#StrongerThanEver: Architect quits job to become freelance artist selling anime prints
Cheng York now works as a freelance artist who does traditional calligraphy fusion art.
Passion or paycheck? While most treasure job security, for 28-year-old Chew Cheng York, there are other things, like self-fulfilment, that are worth much more.
Upon graduating with a Master’s degree in Architecture, the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) alumnus went on to secure a stable job as an architect associate in a corporate firm where he worked for a year.
“Naturally, my parents wanted me to become an architect and work my way up as a director maybe over a span of 20 years,” he shared.
However, with unbending rules, tight deadlines and difficult colleagues, Cheng York began to rethink his life in the industry.
“I remember pulling my tired body back home every night and even working on the weekends. The whole experience was not pleasant.”
During this challenging time, he turned to watching YouTube videos of streamers like Disguised Toast and OfflineTV playing the popular online game Among Us as a form of stress relief.
Little did he know, those videos would give him the motivation to chart on a new path.
“Seeing how they were able to make money while still having fun, really got me inspired. They were enjoying what they were doing and I felt like that’s how life should be.”
He considered other jobs he could take up and eventually thought of his hobby as the solution.
Since young, Cheng York had always loved anime and drawing his favourite characters. This love for art and the Japanese culture gave him the idea of becoming a freelance artist selling anime prints.
But of course, things were easier said than done. When making such a life-changing decision, he had to weigh the pros and cons, the opportunity cost and even the potential loss of money.
Beyond these factors, there was also his parents’ vehement objection to his career switch which he had to deal with. As his parents are more pragmatic, they questioned if Cheng York’s decision to become an artist was even worth it at all.
Nevertheless, he knew he’d regret it if he didn’t give it a shot at all and so, after some serious consideration, as well as advice from existing artists in the community, Cheng York pressed on without his parents’ support.
On the last day of 2020, he took the leap and gave up on his iron rice bowl in pursuance of his passion in art. While he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey, he was content knowing he’d finally be doing something he loves.
“It would be nice if things work out for me but if it fails, at least I tried while giving my best.”
As an artist, having one’s own unique art style is vital. Despite being new to the industry, Cheng York already had his own special way of drawing his anime characters, which is through the use of calligraphy brush pens.
He had learnt them in his Chinese calligraphy club back in secondary school but didn’t think of leveraging on his skills till he was exposed to calligraphy style drawings during a graduation trip to Japan.
He recounts: “It was a Japanese sake commercial drawn with just calligraphy brushes on a Shinkansen. I was awed by the representation and began to think of ways I could incorporate it into my art style and make it even better.”
Ever since he found his distinctive art style, Cheng York has been drawing pieces of his favourite characters from games like Dota 2, Genshin Impact, Valorant, and Honkai Impact 3, as well as anime characters from shows like Jujutsu Kaisen, My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, Mecha, Deca-Dence, Tokyo Revengers, Naruto, and Spy X Family.
Soon after, he also held his first pop-up booth at *SCAPE Makers Market in 2020. While he didn’t have high hopes, he was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback he received.
“The turnout was great and I was so busy on the first day that I didn’t have time to have my lunch,” he recounts.
Things were going well for Cheng York until the COVID-19 situation took a turn for the worst and the country went into lockdown.
“I was like, ‘Wah, rabak. I need to look for alternative plans.’”
This left him no choice but to pivot online to sell his art prints. Thankfully, with the help of Google and YouTube, Cheng York managed to get his website and social media platforms up and running by June 2021.
Since then, his Instagram page has amassed over 6,000 followers. His web store, where he sells his prints at a range of $12 to $40, has also allowed him to make a comfortable revenue. While it’s “definitely nowhere near the annual salary of (his) previous job”, he’s enjoying what he’s doing.
He hopes to one day be able to travel overseas and have his own pop-up booths in other countries as well. But for now, a smaller goal he has is to sell his Dota 2 artworks at the upcoming The International (TI) 2022 Dota championship which is slated to be held in Singapore this October.
“If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will make it work.”
This article was published alongside a series of videos produced as part of National Youth Council’s #StrongerThanEver campaign. It features remarkable stories of youths that displayed resilience and tenacity even despite the challenges thrown at them by the pandemic.