Po-An Pan's illustrations share the 'warmth and awkwardness' of what it means to be human
Illustrator and recent Central Saint Martins graduate, Po-An Pan describes his style as a "response to reality" with warmth and charm throughout. Using a soft palette and coloured pencils as his primary tools, his artworks play on the awkwardness of humanity; all shared with a dash of friendly humour.
The field of illustration wasn't always on the cards for Po-An Pan. However, he enjoyed drawing growing up in Taipei, where he admits he struggled with traditional education. After completing his four-month military duty, he moved to the UK in 2017 to study design at the London College of Communication and later graphic communication design at Central Saint Martins that a path became clear.
"It's where I began to pick up some clues and realised that creating illustrations has always been my favourite way to express myself and embrace the pressure," Po-An tells Creative Boom. "Throughout my time at Central Saint Martins, I experimented with diverse media such as etching, film photography and 2D animation. The most important lesson was the concept of the design process, which taught me to reflect on and develop alongside the journey. Similarly, I love how Geoff McFetridge, a visual artist, introduced himself as a designer instead of an illustrator because it unlocks the possibility toward diverse projects."
Although Po-An admits it took some time to develop his own style, something we all struggle with, he has now found a niche, crafting rough-textured artworks that play on the reality of life but take a tongue-in-cheek approach with "bizarre humour" and soft colours throughout. His pencil illustrations, although surreal, could be described as charming and peaceful thanks to the warm and muted colours that he applies to his work. "The rough but full-of-life texture of the colour pencil allows me to illustrate the emotions and kindness of humanity on the two-dimension mediums and establish the connection with my childhood memories, in which drawing has always been my favourite way to express myself freely," he explains.
One running theme in recent works for Po-An has been the idea of awkwardness. "It's something that constantly shows up in daily life and can't be avoided," he says. "After being alone at home for such a long time, the awkwardness can lead to an uncomfortable situation. Even now, at the beginning of 2022, I'm still struggling to adapt to the 'new normal' and wake up my social ability. Through my sense of humour, thinking, daily experiences, the news I read and my illustration, I embrace what happened and illustrate the relationship between me and the awkward feeling. The realisation triggers my illustrations toward a new direction which hopefully can season the bizarre situation with a taste of humour."
In New Normal, for example, we see Po-An's attempt to get back to life pre-pandemic: "I try to capture the awkward emotion, which comes from being back to normal, but I'm also scared of the new reality," he says. While in Balance in Life, we see how Po-An perhaps coped with two years of lockdowns and restrictions. "During the pandemic, staying alone in London as a foreigner is a constant struggle within me," he says. "The concept of mindfulness, how to meditate and self-reflection lead me to realise the essence of balance in life."
The awkwardness theme continues in Same Costume, an illustration that celebrates Halloween but with the concept of finding yourself in the same costume as someone else. Po-An animated this particular piece with motion adding a "light-hearted layer to the work," as he puts it. And in The Awkward Reunion, Po-An was inspired by his journey to Oxford Botanic Garden: "I illustrate my visit to the glasshouse and visualise the moment embraced by nature. By adding bizarre facial expressions and the title to this pair of illustrations, I hope the combination can bring a smile to the people's faces."
The tone lightens for Po-An's Jazz on a Summer's Day: "Being a Jazz lover, I take inspiration from a scene of the concert documentary of the same name. My interpretation of jazz immerses in the illustration, which is full of excitement and energy but presented with tenderness."
Elsewhere, we learn of Po-An's love of furniture design in a series that pays tribute to some classics, such as The Thonet Rocking Chair and the Aalto Table half-round by Alvar Aalto. You can discover more of Po-An's illustrations and creative practice at panpoan.com.