WRITTEN BY: VALERIE CHEN
While the other students at the University of San Diego, California took notes diligently in class, so did media studies student Alex Chiu. However, there was one obvious difference between their notes and his notes.
Chiu’s notes weren’t composed in a rushed, messy print or a careful cursive scrawl. They weren’t monotonous and methodical transcriptions of the professor’s lecture. No, Chiu’s notes were far from common academic scribbles because they were in doodle-form with words and pictures, such as eyeballs, faces and cupcakes.
Fast forward five years and now, Chiu, at 27 years of age, has taken his classroom doodling to a whole other level – it has become his career.
“I try to make things fun, strange and exciting,” says Chiu, who currently resides in Torrance.
“I like creating emotional extremes. I like when things are violent, beautiful, gross, spiritual, psychedelic and hilarious all at the same time.”
As a professional cartoonist, Chiu spends anywhere from 15 minutes to four full days on a drawing. He says that paintings take even longer.
Currently, Chiu utilizes rapidograph pens, a type of technical pen that allows for uninterrupted drawing time and precise detail. Chiu also has been producing drawings armed with brushes. However, he admits that he doesn’t like oil paint much. “I’m not patient enough to wait for that stuff to dry,” says Chiu. His favorite medium: black pen on paper.
Chiu credits his art skills not so much to his university learning, but instead, to a childhood filled with various comics, cartoons and video games.
“I grew up watching ‘Animaniacs,’ ‘Ren and Stimpy,’ ‘Samurai Pizza Cats’ and ‘Ninja Turtles.’ I grew up reading Garfield comics. I was also influenced by Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. I played Street Fighter, Mega Man and Super Mario. All these things inspired me and helped me develop my own visual style and vocabulary,” says Chiu.
Chiu gives another example of his right-brained mentality, initiated in his youth, by rewinding back to the second grade. It was a requirement that book reports be accompanied with illustrations. Chiu complied with the instructions and the teacher liked his drawing well enough to share it with the class.
What were his sentiments about this incident? Chiu simply states, “It made me feel good.”
Chiu’s minimal but honest response effectively corresponds with the kind of guy he is. According to his personal statement on his website, Alexdoodles.com, he yearns for simplicity in a world that is, at times, unbearably complicated with an abundance of paperwork, lines, taxes, fines, penalties, brand names, titles and degrees. He adds, “We forget that surviving only takes a little food, water and heat.” He explains, in his personal statement, that he has stopped believing that he can live happily in this world around him, so he created his own world – through his art.
And Chiu unquestionably does just that.
Even a passing glance at his online art portfolio reveals that the artist has an exceptionally distinctive take on what a “simple world” means. The portfolio, separated into sections of watercolor, drawings, digital/mixed media, collaborations, sculptures, comics, gallery installations/public art and more, boasts of eclectic and expressive pieces that most people could not possibly have the imaginative capacity to envision. Nevertheless, through his talent and creativity, Chiu makes these ideas available for all to enjoy because cartoons “are easy to understand and enjoyed by all cultures, ages, sexes, etc.”
“I find cartooning to be the most universal form of art. Cartooning is a language of symbols. I enjoy how many different ways there are to draw eyes, hands, water, shoes, etc. Each cartoonist seems to have his/her own personal style and visual vocabulary. I enjoy how images and patterns are borrowed, shared and reinvented amongst artists,” explains Chiu.
Chiu says he has trained himself to be able to draw even on moving trains, cars and buses. More or less, he can work on his art everywhere. But, he prefers to work in coffee shops. “I really like listening in on other people’s conversations,” admits Chiu. When he’s not eavesdropping, he listens to KXLU, NPR or Beirut Station on Pandora Radio.
His time not allotted to art is devoted to his wife, A’misa Chiu, and their beagle Sumo Dog, in addition to a quest to understand his spirituality. Interested in comparative religion, he reads works by Huston Smith and Joseph Campbell. As most of his drawings are “automatic, stream of consciousness” based, if he does mention religion or politics, it’s usually of that moment and “in a subconscious way,” says Chiu.
When asked if he ever hesitates or second-guesses his chosen path in life, Chiu answers that he cannot imagine not producing art on a regular basis. Because he doesn’t have any other marketable skills, at this point in his life, he doesn’t know what else he would even be able to do.
“I feel like I was born to draw and paint,” says Chiu, who has also worked in coffee shops and as a book shelver at a library. “I see it as a life calling. Drawing and painting comes as naturally to me as pooping or peeing.”
Chiu has barely made any profit on his art. So, he certainly isn’t in it for the money. But despite what others may say about art as an unsuitable career or budget cuts resulting in dwindling art programs, Chiu believes people will create art, regardless.
He gives a list of his own mantras as advice to those who wish to pursue a career in art, as well as others who are not as artistically inclined. Each mantra is indisputable and resonates in his art and lifestyle:
“Be kind to one another. Stay healthy, eat right. Respect the elderly. Forgive people. No one’s perfect. Stop driving. Share your wealth. Stop caring so much about money. Grow your own food. Make art. Make music. Enjoy life.”
To take a complete look at Alex’s portfolio and for more information, visit Alexdoodles.com.