What were your first thoughts about working with BAZAAR?
The phone call from BAZAAR to work on the February issue was completely unexpected and I was overjoyed. I was immediately inspired, because it merges my passion for the arts, design, fashion, culture and botany. I’m a self-confessed enthusiast of the natural history of flora and fauna, so this is a dream theme for me; I wanted something that celebrates this idea of Old World beauty that’s, in its special way, making a resurgence.
What was the creative process like?
The process was rather tactile. First, I traced and observed the lines and curves of the font and logo up-close (I’ve always admired art director Alexey Brodovitch, who innovated BAZAAR‘s iconic Didot logo). Then, I researched the species of plants that I wanted to include. I chose climbers and vine plants because I love how they not only have a fairytale-like beauty about them, but have one of the most amazing abilities in nature to grow upwards in tendrils towards precious sunlight. I also interviewed my sister, a plant expert and gardener, who presented an extensive list of climber plants to me.
How did you source for the specific blooms?
Like with all projects, I looked to my garden first. I’m lucky enough to have nurtured a variety of plants and flowers at home, so there’s a lot of inspiration right at my fingertips. Otherwise, I visit parks or refer back to the photographs from my travels. Online resources, too, come in handy when I can’t find the physical flower but need a 360-degree perspective.
What flowers did you use for these illustrations?
Standing out of the bouquet are blue peas (Clitoria ternatea), sweet peas (Lathyrus latifolia), hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), morning glory (Ipomoea indica), bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra), passion flower (Passiflora caerulea), coral vine (Antigonon Leptopus), and butterfly bush (Clerodendrum myricoides ugandense).
What is your favourite flower?
The Butterfly Blue Pea, also known as the Clitoria ternatea. It was the first plant that my sister taught me to plant. My ongoing fascination with botany and botanical art, combined with the learnings of naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace on this flower’s fertility symbolism, has led to the birth of my own illustrated Blue Pea series, brought to life with watercolours and natural flower dyes.
How long did the entire process take?
It took about 230 hours.
What was your first experience with art?
My first experiences were with my sister’s colouring books, which I would severely colour out of the lines and paint in unexpected skin colours on beautiful Japanese characters. I was later only allowed to colour in their sidekicks, pets, or surroundings; I distinctly remember a purple polka dotted monkey.
Who’s garden has made the greatest impact on you so far, and why?
My grandmother, she is to me, my first impression of a plant hunter. She has shown me that working well with plants is about cultivating confidence, and maintaining that sense of awe and belief.
What goes through your mind when you’re drawing someone’s garden?
A lot of questions get stirred up, I might have an imaginative interview list for them such What do they love about the plants? How the plants must make them feel? What are the cultural significance and meaning of the plants? Then I finalised a few based on their texture, colours, bloom size and forms.
Career highs so far?
Being able to express something close to heart in the form of art alone offers a sense of victory to me, but my first solo exhibition, One Perfect Complex, was especially rewarding because I felt I was able to bring to life some of my favourite themes by marrying them with the right objects in the installations.
What sparked the idea of the “Secret Garden” series?
New York Botanical Garden held an exhibition replicating parts of Frida Kahlo’s Garden because recent scholars has proposed that she is highly influenced by her garden in the Casa Azul in Mexico City. At that time, I was sending much time and being inspired by my ‘hidden’ garden tucked away in my home studio at bustling little India. I researched and wrote an article about Frida Kahlo’s garden and very quickly it ignited my imagination and I thought I’ll love to share with others on how to replicate her garden by doing up botanical watercolour illustrations of some of the plants in a planting list. From here, I found a lot of inspirations, 2016 will be about bringing across more of this to life.
What next for you?
I’m currently focusing on exhibiting my work in 2016 and to keep growing Within (within.sg), a company I founded in 2015 that comprises an art and nature-inspired events and workshops arm, as well as an online conservatory of educational content and curated muses inspired by botanical-based cultural, lifestyle and creative pursuits.
By Dana Koh