Singaporean

Meet Isaac Liang, The Deaf Illustrator Who Is Defying Boundaries To Create Beautiful Art

33-year-old Isaac Liang has been working as an illustrator for the last 6 years, and in that time, he worked with some of the biggest organisations in Singapore and it has also taken this freelancer abroad.

Unlike his peers though, there’s something different about him – Isaac is born deaf but that’s not going to stop him from living his dream.

Isaac Liang – Creating Beauty In A Silent World

Isaac Liang
Isaac Liang

Unable to get into any game or animation studios after graduating from Nanyang Polytechnic with a Digital Media diploma, Isaac was unsure of what to do next.

Instead he decided to go for stint as a motion graphic animator and graphic designer.

That is until he chanced upon the works of a French-American artist on social media. That man was Pascal Campion.

“His storytelling illustrations were very beautiful and real based on his family experiences. I loved his light and shadow effects and I wanted to become an illustrator like him.”

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Isaac eventually found himself attending two masterclasses taught by Pascal Campion himself in Singapore.

Fast forward to today, Isaac’s typical work day mirrors that of his peers. He is usually up by 8am to start his day, and winds down his work at around 5pm.

“Photoshop is my favourite playground” he says, adding that he will also use Adobe Illustrator on his computer sometimes. Away from his desk he turns to the Procreate app on the iPad Pro for his urban sketches using an Apple Pencil.

He also shared that a great number of things influence his works – great artists alive or dead, to online references from fellow artists on Instagram and Pinterest.

In school, he was exposed to the Disney style of illustrations, and later on, he found inspiration from Studio Ghibli when he visited the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.

Challenges As A Deaf Freelancer

Isaac Liang
Sketched on location at a barbershop in Johor Bahru after his haircut.

Isaac shared that his first clients were mostly introduced to him through word of mouth, from friends of friends or networking sessions.

Despite this, he has racked up an impressive list of clients – CHIJMES, DBS Bank, National Library Board, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

His works ranged from murals, illustrations on EZ-Link cards, animated videos, and even a live event painting for a wedding.

His accomplishments though mask all the challenges he has had to overcome daily as an illustrator who is deaf.

Since he could not make calls on the phone, his version of a “cold call” was through emails which he will not get a reply from most of the time.

Group conversations during work meetings and networkings sessions continue to be an issue as he can’t speak or hear well, so he often gets lost or the conversation would end abruptly.

“Not everyone is willing to communicate with me through paper and pen or phone texting, and I don’t wish to hire or depend on an interpreter.”

Isaac Liang
A painting based on a 1969 photo in Sembawang, Singapore.

Beyond just being a deaf illustrator, let’s not forget that he is also a freelancer. Isaac says that he would struggle to make ends meet and is of the opinion that what he is doing now not a sustainable source of income.

The lack of funds also made it impossible for him to hire additional people to help in his work. To bring in new projects, he mainly relies on the referrals of previous clients.

While he may be on his own, Isaac continues to learn new skills and is exploring other possible sources of income.

“I am learning digital marketing at the moment. I am also self-learning coding as I want to make websites and apps. I sell portraits, caricature illustrations and postcards out of a booth, and I plan to teach art classes and workshops.”

Being A Digital Nomad

Isaac Liang
Creating during his travels

To describe Isaac Liang as simply a “freelancer” would be a gross understatement. He is a digital nomad through and through who only needs a laptop with internet access.

Away from Singapore, Isaac has traveled and worked from abroad, bringing with him a laptop, Wacom tablet, iPhone and iPad – his trusty tools wherever he goes.

The iPad Pro that’s with him is his digital sketchbook, and he will use it daily for not only his work but also random sketches.

He gets around communication barriers while overseas by using transport, maps and translation apps that is on his iPhone. His iPhone is also his main camera, to take photos and videos.

Isaac Liang
Painted on location at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

In Taiwan, he found himself in a creative co-working space called Planett where he stayed for a month amongst other traveling digital nomads and Taiwanese startups who were based there.

When asked if he would do the same in Singapore, he feels that co-working spaces in Singapore are not as affordable. So when he is not working from home, he can be found in cafes.

Becoming A Digital Art Trainer And Future Plans

Isaac Liang
Isaac Liang after his Today at Apple session

He has also started on his journey to start teaching.

On 20 May 2018, Isaac held a Live Art session as part of Today at Apple held at Apple Orchard Road where he shared with attendees his secret to sketching figures and caricatures on the Procreate app using the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

Earlier this year, he also became a digital art trainer with Digital Arts For All, an organisation that facilitates digital art workshops for communities-in-need.

“I enjoy teaching so far. In regards to whether I would teach full-time, I would love to but I am concerned about the availability of an interpreter. I plan to teach classes and workshops on weekends.”

Isaac Liang
Sharing during his Today at Apple session

Isaac also feels that more can be done in Singapore to help the physically challenged realise their dreams in the arts. He notes that artists and illustrators prominently featured online are often those without physical disabilities.

As we rounded up the interview, I asked Isaac what lies in the future for him.

The first thing that he will be doing is to cut down on the overseas trips.

“I have to work very hard and save up money for the next 5 years and then I will hopefully work overseas and study illustration or animation in California or Australia, my childhood dream.”

We would like to thank Isaac Liang for taking the time out of his schedule for this interview.

Ps. He also has a personal illustration book that he plans to publish in the future. Alas it is still a work in progress, but we’re definitely looking forward to the day that it will be released!

To view more works by Isaac Liang, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IsaacLiangIllustration/

All image credits: Isaac Liang

 

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