I was taken at first glance by the designs of Taiwanese artist Keng-Fu Chu (Fu). They were captivating, smile-inducing, and incredibly imaginative. Novel yet strangely familiar, they called to mind the bizarre otherworldliness and hand-drawn charm of Tim Burton and Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlet; the pared-down innocence of Yoshimoto Nara; and the cheerful simplicity of Goodnight Moon and Monsters Inc.
What’s more, they came with the kind of narrative detail that I can relish in. Take Fu’s introduction to Screamer the robot, for instance:
“Screamer was born in a high-tech city, longing for freedom. He was launched into outer space but landed upside down. He looked like an exclamation point when he landed in a beautiful grassy field, and was named accordingly….”
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this now-New Yorker and his enchanting work.
How do you describe your design style?
I see my style as “Retrofuturism.” The main subject usually contains robots and mechanical worlds. They do, however, have a hand-drawn feeling and warm colors. I want to present an art style that combines new and old.
What was your first medium as an artist?
My major was industrial design and I worked as a web designer since college. I didn’t expect myself to become an artist. Then I shared illustrations that I made in my leisure time at fu-design.com in 2005. The website unexpectedly became very popular and well known, which encouraged me to create more illustrations and start to work as a freelancer illustrator.
When and why did Fu-design expand into product creation?
When I started to sell my artwork online three years ago, it didn’t go very well. Then my wife Claire suggested that we print my illustrations on attire and gadget accessories. Fortunately, several brands and manufactories were interested in collaborating with us. We loved how combining art and products allowed us create a strong connection between people’s lifestyle and my art style. My wife left her job and worked with me to establish our own business: Fu-design Store. Over the past two years, we’ve made lifetime warranty canvas printings, iPad covers, graphic trucker hats, iPhone cases, laptop sleeves, gadget bags, etc. We’ve sold our colorful products to over 26 countries, and we’re very excited about this brand new experience. It is a great adventure.
Can you give us a peek at your design process?
I create my artwork with digital devices and software—mouse, iMac, Adobe Flash, etc. Here is an image showing how Robot Screamer developed from sketch to digital work.
What inspires your characters and overall aesthetic?
A serious illness took away half of my hearing in 2006 and I was temporarily forced to cease my design and illustration work. After radiation surgery (Gamma Knife), I suffered from an even more painful condition, Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN). I experienced extreme facial pain as a result of the TN. The pain ruined my daily life and tested my faith. In an attempt to distract myself from the pain and suffering, I returned to art and began to create robot characters. Instead of using art to release the pain and fury, I learned how to face the pain head-on and channel positive emotions through my creations. My robots are full of happiness, joy and energy. They are stylish cute, vivid and colorful. I want to encourage people to overcome their difficulties through art and creativity, as well as inspire people by my story and give them hope.
Do you have a favorite robot, or one you feel most connected to?
I currently feel most connected to robots in Robot Kingdom series. I guess it is because I just became a father of a 5-month old baby. : )
What’s up next for you and Fu-Design?
We are actively collaborating with more brands to produce a variety of high quality graphic products. We may add bags and baby clothing to our product line this summer. Our dream is to have a physical Fu-design Store or showroom in New York, so that we could provide a place for our customers to actually touch and feel Fu-design’s products.
Interested in seeing more of the products from Fu-design’s madly creative universe? Don’t miss our amazing sale, launching tonight at 7 pm.