During the day, Kathrin Honesta works at the ad agency Leo Burnett at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. When the night falls (and on the weekends), she meticulously spins her personal stories, faith, observations, longings, and fantasies into her vivid illustrations. Kathrin is an illustrator and graphic designer from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is now based in KL.
I saw Kathrin’s work on Behance for the first time. It didn’t take much to feel the earnestness and personal emotions in her work. Her ongoing work ‘The Undaunted Dandelion’ is especially interesting as the protagonist of the series is based on her own self, and it delicately brings forth some of the conversations she is trying to have with herself.
To understand her work better, it was absolutely necessary for me to know more about her as a person. Here is what all she told me in the form of answers to my questions:
TFM: Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
KH: I was born and raised in Indonesia. I was born in Medan, North Sumatra, and only moved to Jakarta when I was 13 years old. I have stayed in Jakarta for a total of about eight years. I grew up in a very caring family.
Growing up, I had a peaceful and boring childhood I might say (laughs). My mom was very demanding and she cared a lot about my grades at school. I studied really hard when I was in my primary school years, mostly because I was scared of being reprimanded for bad grades.
I went from tuition to tuition on a daily basis. I rarely went out and played, which is something I really regret now. But things sort of changed when I was in my junior and high school. Maybe my mom got tired and she just let us carry our own responsibility of our grades. That was when I felt really free to do what I wanted, and started studying for myself, and not for my mom. But maybe I wasn’t so interested in studying anyway. I went into Science, but the only subjects I liked were Biology, History and Art. Screw Maths and Physics! And just like that I graduated from my high school with an “okay” grade, nothing too great.
What influenced you creatively when you were growing up?
I guess being creative comes naturally to me. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been drawing since the very early stage of my life. Growing up, I read a lot of Manga, and I would try to copy the drawings. I made my own comics with just A4 paper sheets, and created a lot of “series”. I just simply loved drawing.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue illustration/design?
I always knew that I wanted to do something creative growing up. Something drawing related. I thought I wanted to be a Fine Artist, and then it sort of changed to wanting to be a fashion designer. But still, it has never gone far from that area. And now that I’ve known the industry better, I think illustration/ design is what I want to pursue.
When did you move to KL from Indonesia?
I moved here four years ago in 2011 to pursue my studies at The One Academy (Majoring in advertising & graphic design) here in KL. After I graduated a year back, I started working at Leo Burnett which is where I am until now.
Tell us a bit about more about your workplace – Leo Burnett.
Working at Leo Burnett has been an interesting experience for me. I have learnt a lot of new and interesting things here, and have gotten to know the advertising industry a little better. I love the people here. They are very warm and make you feel at home. There are some people here from whom I have learnt a lot, and I have a lot of respect for them.
Could you pick up one personal project and tell us a little about its making?
I have a sketchbook that I bring with me everywhere. That is where I note down/sketch any ideas and thoughts I have. For every personal illustration, the process starts out differently. Sometimes I am inspired by a quote, or a book, or music, or just simply an expression of my thoughts. The next step involves roughly composing the illustration. At this stage, I usually go to Pinterest or Designspiration.com for composition or color inspirations. After that, I just sketch it out and execute it (mostly) digitally in Photoshop.
How do you balance between agency work and personal projects?
I would say balancing these two is very hard. Because when I work overtime at the company, I’ve run out of energy to do any other stuff. But it’s a necessity for me to express myself through all my personal projects. So I make time to do it. Sometimes, I sacrifice my sleep just to draw until 4 in the morning. Sometimes, I use my weekends to draw. But I love doing it. I feel creatively satisfied.
Your ‘Illustrations from 2015’ are absolutely stunning. Could you tell us about some of the experiences that inspired them?
Thank you. Really glad you like it. ‘Illustrations from 2015’ were drawn in different periods of this year. If you see the illustrations titled “A Relationship:..” for example, those are my reflective thoughts of my relationship with God. I am a Christian, and my faith influences my drawing a lot. Or I could say maybe most of my illustrations revolve around the thought of life, faith and people.
I love to draw outer space, sky and starry nights. It gives me a sense of longing, and reaching out. In a sense, our life doesn’t just revolve around us, it is much more than that. Also, we are just a speck of dust, compare to the vast universe. We have nothing to be proud of.
Other pieces like “Outgrowing the comfort zone”, “Off duty” and “Drowning in thoughts” are literally about how I felt at that time when I was making them. A literal visual translation of what I am feeling.
It’s a necessity for me to express myself through all my personal projects. So I make time to do it. Sometimes, I sacrifice my sleep just to draw until 4 in the morning. Sometimes, I use my weekends to draw. But I love doing it. I feel creatively satisfied.
How did ‘The Undaunted Dandelion’ come about?
“The Undaunted Dandelion” is actually a portfolio book project for my final semester in college. “Undaunted Dandelion” is a story about a girl who is about to go out into the real world for the first time. (I could say it’s like myself who was about to enter the real work industry after graduating.) It’s about her doubts and fears as she doesn’t know what will happen next. Everything is unsure. But again, if she has her passion with her, when the fear comes, she will be able to handle it. She just has to believe in herself that she can do it.
So I created this “Undaunted Dandelion” girl during college, and always had this idea to create a series of illustrations about her in the back of my mind. I had to keep this idea with me for a year because I didn’t have the time to really do it. Until in October this year, I decided to do this for this challenge called #inktober.
In your personal work, there is a lot of honesty and earnestness. Do you agree?
Yes! I try to communicate messages through my personal work, to make people think, feel, reflect or at least smile.
I really think illustrations can communicate what words can’t. It is a very good platform to express yourself. I try to be very honest in what I feel, and what I am trying to say. Especially if I did an illustration about my faith. Even if it may sounds cheesy or touchy or if I look like a fool to some people, I have to say it out.
How does Kuala Lumpur inspire you/your work? How is your relationship with the city?
I love the city. The people and the food especially. Also the culture and the diversity, but I think that is just Malaysia in general. The diverseness of people opens up my mind. It sort of changes the way I think too. KL is like my second home already. Sometimes, I feel I belong here more than in Jakarta because I am more familiar to this city. And also because my college years in KL are the years when I became really independent.
I love to draw outer space, sky and starry nights. It gives me a sense of longing, and reaching out. In a sense, our life doesn’t just revolve around us, it is much more than that.
Tell us a little bit about your usual day at work.
A day at work is usually pretty hectic. I have breakfast in the office. Lunch time is usually my favourite time of the day because we often go to different places for lunch. So today might be chicken rice, tomorrow might be baba-nyonya food (Malaysian local peranakan), and the next day might be Indian food. Deciding where to go for lunch is always the question of the day. Then after that, everything will be usual – working on designs and get briefed, until we call it a day. On some good days, when not working overtime, I end up going out for dinner with colleagues. On most other days, I just go back home and have dinner with my roommates.
Which are the designers/artists around the world that you really admire?
Oh, I have a lot of favorites. But I can name a few: Sarkodit (Aditya Pratama), Isabelle Arsenault, Pascal Campion, Lisk Feng, Stefan Sagmeister, Carson Ellis and a lot more. Actually, there are too many to mention!
Do you have any mentors?
Nope, so far I am self-taught. But I might say that my style of illustrations sort of developed when I was in The One Academy, especially when I did “The Undaunted Dandelion”. It is a gradual thing.
What are the other things amongst say music, books, films etc. that have deeply inspired you?
I love C.S Lewis. His book Mere Christianity inspires me a lot. Other inspirations include To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I gain inspiration from different aspects. But I think these are the main ones.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on “The Undaunted Dandelion” project which is still ongoing and a few other personal illustrations.
The diverseness of people opens up my mind. It sort of changes the way I think too.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
Kathrin Honesta’s picture is provided by her. ©
All the other images are artworks created by Kathrin Honesta. ©