28-year-old visual artist tobyato collaborates with UNIQLO; hosts stencil party
Tobyato had previously worked with UNIQLO in 2019, creating six designs which showcased Singapore in the past and present.
On the office wall of Warner Music Singapore lies a psychedelic painting of a lion surrounded by pulsating boomboxes and an electric guitar. Meanwhile, a mural of two colossal swordfishes locked in battle with banana stems adorns the side of a building in Tanjong Pagar.
These are just two of the many works brought to life by Toby Tan, a 28-year-old local visual artist known for his sprawling graphics and distinctive compositions.
Toby’s love for illustration began as a child with him drawing Pokémon characters for his friends in school. From foolscap pads to his worksheets, he would doodle on anything that he could get his hands on.
Despite this unabating fascination with art, illustrating largely remained a hobby until he studied visual communications at Nanyang Technological University and realised that he wanted to pursue it as a career.
Before long, he had adopted the moniker “tobyato” — a nod to Japanese culture which was one of his major influences while starting out.
“Tobyato stands for Toby’s art in Japanese,” he shares.
One of Toby’s latest ventures was a partnership with UNIQLO for its UT Fan Festival which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the UT brand graphic t-shirts that launched in 2003.
The festival featured shirt customisation services with drawings from local artists and the relaunch of popular UT designs.
It also brought together homegrown collaborators for exclusive activities such as portrait doodles where customers could get a caricature portrait illustrated by designers at Cruddy.
As for Toby, he was given the chance to hold the seventh volume of his popular stencil party where he spent 14 hours stencilling over 500 items.
To him, the stencil parties are a way of “making art accessible to people”.
“All they have to do is bring their t-shirts or tote bags, come down and everything is prepped for them. They can choose the colours and the designs they want and then we collaborate on an art piece together for them to bring home.
“The point is for them to easily and accessibly express their creativity along with me within these stencil party parameters,” he says.
The main design for the latest volume of the stencil party is an ode to UNIQLO’s Wear Your World campaign, showing an almost childlike illustration of Toby with his eyes closed as he dons a helmet.
“These Chinese warrior helmets are created in the form of animals I always use in my work and they represent me wearing my artwork as I face the world head on,” he explains.
Toby shares that during the stencil party, someone had actually approached him to ask for advice about being a graphic designer.
While he was quite surprised as he had not expected someone to look up to him for advice, the experience highlighted his development as an artist.
“I’m still learning through trial and error but knowing that I’ve reached a point where I can give advice based on my experiences was nice,” says Toby.
Previously, he had also worked with UNIQLO on a collaboration titled Our Past And Present where he created six designs that depicted Singapore in the past and present.
The designs comprised things like old coffee shops, kueh lapis and even matchbox spiders, showcasing the nation’s changes over the years.
Toby notes that for Our Past And Present, UNIQLO had only contacted him as he was one of the local artists on its radar.
However, this time around, the brand specifically wanted him for the fan festival.
For Toby, that was a clear indication of how far he had come as an artist in Singapore.
Looking ahead, he hopes that his success will open the doors for fellow artists to get similar chances to work with big brands in the future.
For those wanting to be a creative, Toby has the following advice: “You should find a balance between figuring out what you can provide for the industry and what the industry wants from you.
“Once you find that balance, that will be your path and doubling down on that path can help you hit a turning point or reach where you want to be.”