If you’ve ever been to the toilets at KLIA in the recent years you must’ve noticed cute artwork like this reminding you about toilet etiquette. Have you ever wondered who it was that came up with such a creative spree?
Well, you have to wonder no longer! Kendrick Ng Tiong Heng, perhaps better known as #Kendylife, is the artist and mastermind behind the KLIA toilet art series. A self-taught artist and social media advocate, he has to date, founded Kendy Life Creative which specialises in content creation and marketing while managing Social Grooves as its Chief Business Development Officer.
Somewhat of a celebrity in his own right after 13 long years as a Malaysian artist, Kendrick or Kendy has been featured in multiple local and international medias including but exclusive to: Mashable, SGAG, SAYS.my, Vulcan Post, New Straits Times, TheLevelmy, and Marketing Interactive Singapore. As the cherry on top, he is also the only Malaysian webcomic artist who is officially verified by Facebook (praise be to the almighty blue tick).
I’ve recently had the opportunity to interview Kendy in person to get to know him better and as well as getting some industry insights from his vast experience in the field.
The gentleman that he is, Kendrick took me on a tour around his picturesque office space that doubled as a staycation in KL itself. According to the man himself, it does help get the creative juices running. It is pretty neat so you can should go check it out yourselves sometime!
I’ve heard that you began cultivating your love for art since a young age. What was it that inspired you to persist with this as a hobby and eventually turning it into a career?
I was born in Sipitang, Sabah and when I was young my parents would often take me to the beach. There, like many other children, I wanted to impress my parents, so I scoured the beach for a good stick and began drawing on the sand. My parents would always smile when I showed them my work and that would in turn make me happy. That, in essence is what keeps me going until this day – making people happy.
It also really helps that beaches make for a relatively volatile environment for doing art. The waves or other disruption would often ruin my work if I wasn’t quick enough and by embracing these challenges I was able to develop unique skill sets that fed me a strong sense of achievement.
What plans for the future do you have in respect to being an artist?
I would like to, over the next 5 years, complete and publish my Malaysian book before pushing my work to the global market. It will, as my work always have been, emphasise positive vibes and values but also hopefully advertise true Malaysian morals and principles.
Apart from that, I definitely want to grow myself into a renowned speaker within the ACG circle. I’ve learned many things across my career in this industry and I would like to pass them on to the next generation, maybe help some of my juniors achieve success with less of a struggle.
I guess the theme here is leaving behind a legacy I can be proud of! As a child, Doraemon inspired me greatly with how he helps others with this myriad of tools in his mysterious pocket, and even today I try to emulate the character by being as useful to others as I can.
What were the biggest challenges that you’ve experienced and/or overcomed as a freelance artist?
There was a point in time where I really hit my stride as an artist and I was getting really good results on an international level but before I could build it up to be a properly sustainable endeavor, I had to make a difficult choice between my family’s financial security and my passion.
Being an adult, I couldn’t really just ditch my day job – the dominant breadwinner in my spread of careers, and have my family take on the risks with me for the sake of my passion. As a result, i’ve had to go on a long hiatus and that hit my artistic brand pretty hard as i’ve had to rebuild a lot since then. However, it wasn’t all negative, i’ve achieved great success in the corporate field and I am now able to balance my time between being a CEO and an artist to have the best of both worlds.
I also, like most talents out there, had trouble getting discovered and promoted. Growing your user base as an independent talent takes a lot and monetising sustainably is even harder.
Having been active in the industry for so long, what are your opinions on how the local scene here in Malaysia compares to their Western and Japanese counterparts?
There are large cultural and behavioral differences between the different regions.
The local Malaysian culture for example thrives on controversy and gossip (especially that of a political nature). However, likes and approval are difficult to secure as we are a result driven society – talents are almost never deemed good or famous enough to warrant viral traction. Even the organisers seem to be overly influenced by traditional corporate culture where business operations come first; promotion of the smaller amateur talents seem to not be a priority to them. Furthermore, the Malaysian and perhaps even regional consumers are comparatively frugal – a very asian characteristic; people here just really don’t like paying for stuff they might be able to get for free and that really hurts aspiring talents who unlike large production companies, can not survive without consumer support.
Nevertheless, I believe that we are truly blessed having been born into a singular multicultural society. Traditionally, we’ve been a melting pot of cultures from all around the world and yet still able to maintain a large part of our original cultural identities. The opportunity to grow as an unified nation regardless of religion and ethnicity is humongous. If we can leverage on this well enough, we most definitely have the upper hand, especially in the region, as we assimilate key lessons from our foreign counterparts without losing our own distinct flavors.
On the flip side of things, the Americans (or Westerners in general) are much more generous when it comes to rewarding independent talents; you can see this in how well many of them are doing on platforms like Patreon. This is not only monetary, likes are easier to secure and a larger portion of the community will reach out to show support or encouragement. This is of course only if the content is relatable enough to the audience. Nevertheless, they also have their fair share of problems; driven by the superhero culture, Western talents are expected or even encouraged to do everything on their own, and it doesn’t help that competition is much higher there.
Speaking of competition though, I don’t think there’s anywhere else in this world right now that’s quite like Japan when it comes to the ACG scene; that’s natural of course, considering that they are the progenitor of ACG culture. The passion for the industry is almost epidemic there; everyone is a doujin artist that can produce high quality work. While being successful in Japan would entail a much greater magnitude of difficulty, it is also true that the nationalistic/patriotic tendencies of the people as a whole helps; the Japanese, like the Korean are typically enthusiastic supporters of local talents. Moreover, the rate of collaboration between talents in Japan is extremely high; everyone kinda knows each other relatively well and helps one another out quite regularly – talents would often band together to package themselves with higher value. Not to mention Japanese brands are also regular collaborators with the talents (e.g. Uniqlo producing anime themed clothing)
How do you think the industry can be improved?
Collaboration between talents can really help improve their value proposition to their clients, encourage learning from one another, and enables them to work on bigger projects. We’re all good at different things and selfish growth can only take you so far. I would really love to see more collaboration between local players.
The government can also help by addressing the issue at its root – education. Improving education will result in better trained talents, leading to an overall higher quality of work being produced. Eventually, we can all be proud of being Malaysian artists and strive further together in a positive feedback loop.
It would also be great if local corporations can start using local talents more; a lot of brands are currently employing foreign talents and it really doesn’t help with growing the local ecosystem. A very good example of this would be the street art that originated from Penang and has now spread to Johor, Selangor, and Ipoh. While the illustrations are of local flavours the artist brought in to execute the whole thing was foreign; there’s nothing practically wrong with that but it just feels counterintuitive.
What advice would you give to aspiring talents whom are finding trouble starting out?
A.) Balancing day jobs and artistic projects
Here I would like to share something I learned from Fishball (the author of My Giant Nerd Boyfriend).
5 Friends: You need close friends that you can consider your inner circle; people who you trust and are comfortable with to give you constructive criticism or help you keep going.
4 Fans: It is only human to desire approval and appreciation. Keep fans close to you, pick those whom have been with you since the very beginning and never forget them even when your fan base grows bigger, after all, we’re nothing without our fans.
3 Peers: For the industry to properly flourish, we need to work with one another to deliver greater value. Stay close to your peers to regularly compete and collaborate with.
2 Coach: Sometimes you just need someone there to push you forward. Your coaches will be the ones constantly asking about updates and nagging you to do more. You might find it somewhat annoying sometimes but you’ll come to appreciate their efforts.
1 Mentor: Humanity did not get to where it is today with individuals working on their own; even Einstein had a teacher. This is perhaps the most difficult one to work on but as you keep showing up for events you’ll eventually get to know some really cool people whom are capable of shaping you into a better version of yourself.
B.) Actually getting started (overcoming anxiety + should age be a deterrent)
This is relatively simple, people get anxious because they have a premature idea of how good they should be. Don’t start with expectations, focus on getting work done rather than getting work perfect – practice makes perfect, and as you keep completing projects you’ll build yourself towards the level you want to be. Most importantly of all, don’t make it tiring, do it because you love it, the passion will carry you through.
Age isn’t a problem at all, i’ve got people here whom are doing while and they started when they were in their 60s.
C.) Making it sustainable
Discoverability is a typically a huge problem for anyone just starting out, heck, it can still be challenging for some veterans. The idea here is to keep participating in communities and activities to build your personal brand. Don’t worry too much about the money first, build yourself (you are your own brand) and when you’re known the money will come eventually.
There are strategies like getting people interested by giving them free samples of your work to create an element of suspense and then charge in small increments to feed the flames (giving away too much will cheapen your brand). This can be done to anyone in any event, it’s just like giving out name cards but giving out samples of your work is a much better representation of yourself.
Anything you want to say to your fans or plug?
For those of you who are reading this, thanks for taking the time to see what I have to say. There will most definitely be more to come from #Kendylife so please stay tuned! If any of you have ideas for collaborations in mind, my doors will always be open so feel free to contact me and we can work something out. Finally, I must take the opportunity to thank my fans once more as without them, I would be nothing; their support and appreciation is quite literally what keeps me going.
- Favorite Food: Tuaran Mee and Sang Nyuk Mian
- Favorite Music: Bossa nova and Jazz
- Favorite Anime/Manga: Doraemon
- Fav Artist: Hayao Miyazaki
- Hobby: Traveling
- Hates: Fakers
Kendrick occasionally livestreams his art sessions. It is quite an experience as he produces amazing pieces of art within a single session that actually incorporates live feedback from his audiences, so you should really check his channel out and see if you can catch him when he does his magic.
Otherwise, for those of you who are new to #Kendylife, you can check out the facebook or website for more information. Alternatively, you can just see what he’s all about here: Kendylife Media Kit (June 2018)