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Kristal Melson, illustrator and visual artist

Rebel rebel

Kristal Melson knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age. Being told “no” just lit an even bigger fire in her belly.

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Maximalist. Electrifying. Colour. These are some of the words that illustrator and visual artist Kristal Melson uses to describe her works. 

Kristal is one of three artists GXS Bank collaborated with for our brand launch. This was our first big campaign to introduce the brand to the public and showcase our challenger spirit. The campaign was centred around a series of questions designed to make you ask yourself: What if things were different? 

This was brought to life in a series of art pieces created with local artists. (You may have seen them on social media, online, or on a Grab car!) Kristal was asked to do a unique interpretation on contemporary conventions. Her response?

Challenging Conventions: GXS x Kristal

This self-taught artist has worked with brands including Google, Netflix, Adidas and Marc Jacobs. She launched a capsule collection with Vans in 2022 and collaborated with Nike on a series of limited-edition Chinese New Year shirt designs for Nike By You in 2020. Her works have been featured in galleries nationwide and internationally in cities like Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, New York, and Tokyo.

We asked Kristal five questions to find out more about her, her art, and what drives her.

How did you decide that being an artist is your calling?

I have always gravitated to drawing, and had a fascination for images from a young age. I have quite an obsessive personality and was that kid in school who would get thrown out of class for doodling in my textbook. I even had a small “business” where I’d charge 50 cents to draw on friends’ pencil cases! 

I worked in a comic book store as a teen and the moment I realised there were people who made a living drawing, I was determined to make that happen for me. My heart was set on it and when I was told that it was really difficult to survive as an artist or illustrator, my resolve was just to practise until I was great at it. I think the strong opposition lit an even bigger fire in my belly to prove everyone wrong. 

What are some misconceptions about your craft? Any advice for young people keen to follow in your footsteps?

The misconception of being an artist is that you only need to draw well. As a commercial illustrator, you have to be able to decipher a brief, understand a client’s needs, and translate that into a vision that reflects your personal vision or style. Doing all of this at the same time can be really difficult. Deadlines are often tight as well, while payments and consistent work are unpredictable. 

The creative industry is constantly evolving, with new trends and techniques emerging. It's essential to stay updated, continue learning, and adapt your skills to meet changing demands. It’s a lot of hard work, but being paid to do what you love is so fulfilling. Having a set of skills makes me self-reliant, and with that comes a lot of freedom to work on my own terms.

Kristal has worked with a large variety of mediums and brands. (Picture: Kristal Melson)

What is the strangest work you’ve ever been commissioned to do?

Creating several paintings for a curator whose vision was to surprise and delight in a co-working space. He was really idiosyncratic and constantly pushing the boundaries of what it is to be radical. So I made a pixel painting of a "pinenana" - a pineapple and banana. 

Has the choice to become an artist affected you financially? Would you go back and change anything? 

Choosing to become an artist certainly comes with financial challenges, especially in the beginning stages of building a career. It can take time to establish a steady income and gain recognition in the industry. 

When I first started, I worked full-time as a designer by day, and when I should have been asleep, I worked through the night on illustrations, both commercial and personal. It took many years to build that level of confidence to be an artist on my own. My first love was always drawing, but there are no regrets because it allowed me to acquire skills I otherwise wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the opportunity to work with other creatives within structured environments. 

Do you think you challenge conventions through your art? 

To begin with, working as an artist in Singapore is in itself challenging conventions. I'm also a mother, and there's a lot of expectations that you should make sacrifices for this. A lot of my work stems from personal experiences, with my biggest influence being from comics. Despite not having a degree in art, I don’t let that stop me and I continue to make art everyday.

Art in the wild (Picture: Kristal Melson)

Keep a lookout for her art, and get updates via her Instagram

Psst! Here's something else you should know:

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