Chloe Shao is a Melbourne based digital illustrator specialising in a unique brand of dark surrealism, featuring an often strange and uncomfortable blend of anatomical and botanical imagery in dreamlike settings. Chloe started her professional career as a graphic designer, graduating with a Bachelors degree in Communication Design from Monash University and honing her creative skills in Melbourne's many creative studios. Rendered with soft, delicate and highly detailed brushwork, her sensitive and realistic approach to digital painting is testament to the hours of work it takes to finish each piece. Chloe's style of Surrealism is a natural progression from her previous incarnation as a collage artist, discarding Photoshop for painting in Procreate and enabling more artistic control over her delightfully bizarre compositions.
We've been printing Chloe's work for just over a few months now, and we greatly enjoy studying each new illustration to discuss all the interesting little details which make her art so pleasing! Read on as we chat with Chloe about her artistic practice and discuss the deeper meanings behind her work.
Tell us a bit about your creative background – how did you get started as an illustrator?
I started out as a graphic designer and I always had a stronger pursuit in art and illustration since a young age, but I never took it seriously until a few years ago when people started approaching me for my collage artworks. At one point 2 years ago, I realized the format of collage stopped giving me the satisfaction, it was too 'quickly done' and I always had the feelings that I didn’t ‘own’ the work, so I started pushing myself to illustrate out the collage pieces first and took it from there.
Talk us through your process when creating an illustration – do you begin the piece with traditional mediums before rendering in digital on your iPad?
It really depends, sometimes I do a draft with pencil on paper, because it takes away some of my freedom to erase and backspace so easily on an iPad, so it forces me to think. But most of the time I do my draft in Procreate on iPad.
Your art has taken on several distinct changes in style over the years, which hints at your ability to consistently grow and push boundaries as an artist. How would you describe your style and what does it say about you?
Yes it surely has. I think it had to deal with my great insecurity for overthinking ‘I’m never good enough’ which I think is quite common for a lot of artists. I would say my current style is on the side of dark surrealism. I’m quite a hopeful pessimist - it has a lot to do with past traumas, conflicts, self reflections, and my brain is trying to save myself at one point, so I learnt to channel my dark negative energy into bizarre artworks. I think that’s just the process of life as well.
The imagery in your work is characterized by delicately rendered anatomical and botanical imagery, often blended together in a dark, surrealistic way. What draws you to use these themes in your art?
That’s a question I often ask myself as well. I think it has to do with my mum, she’s a nurse who worked in hospital her whole life so she knows human bodies and all that biology and chemistry stuff - maybe I was subconsciously influenced by that. I’ve also had quite a few murder stories around me and witnessed very brutal deaths, I think that stayed in my mind a lot. I also took an anatomical drawing class back in uni and the classroom was next to a morgue for medical students. It was filled with organ specimens in crystal jars. It was a rare chance to see the details of the organs so up close and in detail. I thought humans structures were so fascinating and studying them relieved me from having the anxiety towards death and the unknown.
I would say my current style is on the side of dark surrealism. I’m quite a hopeful pessimist - it has a lot to do with past traumas, conflicts, self reflections, and my brain was trying to save myself at one point, so I learnt to channel my dark negative energy into bizarre artworks.- Chloe Shao
How much does traditional Surrealism inform your work? Are there any specific artists you are referencing in your illustrations?
I’d say the influence of the traditional surrealism actually came much later on in my exploration of surrealism. At first I was just messing around but later on I realized a lot of my inspirations came from my subconscious love for Bosch, Henri Rouseeau, and of course Dali.
What are your methods for consistently showing up and creating art as a freelancer? Do you have a tried and true routine that boosts your productivity?
I think setting a deadline for yourself is really important and also initiating your own projects, especially when there is not so much work sometimes. It keeps me in check when there are no clear time boundaries. I set alarms for myself, remember to take breaks, drink water, study botany and history, read, write journals, and do other activities. It’s very essential to have other hobbies. I understand doing art is very time consuming, but having other duties would distract my anxious mind and gives me unexpected inspiration.
Who or what has been your biggest influence on you as an artist?
It’s a combination of everything, but I’d say the biggest one was the big depression I went under 3 years ago. I spent a long time in isolation and struggled to make connections with my family and friends. It was a really hopeless time and I was eager to hold onto the ‘meaning of life’, I was looking to prove the value of my existence and that’s probably the beginning of this journey.
As an illustrator with such a distinctive and unique visual style, do you have any advice for artists struggling to “find their style?”
Go with the flow. It’s not ‘finding your style’, the style will find you in the end. I don’t believe anything in this world is ‘original’, we all learn from each other, we break things down and reconstruct and then it becomes part of us eventually.
What is the best way to support you as an artist during Covid times?
I’ve just set up my online store at www.chloeshao.com. Everything is free shipping during the Covid times! I do find it odd/ironic to try to sell art during these hard times, especially when the theme of my art could be really misinterpreted as depressing and hopeless. I just really hope everybody can stay mentally healthy and safe, be responsible, and that gives me hope as a human being so that would be the best.
How have you found working with Image Science in creating limited edition giclée prints of your illustrations?
It’s been tremendous! You guys are absolutely killing it. Laura, Cameron, and Jeremy have been giving me so much support, especially with my crippling file set up and form filling skills.
What’s next for your illustrative practice - do you have any exciting projects planned in the near future?
I’m currently doing some commissions on rare plants and other things I don’t usually draw, I think it would be a challenge. I would love to transform my work onto canvas one day, or maybe animate them or make prints on fabrics. I’m not sure yet, sometimes the best plan is having no plan at all and let the mind and time take me to the unexpected future.
To contact Chloe for a unique commission or to buy one her gorgeous prints, head to her website at www.chloeshao.com. To keep up to date with new print releases and artist news, follow Chloe on Instagram at @chloeshao.
Thanks very much for the fast, lovely and personal service. I could tell I was in the best possible hands right from the beginning and I really appreciate how you guided me expertly through the process. The print quality is exceptional. Very excited to have an Image Science print!