How Popular Expat Artist Louise Hill Is Inspired By Singapore – And You Can Be, Too!

09 January 2018

Find out how this charmingly candid expatriate went from graphic designer to stay-at-home mum to sought-after artist in Asia. 

Louise Hill in the living room of her black-and-white colonial home in Singapore. 
(image: Darren Chang/SPH Magazines)

“You don’t leave the country without buying a ‘Louise Hill’.”

That’s the word on the street amongst the expatriate community in Hong Kong, where Louise Hill lived in vibrant Sai Kung for four years before moving to Singapore in 2014. These days, the same sentiment is growing in SG, thanks to British-born, world traveller Louise Hill’s vibrant Louise Hill Design mixed-media prints.

It’s in large part because her artworks celebrate the unique cultures and eclectic influences that converge on the Red Dot. This also explains why Louise’s rich-in-meaning prints are increasingly popular with Singaporeans. The Finder was honoured to feature her “We Love Singapore” print on the cover of its Directory 2018.

The Finder Directory 2018 cover features portions of Louise Hill’s “We Love Singapore” print, which is shown in its entirety on the contents page.  

“I purposely designed ‘We Love Singapore’ and, before, ‘We Love Hong Kong’ as a post card of each place,” shares Louise, one pleasantly breezy day at her black-and-white colonial in leafy Clementi. “It’s the things we love about living there.”

The Singapore piece, in particular, showcases many of the island’s icons, including a Peranakan “tiled” Marina Bay Sands building and dozens of architectural landmarks, plus durians, orchids, bumboats, chilli crabs and more. (Watch The Finder‘s exclusive “Meet the Artist video, below!) 

The Finder Singapore’s exclusive “Meet the Artist: Louise Hill of Louise Hill Design” video from The Finder Singapore on VimeoVideo Produced by: Tan Wei Te/SPH Magazines

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How Does She Do It?

Truly, the level of detail within each print – from Louise’s first, “Hong Kong Ferry,” in 2013, to her most recent, limited-edition “Chinoiserie” series – is mind-boggling. She says that she combines 60 to 400 individual components, including photos she snaps, vintage textiles and items she collects and even sections that she hand-paints. “It’s my own observations that I put into them,” she explains.

Then, Louise sits down in the “engine room” – what she calls her colourful, yet minimalist home design studio – to digitally combine and manipulate all of the pieces into a final print. For some, such as “Chinoiserie in Aquamarine & Powder Blues”, she hand-finishes each print with gold ink. “My work really is a ‘labour of love,’” explains Louise, noting that the artworks take months to complete.

It’s also why each print is made to order. “I don’t keep them stocked in a warehouse,” she says with a self-deprecating chuckle. (Not to worry, though, if you purchase a Louise Hill print, it arrives – signed and numbered – within three days to two weeks!) 

In Louise Hill’s prop room, you’ll see vintage fabrics, tins, ceramics, jewellery and more. 
(image: Darren Chang/SPH Magazines)

How’d She Get To Where She Is?  

If you think that Louise’s art seems many-layered, consider it an extension of a life well-lived. Raised by “very cool” parents in London, plus a six-year stint in Paris as a child, she’s always loved collecting curios – inspired by her parents’ eye for vintage finds. Louise’s first obsessions: metal tins by British graphic designer Ian Logan and Crabtree & Evelyn miniatures, which she used to buy at her favourite shop, Covent Garden General Store.

After graduating from art school in her teens, Louise went to work at her dad’s graphic design business for three years, mostly creating packaging labels. “He really gave me the first step into the industry,” she says. After, she landed a graphic design position at Crabtree & Evelyn. “This was before computers, and everything I learned was hand-crafted,” Louise notes.

Fast forward four years, and she got a job at Ian Logan Design. “I loved every minute of it,” she muses. “He was the guy who was making the tins I used to collect!” Louise continued to work in the London graphic design field for 15 years, before she admits she burnt out, and convinced her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Ryan, to go on a “gap year in my 30s.”

From there, they backpacked along the Spice Route – from India to Indonesia; sailed across the Darwin Straights for seven days with a bawdy sailor by the name of “Aussie Alan” and, ultimately, settled in Melbourne for 3 years, where Louise did freelance design work and guest lectured at the RMIT University.  

At 34, she got pregnant with twins, and she recalls saying to Ryan, “I want my mum” (and still contends: “You’re never too old to want your mum”). The soon-to-be parents moved to the UK coastal town of Brighton, where Louise had her two baby boys, Ezra and Jude, now 14 years old.

When the twins were 2, the young family relocated to Hastings. By then, the new-mummy stress and fatigue was taking its toll. “I was exhausted,” she confesses. “I couldn’t work.” 

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Louise’s “We Love Hong Kong” print hangs atop the stairs in her home. 
(image: Darren Chang/SPH Magazines)

Why Asia Is Her Passion

When Ryan got a job offer in Shanghai – which would give them an offer to travel again, and potentially provide Louise with some much-needed childcare – Louise was all for it. “When is the next flight?!” she remembers saying, letting out a hearty laugh.

The family lived in the French Concession area of Shanghai for four years, during which time Louise took lessons in Mandarin. “I had to because I had to have my clothes made,” she says, referring to the too-small clothing she encountered in Chinese stores.

Her solution: hitting a bustling six-floor fabric market with garment design inspo in hand, as frequently as possible. “It was fabulous,” recalls Louise. “Plus, it was an opportunity to be creative.”

While Louise remembers her family’s time in Shanghai fondly, when they moved to Hong Kong, she says she was finally ready to “do something for myself” again. She caught up on the latest graphic design programmes via YouTube tutorials, and began snapping photos and collecting props that caught her eye.

Before long, she created “Hong Kong Ferry”, followed by “Happy Laughing Buddha”, “Old Town”, “Lucky Cat” and so on. Today, her entire Louise Hill Design catalog features 15-plus one-of-a-kind prints.

If ever you have the pleasure of meeting Louise at the bi-annual Boutiques fair, or a chance to glimpse inside her home studio, you’ll surely see her own Japanese Maneki-neko “lucky cat” statuette, which she bought in her twenties and has carried around the world.

Put simply, Louise states, “Asia is my passion. It’s so vibrant and alive.”

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