In Collaboration with Ethos Books and National Arts Council, Love Letters to Singapore invites 12 local authors to write a letter about their lives and experiences living in their neighborhood. As means to promote "Buy Sing Lit" a festival celebrating local literature, the letters are sent out to every mailbox of residences of these neighborhoods.
I have been asked to create illustrations for two letters for authors Tan Chee Lay and Charmaine Leung. The letters are handwritten by the authors themselves.
In his letter, Chee Lay writes about his childhood experiences relocating from his Kampong Village to the HDB high-rise apartments in Singapore. I was inspired by a quote in the letter: “From the beginning, our apprehensive small steps into the HDB lift, and the subsequent big leaps out upon arriving; our first time staying in the “sky”; sleeping in the “clouds”.
As someone who have lived in a HDB flat all my life, I’ve never thought about it this way and it gave me a fresh look into how I’ve perceived my home. As such, I wanted to capture the vivid imagination of a child living in a new and exciting environment, and the freedom of being in a place where there is so much going on in each and every floor. I’ve decided to use blue as means of representing the idea of living in the sky, utilizing pastile hues to evoke the feeling of nostalgia as one would have while reliving a slightly faded memory from days long past. In the spirit of childhood experiences, I imagined a love letter written by a young boy to be folded into a paper plane and thrown out for the wind to carry them to their fated readers on every floor, just like how this letter would be sent to every resident in Queenstown.
The letter is written in Chinese and translated to English by Tan Inn Shin.
I decide to focus on the journey back to childhood that the author brought us through her letter. The illustrations mirror how a young Charmaine started her day in school, playing at the row of shophouses in the afternoon and getting a bowl of Ipoh hor fun to end off a good day. I’ve hence decided to showcase the landmarks of Kellock Road as described by Charmaine; the tall church tower of St. Bernadette, the tiled roofs and slitted windows of the shophouses, and the Ipoh hor fun dish.
As a tie in to how the illustration on the back page have Charmaine’s final destination the coffeeshop, I wanted the front of the letter to depict the coffeeshop as the beginning of a new story, at the start of a new day. The neighbourhood coffeeshop is a place where we would always meet and greet the neighbours around us. Food have also been the pride and joy of a neighbourhood and people have fond memories of their favourite coffeeshop and hawker as Charmaine had deeply reminisce about the Ipoh Hor fun stall in her letter. The coffeeshop is depicted empty to give off a sense of quietness and loss that Charmaine have written at the end of her letter. As the author spent several years living abroad before retuning to Singapore, I wanted depict the feeling of someone who have left and returned after a long time, wanting to reconnect with those around her at a place that have been close to their hearts. As such, the letter in the middle of the table (a representation of this letter) seems to be an invitation for such an connection.
From carrying a red school bag, to owning a red luggage and pen, the child representing Charmaine have grown up and have decided to write a letter to share her thoughts. Perhaps her letter is a request to ask her readers, her dear neighbours, about their experiences in River Valley. Perhaps in times of great change, can the author reconnect with others through shared stories, both familiar and new.
Read the full letters here:
Tan Chee Lay - Queenstown
Charmaine Chee - River Valley