when you’ll be seeing the next development; it puts the art director at ease and gives them confidence the job is progressing well!
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working? How do you find inspiration?
I love hiking! It keeps me sane more than anything else, it’s like a reset button for me. Hong Kong has loads of great hiking trails and 40% of it is what they call Country Park. I don’t think many people know this side of Hong Kong.
I find inspiration in music, movies, sci-fi, conversations, everyday life, retro imagery and toys and other artists/illustrators.
I’m a bit of a workaholic… I’m struggling to think what I do when I’m not working! Eating, the odd night out for some electronica. I’ve been travelling a fair bit recently – home to Melbourne, then New York last month, and am heading to the Fuji Rock music festival just outside of Tokyo in July…can’t wait for that! I find inspiration in music, movies, sci-fi, conversations, everyday life, retro imagery and toys and other artists/illustrators. Other artists and illustrators amaze me, what they can produce, how prolific they can be, and their skill.
Describe your work space:
My “studio” is a little room in my tiny 14th floor apartment. In other cities this space may be referred to as a closet! One wall is mostly window and tricks my brain into keeping claustrophobia at arm’s length. The view is of a row of typical soft pink and blue-green Hong Kong apartment buildings – thankfully not right up against my window. I live in Sheung Wan where there are great cafes, so it’s easy to let the mind expand upon the idea of my work space. On my desk right now is my iMac, rubber pineapple, vintage rubber bunny squeaky toy, books such as one by Hong Kong artist Little Thunder, Tony Millionaire’s ‘Billy Hazelnuts’ and a gold pencil sharpener a friend of mine sent me from Germany (not actual gold!).
I feel that creative professions should be more valued in Hong Kong; I really hope this is changing. It may be due to a lack of understanding about the processes involved, or how art and music can contribute to society, especially one that places so much value on wealth.
What are the main challenges for you as a freelance illustrator working in Hong Kong?
I feel that creative professions should be more valued in Hong Kong; I really hope this is changing. It may be due to a lack of understanding about the processes involved, or how art and music can contribute to society, especially one that places so much value on wealth. Hong Kong is an international financial centre after all. There was a case this last week of an independent music venue being raided, and the British performers arrested as they didn’t have the correct permits.
Without going into all the minute detail, I find this depressing for this city…but I’m digressing… back to illustration. I think because the population and illustration market is relatively small in Hong Kong it may be more difficult to be working consistently if you have a very specific style. I also freelance as an art director so I can protect my illustration work and keep it “honest” and work in my style. I’d like to see budgets for artwork raised here too but I’m sure everyone says that, wherever they may be!
What is included within your designers “toolkit”?
Drawing pad, pencil, eraser and sharpener. Adobe Creative Suite – Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects. My reference materials are mostly online. I tend to start by writing out my ideas and thoughts, and thumbnail sketches. I can’t do an illustration immediately on the computer, I need to sketch it out first and then redraw and develop it in Illustrator, finishing in Photoshop.
What are you aspirations for the rest of 2017? Do you have any specific bucket list ideas you’re itching to tick off the creative list?
I have a list of concepts for artworks in my head that I need to get out, and in to pixels before they fade away into oblivion! I’m not that great at keeping the bits of paper. I sketch on together and somewhere I can easily find them. One of them will be a mural for a friend’s wall. I’ve had a picture story book idea (not necessarily for children) kicking around for ages now too. I want to be able to devote a good solid chunk of time towards developing that. And there’s a set of animated emoji I need to finish too!
I just got back from a trip to New York, I love it so much there…the energy, a sense of freedom. I’m hoping to spend a bit more time there this year and investigate what various illustrators/artists are doing, and see how that affects what I do…fingers crossed I can make that work!