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Whether working for a restaurant, a corporate client or for the pleasure of it
PHNOM PENH--When you walk into a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, you may see on the wall or on the cup or glass they hand you an illustration that will take your attention away from all the things you have to do that day and make you enjoy the moment.
In some cases, the artist who created these images is Serey SOT, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer based in Phnom Penh.
While his illustrations’ style varies according to the needs and requirements of his customers, they share one quality: Whether they appear on a glass or are displayed on a wall, his artworks express friendliness and energy that draw in people looking at them.
Graphic artist Serey Sot. Photo provided by the artist.
In one case, Cambodians in traditional clothes seem to be happily circling a soft-drink glass, colored in gentle shaded of blue, green and brown.
In another, a boy sits on a book that serves as roof for a small house, which is kept from floating away by strings attached to a cyclo driven by a cyclo driver.
Serey, who is in his mid-20s, started working as an illustrator and graphic designer in 2016 after graduating in interior design at a university in Phnom Penh, he said. Originally from Kampong Cham Province, he moved to Phnom Penh with his family when he was 7th grade as his parents had found work in the capital.
Drawing is second nature to Serey. "I’ve always been drawing, ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I would draw random animals or my dog with wood sticks on the ground. So drawing is almost part of me.
“It’s not only helping me make a living,” he said. “[D]rawing is a place where I can express my ideas that I can’t tell with words: It's kinda meditation.”
Illustration by artist Serey Sot designed to be printed on a glass in a cafe. Photo provided by the artist.
After university, Serey worked for agencies in Phnom Penh. But in 2019, he decided to work as a freelancer. Today, his client list ranges from small businesses and cafes to corporations. "I usually work from home or a cafe," he said. He starts sketching on paper and finishes on his iPad with an application called Procreate.
When he is asked for a design, Serey said, “I need to have one main [theme]…I start to collect photo references to make a mood board and list keywords that I want to [express in] the artwork.
“During the process, I follow the mood board. But sometimes I don't: I love to experiment and explore more. Some great ideas always come along the process," he said.
Serey draws inspiration from popular stories, old folk tales as well as today’s lifestyle, he said. "I believe that small and hidden clues in story plots often inspire great ideas and storytelling.
"I think that finding the motivation to finish each artwork is the hardest thing for me,” Serey said. “Most people enjoy the results but not the process. I think because I’m quite picky about what I want to show in my artworks, it takes me so much time.” In addition to works he is asked to do, Serey also keeps on working on personal projects, he said.
Work by Cambodian artist Serey Sot. Photo provided by the artist.
One film he saw a few years ago inspired him to create a series of illustrations of eras long past. The documentary film was “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” that US filmmaker John Pirozzi made about the music in Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s. This led Serey to create illustrations in sepia tones featuring singers and musicians, the works exuding the nostalgy of times now gone.
“[C]reating artwork always makes me happy,” he said.
As many people in the arts world have noted, while there are excellent artists in Cambodia, the art market still remains to be developed, the number of people buying artworks being very small, which makes it difficult for artists to remain in the field.
“I love seeing this field grow,” said Serey. “[E]ven if it's still small, we're moving ahead.
“So please keep supporting local artists," he said.