For the Vancouver-based artist, Lay Hoon, her Singaporean and Malaysian upbringing influences her work, evoking the lush tropical surrounds she grew up with.

Starting her career as a designer and art director, she returned to her art practice during the pandemic, where it became a daily ritual, “helping me navigate through those difficult times,” she says. Her practice, which ranges from a variety of mediums that include watercolor, acrylic, digital art, and mural works, draw inspiration from what she feels is “missing or needed in my life,” she says. For Hoon, this might mean tropical sunny scenes that are a stretch from Canada’s “long periods of gloomy, cold weather.” Her moniker, “Arty Guava,” is a way for her to establish a distinction between herself as an individual and her art. The name came from a suggestion made by her husband that encapsulates her two great passions: art and guavas.

Below, we caught up with Hoon to hear more about her work.

Tell me about yourself. Where are you based? How do you describe your practice? 

I’m Lay Hoon, a multidisciplinary artist and proud mother to an 8-year-old boy. Currently based in Vancouver, I’ve previously lived in Singapore and was born and raised in Malaysia—definitely a tropical girly at heart.

My practice revolves around intuitive art, primarily painting and illustrating. It’s my way of expressing, processing, and understanding myself and the world. I draw inspiration from daily observations, life events, and my personal hopes and wishes.

What does a day in the life look like for you? 

A typical day for me starts at 7 am, when I prepare breakfast and pack my son’s lunchbox while enjoying a glass of green tea and journaling. After dropping him off at school at 9 am, I either take a walk or hit the gym for about 30 minutes. Following a shower, I prepare an early lunch for myself and begin work by addressing emails around 11 am. From 11 am to 4 pm, I focus on various tasks like answering emails, illustrating, preparing presentations, painting, posting on social media, updating my financial records, conducting photoshoots, and researching ideas and inspirations. At 4 pm, I start preparing dinner, and our family typically enjoys an early dinner around 5.30 pm. After cleaning up, I assist my son with his schoolwork and then unwind by watching TV, playing card games, or engaging in simple crafts until his bedtime at 8.30 pm. From 9 to 10 pm, I carve out some “me time” where I may read mangas, do a short meditation, or engage in stretching or yoga before heading to bed.

What is your studio process like? 

I don’t have a fixed studio process. Depending on the client brief or the type of artwork I’m creating, I like to approach things differently each time to keep my process fresh and discover new ways of working. Before starting any project, I gather inspiration by exploring Pinterest, visiting the library, taking walks in nature, or whatever feels right at the moment. This initial phase is often the most time-consuming for me because once I have a clear idea, the creation process flows easily. Next, I usually sketch out my ideas and then fill in the colours digitally or work on canvas, depending on the medium I’m using for the project.

How did you get started doing what you are doing? How did you end up where you’re at now in terms of artmaking?

I began my journey in the creative industry as a designer and art director, specializing in branding and packaging, in Singapore, where I worked for over a decade. In 2019, my family and I relocated to Vancouver, just before the onset of the pandemic. The challenges of social isolation, seasonal depression, homesickness, managing without childcare while working from home, and the overall chaos of the pandemic became overwhelming. Seeking solace and a sense of peace, I returned to my art practice. It became a daily ritual, helping me navigate through those difficult times. I started sharing my creations consistently on Instagram, not expecting much, but to my surprise, I slowly built a following, and commissions began coming in. Two years later, I made the decision to leave my full-time job as a designer and dedicate myself entirely to my artistic career. It’s been a transformative journey, and I haven’t looked back since.

What mediums do you work in? 

I work with a variety of mediums including watercolor, acrylic, digital art, and mural works. Recently, I’ve been exploring new avenues such as collages, embroidery, and even paper mache, adding more depth and dimension to my artistic expression.

Can you describe some of the scenes you depict in your artworks? What is the story behind them?

I often draw inspiration from what I feel is missing or needed in my life. For instance, I’m captivated by tropical sunny scenes because living in Canada means enduring long periods of gloomy, cold weather. One of my most beloved artworks, “Dance Under the Moonlight,” was born during the pandemic lockdown when I felt incredibly restricted. It represents my yearning for freedom to move, express, and connect without constraints. Dancing symbolizes pure freedom to me, driving the inspiration behind this piece. I also frequently create still-life scenes featuring fruits. Fruits, to me, symbolize abundance, and I wish the same abundance for both myself and my audience, whatever form it may take for them.

The inspiration behind “Chrysanthemum” stemmed from the rise of Asian hate during the pandemic. With troubling news of violence against Asians and personal experiences of discrimination, including an incident at a playground involving my child, the piece became a statement against such biases. Asian friends who grew up in North America shared their childhood wishes of being white, which deeply troubled me. I hope my child grows up embracing his unique qualities and appreciating others’ as well. This illustration reflects my contemplation on explaining these concepts to my child, asking what he would say to a yellow chrysanthemum wishing to be a white rose.

Another favourite of mine is “Lazy Days,” embodying my deep desire for moments of relaxation. As a busy mom juggling various roles, it serves as a reminder to prioritize self-care and relaxation.

"Dancing In Paradise" and "Dreaming Under the Stars," both by artyguava

"Dance under the Moonlight" by artyguava

What do you do when you need to find inspiration? 

When I need inspiration, I have a few go-to activities. I love visiting the library, taking walks around town, exploring cool vintage shops, and browsing through Pinterest. These activities often spark new ideas and perspectives for my creative work.

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not making art? 

During my leisure time, I find joy in reading Mangas and watching Anime, activities that have been a part of my life since childhood. I also cherish moments playing video games with my child and taking tranquil nature walks or exploring charming shops in town.

How did you come up with the name “Arty Guava”?

I chose the name “Arty Guava” as a way to establish a distinction between myself as an individual and my art. When brainstorming for a moniker, my husband suggested it because it encapsulates my two great passions: art and guavas. Guavas have always been a favourite fruit of mine, and I would indulge in them daily if I could. However, since moving to Vancouver, they’ve become more of a seasonal delight rather than a daily treat.

What’s coming up next for you? 

My next focus is on rebuilding my confidence in using traditional mediums like acrylic on canvas, where mistakes aren’t easily undone with a swipe. I’m looking forward to rediscovering the joy of slow creation, where patience is key.

I’m also excited about upcoming fashion collaborations. Designing prints that I can wear is a favourite of mine. Fashion has the power to boost confidence, and creating feel-good wearable art is a dream realized. Advocating for and supporting women-focused causes through my art is another passion. As a woman, I can authentically connect with these causes and create from the heart.

"Sun & Moon" by artyguava

"New Beginnings" by artyguava

What are some dream projects you’d love to work on?

I have a few dream projects in mind that I’d love to work on. Firstly, I’m passionate about tea, so creating tea packaging would be fantastic. It’s something I’m familiar with, allowing me to authentically convey its value through my art. Plus, receiving free tea for inspiration wouldn’t hurt! I’m also keen on creating more murals to transform spaces, like in hotels or boutique retail locations. One ambitious idea I’d love to explore is an art installation where my “guava girls” are projected onto walls, dancing freely in a circle around the audience. It’s all about creating immersive experiences that captivate and inspire. As you can tell, I spend a lot of time daydreaming about these possibilities, and that’s what makes my work so enjoyable and exciting.

What are your favorite cultural activities for finding inspiration? 

My favourite cultural activities for finding inspiration include visiting museums and attending exhibitions at galleries. I find that exploring different art forms and styles sparks creativity in me. Additionally, learning new skills, such as sculpting and pottery, is another source of inspiration. Working with my hands in these ways allows me to tap into different artistic expressions and techniques, enriching my artistic journey.

Who are some of your favorite artists? 

My artistic inspiration comes from a diverse array of sources, often drawn from the world around me on a daily basis, sometimes even subconsciously. However, if I were to pinpoint specific artists whom I admire and find inspiration from, they would include Gauguin for his vibrant use of colour and exotic themes, Matisse for his bold and expressive compositions, Pierre Boncompain for his poetic representations of everyday life, Hiroshi Yoshida for his masterful prints capturing nature’s beauty, David Hockney for his innovative approaches to depicting modern life, and Frida Kahlo for her deeply personal and emotive artworks. Each of these artists has left a lasting impact on my artistic journey, influencing my style, themes, and creative vision.

Describe what it was like transitioning to a full-time artist and what success has looked like for you. 

Transitioning to a full-time artist was a significant decision filled with both excitement and apprehension. The hardest part was overcoming the fear of failure and imagining potential challenges along the way. However, I didn’t want fear to hold me back from pursuing my passion. I realized that even in the worst-case scenario, returning to full-time work as a designer, which I already enjoyed, was not a negative outcome. Success, for me, is synonymous with freedom. It’s the freedom to create art that reflects my true voice and vision. It’s also the freedom to choose which projects to take on and how I allocate my time each day, whether I immerse myself in work or take moments to be with loved ones. In that sense, I consider myself successful already. While I look forward to larger and more exciting projects in the future, I am immensely grateful and content with where I am today.