Children's book illustrator is first artist-in-residence at SPH's Chinese Media Group

Mr Lee Kow Fong, who goes by the pseudonym Ah-Guo, has written and illustrated close to 20 picture books.
Mr Lee Kow Fong, who goes by the pseudonym Ah-Guo, has written and illustrated close to 20 picture books.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - In this digital age where anyone can be an amateur artist with the help of painting and drawing apps designed for smartphones and iPads, local illustrator Lee Kow Fong remains steadfast in creating his watercolour artworks by hand.

The children's picture book writer, who goes by the pseudonym Ah-Guo, said in Mandarin: "I like using watercolour because it's fluid and versatile, unlike oil and acrylic. It can be transparent or opaque, depending on the techniques you use.

"It gives people a 'flowy' feeling, which I feel is similar to my personality - light, not heavy.

"When you work on canvas or paper, there's no way to undo or reset anything. Whatever you put down on the canvas or paper is just as it is."

Mr Lee, 48, has written and illustrated close to 20 picture books, including The Search, which won Best Children's Title at the Singapore Books Award in 2016. His official Facebook page - Ah Guo Illustration - has almost 12,000 followers to date.

On Monday (Feb 11), the artist signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Media Group (CMG) of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) for a two-year collaboration.

Under the MOU, he will be the first "artist-in-residence" at CMG and have his own studio at the group's office. CMG will also help to promote his works and provide a venue for his activities whenever possible.

For his part, Mr Lee will create a large watercolour painting for SPH and partner with CMG on various projects, including conducting sharing sessions with its artists.

Mr Lee previously worked with CMG for the Singapore Book Fair in 2017, where his artworks were used as the overall design theme of the event.

Ms Loh Woon Yen, managing editor of CMG, said: "This is part of CMG's efforts to support and promote talented Singapore artists and artisans beyond our media platforms. By providing a studio space for Singapore artists in our latest initiative, we wish to work more closely with local artists to develop artworks, designs and products that are infused with our unique Singapore culture."

Mr Lee took art as an O-level subject but lost touch with it subsequently. He was a Chinese copywriter for commercial radio and then a polytechnic lecturer teaching modules in Chinese media and communications - two jobs, he said, that had nothing to do with art.

He rediscovered his passion for art when he started blogging in the 2000s and would include simple illustrations in his writing. He went on to do illustrations regularly, putting them on Facebook and Instagram.

In 2009, he decided to combine his penchant for storytelling with his passion for illustration by pursuing a master's in children's book illustration in Britain. This marked his foray into illustrating picture books.

"Most of my characters are usually children and animals. I hope to capture a sense of happiness - a little dreamy, a little whimsical and, at the same time, there is a sense of hope. I hope that viewers will feel happy and hopeful when looking at my illustrations," Mr Lee said.

He added that he hoped to be able to make use of his new space at CMG to work on larger works on canvas, including acrylic and watercolour paintings.