With just the help of watercolours, pencils and crayons, Beatrice Oh has long captured fans with her simple yet heartwarming drawings on social media, where it has left a lasting impression with its strong local themes.
Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Beatrice recently released her first ever picture book titled “Dumpling The Tiger” last July and we decided to chat with her about her journey as a self-employed illustrator — a career which she has been pursuing since 2018.
A leap into the unknown
During her years as a graphic design student, Beatrice always knew that being an illustrator was going to be her life’s calling.
However, like most of her peers, she found a job at a digital agency following her graduation and quickly realised that a nine-to-five working life wasn’t for her.
“Upon completing my six-months probation period, I decided to quit my job and kickstart my own business as a self-employed illustrator. Of course, I made sure that I had enough savings to sustain myself before I made this leap into the unknown,” she said.
With little professional guidance on becoming an illustrator, Beatrice learnt the basics of photography, pencil art, colour theory and body anatomy skills through graphic design classes — a process which took three long years to finally achieve existing professional standards.
Aside from taking courses, Beatrice also worked alongside several brands for live events, seasonal packaging designs, and book covers. She also learnt how to produce art prints through her collaboration with printing companies, some of which she’s still in contact with till today.
But true to her adventurous spirit, never once did she miss the opportunity to sketch on her sketchbook whenever her imagination went wild or had a stroke of inspiration. As she aptly puts it, “My current works inspire my future works.”
Bringing her book to life & print
Even as Beatrice celebrates the first anniversary of her maiden picture book, Dumpling the Tiger, she recalled the many challenges she had to go through in order to bring the book to life.
“It was back in 2020 when the pandemic hit, and all economic activities came to a grinding halt. Everyone began struggling for essentials and the art industry was inevitably neglected.
At that moment, I discovered how fragile and uncertain my business was.
“In order to generate passive income, I pooled all of my resources and started to work on my lifelong dream of publishing my very own book,” she said.
After much toil, Beatrice was finally able to transform her many sketches into a story about a girl who went around asking residents in town whether they were the owner of a lost tiger.
Unlike most picture books, Dumpling The Tiger is rich with Malaysian flavours, where it features scenes at the kopitiam and night market, sights which are extremely familiar to local readers and perhaps even remind those residing outside Malaysia of home.
However, Beatrice soon faced another obstacle: marketing and selling the book all by herself — a process she found extremely cumbersome.
“In Malaysia, bookstores are hard (markets) to get into and I had to approach them one by one on my own. Although it was tedious, but it’s part of the inevitable process too.
“However, what I love about self-publishing books is that it gives you, the author, flexibility and freedom. However, I would love to work with an agent in the future.
“It was a calculated risk to take, but I’m glad it turned out great. I’ve printed 500 copies more for the first launching of my book. Later, I printed more copies and I think I’ve achieved my goals somewhat,” she said.
Beatrice added that another benefit she gained from self-publishing her books was the direct connection she enjoyed with her readers, who gave her valuable feedback about the first printing.
“I have the freedom to control the content, marketing methods, and different selection of book packages. I also love the direct connection I have with readers and am glad to add some personal touches (e.g. notes, names, signatures) to the books as per request.”
Exploring herself through art
Even as Beatrice moves into her fourth year of being a self-employed illustrator, she’s happy to report that everything is going smoothly for her thus far.
“When I started out early on, I didn’t quite know how to manage my business’ records and it took me some time to figure out before it became profitable.
“But now, I have the experience and resources in making decisions that fulfil the wishes of my clients,” she said.
Despite her rising success, Beatrice admits that it’s a rather lonely journey too.
The struggle now lies within myself — how I present myself will reflect how others think about my services.
“However, I see the loneliness as a small price to pay for the freedom I currently enjoy in choosing and creating my own work environment, where I can decide how most working days will be like and I’m glad I made this decision,” she added.
Beatrice said that her work has also allowed her to be more in closer touch with her mind and emotions, resulting in a better organisation of her thoughts.
“My artwork reveals who I am, and it shows in the results. Your personality and mental situation will reflect in your works. You’ll want to be the best and you’ll try to overcome the difficulties. It’s a spiritual thing for me and I enjoy the business altogether.”
When asked about work-life balance, Beatrice believes this lifestyle isn’t exactly doable for her as her work and life are virtually inseparable.
“Maybe it’s not for everyone, and I tend to work whenever I feel like it. That way, I’ll feel more organised.”
As a self-made illustrator, Beatrice is glad to see that the art industry is flourishing at art markets, events and performing arts across several locations in Malaysia.
More of us are starting to appreciate art, and more artists are willing to share their creations. Our industry is like our country. Although it isn’t mature, but it’s developing and I’m proud of it.
Beatrice also advised those looking to become art students and illustrators to fully immerse themselves into the job and carry it out with passion.
“It’ll be great to showcase your work and thought process to show your personality to clients and convince them to believe in your future self. It’s okay to be new and imperfect as it will help others learn more about your potential.”
As for her future plans, Beatrice said that her long-term goal is to be a storybook artist. “After I published my first book, I’ve been having doubts about what I’ll be able to do to sustain my career, such as will I manage to release a second or third book?”
“In the meantime, I’ll focus more on my day-to-day tasks which will eventually bring me to my long-term goal. I also plan to try out oil painting and attend more art markets and expos overseas.”
For Beatrice, her greatest comfort are from her fans, who often encourage her and are able to recognise her distinctive art style, even though she thinks she’s still discovering her own style.
Some of them have followed and supported me silently throughout the way. They’ve definitely helped me in furthering my career.
“I’m grateful for all these small gestures that have kept me going. I am who I am because of all these people.”
Find Beatrice here and browse through all her amazing artworks!
Cover Image via Oh Beatrice!
Editor: Sarah Yeoh