photos LUISA BRIMBLE
Splashes of colour, abstract shapes and fantastical flora come together in surface designer Cecilia Mok’s riotous yet restrained illustrations, which reflect themes of joy, hope and wonder.
Tell us a bit about your background…
I studied fashion design and loved the textile and print design subjects. My practical graphic design job provided fundamental training in digital print design and Adobe Illustrator. When I went on maternity leave, I took the time to reflect and realised I wanted to pursue something more creative. I found a job teaching kids’ art classes that reintroduced a sense of play in my artmaking. Never being able to find the exact fabric I wanted also helped to start the wheels turning – could I design the prints I dreamed of? Spoonflower was known as the place to print your own fabric designs, and I was excited to have the opportunity to create my work and enter the weekly challenges. Hundreds of designers and fabric lovers would see my designs and provide feedback. I committed to entering each weekly design challenge for a year to develop my skills, explore the market and finally print my dream designs!
If I tried to stick to one style, I wouldn’t be true to myself as an artist.
Your work embodies such a wide range of styles. Where do you draw stylistic inspiration from?
I love Art Deco jewellery, Art Nouveau architecture, the Golden Age of Illustration, the Arts and Crafts Movement, traditional Chinese and Japanese painting, European Chinoiserie wallpaper, vibrant mid-century modern design, picture books, fashion designers and contemporary Australian painters. I compulsively follow what excites me at the moment, and I feel strongly drawn to explore different directions. If I tried to stick to one style, I wouldn’t be true to myself as an artist. Design studio Timorous Beasties are my design heroes, and they explore multiple genres with passion. Their work is diverse, inventive and exciting.
READ MORE: How Surface Pattern Designer Erin Kendal Turned a Side Hustle Into a Thriving Creative Business
How does your upbringing, home in sunny Sydney and the natural environment inform your art?
Australia has a unique light. I can see it in the blue-green of an ocean swim, the native plants on a bush walk and the air of the Blue Mountains. Sydney is a melting pot of cultures. The galleries and museums feature a lot of First Nations and Asian art and a rich collection of modern Australian work. I feel fortunate to have beautiful natural surroundings and a wealth of local art to inspire my work.
Why is print-on-demand fabric so popular right now?
There is a return to the slow-fashion movement of creating handmade and custom-made orders, reducing waste and promoting quality-made items to be cherished. With platforms allowing you to create your own prints and designs in every category imaginable, customers can find unique patterns to express themselves like never before. Spoonflower customers have contacted me to custom order prints to suit their needs from pet accessories to wallpaper for dollhouses, stage costumes, furniture and more.
With platforms allowing you to create your own prints and designs in every category imaginable, customers can find unique patterns to express themselves like never before.
What’s been your biggest learning curve?
I love my work and making art every day, but working for myself involves learning every aspect of running a business and taking on every role – sales, marketing, accounting, legal and technical. There isn’t a traditional career path as a surface pattern designer, so I had to learn every part of it myself, which involved reading, researching, joining groups and taking courses. Learning everything from scratch was hard but fulfilling.
A recurring theme in your art is storytelling – how do you infuse a sense of narrative and movement into a static image?
Often my designs are inspired by memories, dreams or images in my head. I might include symbolic flowers and fruit imbued with meaning, illustrate faces and hair conveying emotions or birds representing freedom and hope. The composition of a design is as important as the elements. A pleasing design will lead the eye around the artwork in a soothing and satisfying way.
What do you hope others see in your work?
I hope the viewer can feel how much I love to create work that makes my heart sing. I strive to evoke a sense of memory, wonder, hope and joy with my art.