US-based Singapore artist's fantasy hobby gains fan base

California-based Singaporean artist Dominic Qwek is a minor celebrity in the world of fantasy art.

His designs are not exactly family-friendly, which helps explain his niche appeal.

One of the 35-year- old's top-selling figurines is Rakshasa, a creature with a bloody, fang-filled mouth, surrounding a large, fleshy tongue.

"It got me noticed in Japan and got me a distributor there," says Qwek on the telephone from his home in Irvine, a city an hour south of Los Angeles and home to several software companies, including Blizzard Entertainment, maker of games such as World Of Warcraft, Starcraft and Overwatch.

Qwek works full time at Blizzard as a senior 3D concept artist. But it is the art that he makes in his off-hours that has a fan base.

His Instagram page, filled with his original creature art, has more than 94,000 followers.

He has been sketching fantasy creatures, inspired by vampires, werewolves and insects, since his national service days, but five years ago, he decided to make kits and prints for sale.

"I had a following on Instagram and Facebook for my character designs, so I thought people might want to own some version of them," he says.

He sells through his website and a distributor in Japan.

"I look for designs that wow people. I prefer designs that push the limits of anatomy. What I did with Rakshasa was to make the lower jaw come out of the neck and down the chest to the lower part of the body. That hadn't been done before; that struck a chord with a lot of people," he says.

"I start with a tame design and keep pushing it until I end up with a really primal, aggressive look."

"Rakshasa" comes from Hindu mythology, where it is the name for a fanged, man-eating deity, which can either be good or evil.

Currently sold out, a Rakshasa resin figure kit, unpainted and unassembled, costs US$175 (S$238). Since coming up with the design for it four years ago, it has become one of his bestsellers.

As for his sales figures, he says only that "so far, it's been going pretty good".

Kits are an easier entry into the business because they are more affordable and easier to ship compared with finished, fully painted sculptures. But he is thinking about offering finished busts and sculptures, perhaps from next year.

Another popular creation, the Striker, an alien warrior standing over a creature he has just killed, sells for US$210 in unpainted, unassembled form. Prints of his art sell for US$25 each.

To promote his products, Qwek takes up booths at popular science- fiction and comic-book conventions, such as this year's San Diego Comic-Con.

He has lived and worked abroad for nearly 13 years.

As a child, he sketched constantly, making his own cartoon characters.

He studied at Montfort Secondary School before heading to Nanyang Polytechnic, where he studied digital design when the course was relatively new there.

He graduated and "did a bit of everything" related to computer graphics - animation, 3D modelling and special effects.

But in the early 2000s, there were fewer opportunities for 3D artists, so he migrated for work, first to Europe and then to the United States.

He is married to Catherine Peng, an artist from the Netherlands, and they live in an apartment with "no kids, two cats".

His wife's art has little of the nightmarish, man-beast quality of his work.

"She's into the cuter side of things," he says.

"My work can be horrific. People ask me, 'How do you sleep at night?' Actually, I sleep really well."

This article was first published on September 29, 2016.
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