This September, self-taught food illustrator and recent graduate Mandy Kew shares her ups and downs of her crafty passion over tea at Lime Pattisserie.

Mandy Kew’s love for art and all things Japanese is evident the moment we met at Lime Patisserie. The petite 23 year old wears her hair in a loose ponytail, donning blue dungarees over a black top. Casual-chic in Nippon-influenced layered fashion, she looks every part the shy yet fiercely passionate illustrator.

Haruko, part of her Instagram username, means spring and it is an accurate reflection of her watercolour art. She lets in on her choice of medium, “It still looks nice even if I mess up: a simple dab of water can remove colour.” 

She has just graduated from University at Buffalo (Bachelor in Communications), a world away from what she’s doing now. “I chose Comms as it has modules like advertising–something I am more interested in (compared to business). Comms might not be the highest paying career in the society, but at least I’m able to study something I have some interest in!” 

Social media is also her second home–it’s where she connects with like-minded artists from Singapore and Japan, and gains tons of inspiration from users like @mizutamahanco and YouTube tutorials.

So does she arrange to meet with the Japanese artists since she’s studied the language at Bunka Language School? The doe-eyed designer is ready with a laugh: “They are too shy for meet-ups, but the Japanese-local ones are more willing.” 

Our Tiers of Joy high tea set arrives, and we’re momentarily distracted, Mandy especially so as she delights in illustrating delicate sweets. “The tarts are so pretty!”  she exclaims, reaching for the orange-choco flavour and snapping a photo for future reference. A contrast to others who (sigh) get hungrier while working on food-related pieces, Mandy curbs her cravings by illustrating these sweets–not gaining a gram in the process.

Although soft-spoken and sometimes a loner by choice, (Mandy on dining alone at her favourite haunt Sofra Turkish Cafe: “It’s perfectly okay. You can savour each bite and eat slowly, without entertaining others” ), this self-taught illustrator would boldly promote her works to strangers at events such as the Artists Night Out held August 2014 by the National Arts Council.

On the arts scene, she laments, “Lack of exposure: that’s the most difficult thing about being an artist here. You constantly question yourself if the struggle is worth it. When I see someone better than me, I ask myself if I am advancing or am I just wasting my time?” 

The many hours spent hunched over carving stamps (for orders) have left Mandy with nagging neck aches, but she continues as it helps her de-stress. Satisfying every customer is also tricky: some don’t understand that each finished stamp has to be inked and tested before it’s delivered. Some have even asked for a ’new piece’, but she stands her ground till the client understands.

But she has her fair share of proud moments too, such as garnering an impressive two-hundred plus followers within a few days recently (at press time, she has 5900+ Instagram followers). In addition, Mandy has been approached by realcuisine.com to illustrate their online recipes.

The talented one chose self-teaching over design school–“I probably won’t enjoy illustrating if there are deadlines.”  So where does she see herself in the future? “I will probably try marketing. Also, I aim to visit at least five countries over the next five years; one of which is Egypt. I love exotic places.” 

 

WHAT WE ORDERED

Mandy had: White gingerlily white tea ($7); “Tea would describe me best–I am health-conscious.” 

Meredith had: Watermelon, apple, celery juice ($11)

Sharon had: Citrus ice shaken flavoured tea ($8); “Loving the freshness of the fruit. Its small serving’s just perfect.” 

Kay Li had: Orange, apple, carrot juice ($11)

Everyone had: Tiers of Joy high tea set ($38) with unlimited servings of coffee and tea (for two persons)