Last month, Tell Your Children celebrated three years of creative projects, illustrations and autonomy. Highly esteemed for its signature style of illustration and mad skills, the collective has captivated audiences with its art pieces on countless of prominent lifestyle initiatives and events. As its name suggests, Tell Your Children is one good news worth passing down to the next generation.
In collaboration with Converse, we visited the collective at their studio, where creative vibes bounce off the walls and ideas that bear no boundaries are cultivated. The well-grounded team – made up of Deon, Kevin, Lydia and Russell – is an ideal representative of the story behind the Chuck Family, the backbone of Converse’s campaign this season.
We stole a chat with the collective in the sequence of the Chuck Family story, which is broken down into four parts – The Beginning (embodied by the Chuck Taylor All Star), The Throwback (embodied by the Chuck ’70), The Sequel (embodied by the Chuck II) and The Evolution (embodied by the Chuck Modern).
Nookmag (N): Happy 3 years old! Behind every collective is a foundation that sparks off an exciting journey – a creative one in your case. Tell us how Tell Your Children was established. What was the foundation that brought everyone together?
Deon (D): We met while studying illustration at Temasek Poly. I guess the foundation is our common interest in music, street fashion and inspirations. That really laid a common ground for us to build something. We started Tell Your Children in 2014, right before I ended National Service.
Russell and I were really close as we were classmates and we’ve always wanted to start something together. This idea didn’t take off until I was in National Service. We met Lydia at a mutual friend’s party and threw this idea out – why don’t we do this together. Kevin joined in after that. Being in the army also strengthened the mission of being our own boss because I didn’t enjoy the regimentation and having to answer to authority in the army. That really sparked off this journey.
N: What are the strengths that each of you bring to the table?
Russell (R): I bring the good looks to the table. (Everyone erupts in laughter) I think we have our unique strengths. Deon is really good in being the PR guy; he’s really good in dealing with the clients and collaborators, and getting our name out to people. Kevin is good at tying things up backend, taking care of our finances. Lydia’s good at her creative direction and her draftsmanship. She does really dope murals and illustrations.
D: Russell is good at drawings. He comes out with sketches and very crazy stuff that I don’t think a lot of people can do. I guess he has some humour at times. We complement each other.
R: As individuals, we’re good at our own art styles.
N: With your individual styles, how do you come together to come up with the signature look of Tell Your Children?
Lydia (L): We had problems trying to put our stuff together in the beginning. There was a lot of back and forth. It’s a matter of time and experience that we form a certain style, but still kept individual styles.
D: We’re still looking to develop that. There are four individual styles, so we’re trying not to outshine each other but build each other up.
N: Your ethos – a cultural phenomenon that strives for creative excellence together against the status quo – has clearly set the standard for the team. What was the status quo in the creative scene 3 years ago when you started? What was the gap that TYC was trying to fill in the scene?
Kevin (K): For me, the status quo has always been the same old thing – you graduate from school, spend the next three years in an ad agency, work yourself up the ladder, probably hope to win some awards along the way and maybe you become art director or something. That’s always been the status quo, even for the more seasoned professionals in the design industry. I think what it means for us is that we want to strive for bigger things. It doesn’t mean you have to be in an ad agency to do big projects.
D: Even though we’re branded as an illustration collective, I think we want to fill the gap for youths and brands. When we started, there weren’t really any peers and young people that we could look up to that had the same interest as we did. It was hard to find creative studios that we could connect with. We try to organise and create events for people who have similar taste as us and keep that whole creative community growing. I think that’s what we’re trying to do with the gap while trying to set new boundaries overseas and cross new borders. Since we’re in this age of social media, it’s really easy to connect with people. At least we’re setting a bar that younger or new creatives can look at and know that it’s possible for them to do it. I hope we’re successful in trying to fill that gap.
N: What other shared values does the collective believe in?
D: I think we’re on the same page about wanting to do what we love with the people that we love. We’re community-driven. We have a good camaraderie, and so we can trust each other to have our backs. When anything happens, we know we have support from everyone else in the team. Personally, it’s comforting.
R: I think it’s also putting out works that we want to see. These are works that you don’t usually see in Singapore as we’re trying to do something different, but not to the extent of winning awards and stuff.
N: What are some of the most memorable and noteworthy works that are close to your heart?
K: Personally, I don’t like to look at what we’ve done. What we’ve done is already in the past and if you keep looking at the past and harping on it, you don’t have space in your mind to look at future things.
D: For me, there are a few projects that I would look back as milestones that presented us at different stages. One would be the first show that we did in 2014. The other would be our US tour end of 2015. There are definitely more, but these two are the ones that stand out more than others. The first one introduced us to the creative industry in Singapore and the second one introduced us overseas. At the end of the day, we feel that while Singapore is growing (in the arts), we should compare ourselves on the global scale. That’s how we normally set our benchmark. The US trip was a fun seven weeks on the road – very interesting and memorable experience. It helped us to grow and bond closer together.
N: Who/what are some of your influences and inspirations?
D: One of our biggest influences right now is The Madbury Club. They are a collective quite similar to us but bigger. They’re based in New York, Brooklyn. When we went for our US tour, we managed to link up and painted a mural in their studio. We’re constantly finding inspirations outside of illustration. We have this group chat where we’re always sending inspirations to each other.
R: I feel like the collective inspirations stems from the individual inspirations and influences. We’re always sharing our individual inspirations.
K: Ultimately, the individual makes up the collective and not the other way round.
N: Do you take past work/concept as inspiration?
R: I think we take them more as a learning point.
L: Yes, how can we do better and what we did wrong.
N: How do you think the creative scene has transformed since you started?
K: I think it’s a question that shouldn’t be aimed at us but at the people because we’re always neck-deep in the work. We’re doing the work. It’s hard to tell the ramifications of what we’ve done. You got to ask people from the outside. It’s hard for us to answer. I can only hope it’s good.
D: At the end of the day, we’re just trying to create events that we think people would enjoy or what we want to see or what we see is lacking. Based on our previous couple of exhibitions, I think the turnout is quite surprising. I hope it’s been fun for people who participated.
N: In what ways has the collective grown?
D: I think we have grown in the sense that we have learnt to work as a group. It’s actually quite difficult for small collectives to last three years without any major conflicts. Over the years, we have learnt how to manage each other’s expectations and feelings, and have that open channel of communication that only comes after working with each other long enough. We’re still growing and learning how to achieve our goals together. We don’t try to overshadow each other. We’re working together to build something from scratch.
N: What are the challenges you face and how do you combat them?
D: Like what we mentioned before, one of the challenges is to create an environment where everyone is comfortable with each other. It’s important to always enforce that we’re all in this together. It’s about communicating and not bottling up our thoughts. Most problems can easily be prevented with communication.
R: In terms of external challenges, we try to be objective about our clients’ needs and stuff like that. When it comes to a point where people are asking for too much, it’s time we put our foot down and explain to them why our way is the best way. If they have a better suggestion, we’re open to dialogue.
K: It’s a lot about educating the clients as well. They don’t come from a creative background but we do. Maybe they don’t see our perspective and we don’t see theirs. It’s about coming to an agreement to find the best solution.
N: One of TYC’s recent highlights was Trashold, where you collaborated with contemptcreations to marry art and fashion together. How did that breakthrough came about? Will there be more of such initiatives?
R: I’ve always had an interest on customising clothes and the things that I wear. It was a natural progression and it was also because we knew Jackie from contemptcreations. One day we approached her to ask if she was interested to do a project about customising jackets. It was quite hectic in scheduling and finalising the whole show. It paid off quite well. It showed that people had an interest in the stuff that we do, even on a different medium.
We’re constantly thinking about projects we can do that will have an interest to us. It’s also about managing the finances to put into this project.
K: We always want to one up ourselves. That’s a benchmark and we constantly have to think of how to top ourselves.
N: Speaking about fashion, tell us more about your dress sense and how Converse fits in with your style?
D: I think Russell and I are quite similar. We like the easy-to-wear stuff – simple shirt, pants and cap on a normal day. Converse is very versatile and easy to match. We prefer high cut most of the time.
K: I like the comfort of Converse shoes. I like how blank it is. Being blank is a strength, you don’t complicate things.
R: That’s what I like about Converse. It’s a go-to shoe that you can wear on any occasion. You don’t have to think so much about it. They’re not trying too hard to push different silhouettes. They’re just going back to the classics. I think that’s what makes Converse cool.
L: Classic shoes, fits any outfits.
N: How does the future look for Tell Your Children?
D: Right now, as a collective, I guess we’ll be focusing on building our presence overseas. Our future will have a lot of travelling and a lot of getting to know more people in the global creative industry. Hopefully, we secure more jobs as we go along. Right now, the future is quite uncertain especially since the start of this year. It’s very hard to predict the market. We’re all being optimistic.
L: We’re way better than we were the last few years. We have more precise plans and goals now than the past. Goals-wise, we’re more certain of what we want to achieve. We know what we want and who we want to reach out to.
N: Any plans for another overseas tour?
D: Yes, next month to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing… We’re trying to focus on Asia. We already have a list of people, agencies, F&B places that we can create content with. We just did a visual for Little Bao in Hong Kong. We’re going to link up again and see what we can do together. Sounds pretty fun. At the end of the year, we’re planning to do a big trip but we’ll have to clear this Asia trip first. Taking one step at a time. If we can make the year-end trip work, I think it’ll be pretty sick.
N: How do you constantly keep things fresh while maintaining your signature style in your creative works?
R: Like what we said previously, we try to outdo the previous job.
D: There are four of us and we have very different inspirations and influences. We try to keep on top of things about what’s going on. We share them around. It’s one of our main focuses to stay relevant, so we’re always trying to find things that will resonate with people nowadays.
K: Personally, I feel it isn’t about staying fresh but staying true to ourselves because nobody can be fresher than you are. Nobody is you. Same way, you can’t always be fresher than others if you’re always trying to look outwards.
N: Looking ahead, how do you hope to inspire the next generation?
D: We don’t really set out to be inspiring. We just want to keep doing what we’re doing by putting out good works and engaging the younger creative community. We’re also trying to make a name for ourselves.
L: We do hope that the younger generation are inspired by our works.
D: We try to make it a point to give talks and reach out to people who are trying to start something themselves. We got one of our friends to help us paint as she was trying to learn about murals and stuff. We make it an effort to engage with the younger crowd.
Check out the full details of the four key models that make up the Chuck Family.
Conversation seeks out inspiring individuals who possess a creative spirit and brim with passion. It offers an insight into the lives of these individuals and the things that drives them. This edition is proudly sponsored by Converse.
Photo Credits: Chee BP