Self-taught digital artist Sonya Fu is the master transmutator of dreams. For the last 13 years, she’s transfused the vivid scenes she sees when she sleeps into sublime art. Her symbolic scapes strike an eery familiarity—it’s as if she preserves hypnagogic slivers in everything she makes. Both beautiful and disturbing, her pieces evoke the exploration of nebulous space to beg the question: what if when we’re asleep, we’re really awake?
Where did you grow up (and where are you based now?)
I grew up and am based in Hong Kong.
What was your childhood like?
I never was an outdoorsy person, so I spent most of my childhood doodling, watching Japanese anime, and playing video games on Nintendo Famicom with my brother and friends.
What did you like to draw most when you were a child?
How did you express yourself creatively when you were younger? Did your family encourage your artistry?
Mostly through drawing and making handmade cards. My family has been very supportive of my path which I am very grateful for!
Describe your conceptualization process. What sparks an idea for you? What motivates you to act on it?
It comes randomly, from things and moments, especially when I am super drowsy in bed. When my mind is relaxed, it stops being judgmental and overanalyzing.
I also get inspiration from the strange things I see in dreams. I write them down immediately while the imagery is still vivid. I stay motivated by keeping in mind that if I don’t work on it now, I’ll lose my enthusiasm or move onto another idea which would be a shame.
Are you able to directly translate something you see in dreams into an artwork?
Visually, yes, more or less. But not tangibly or audibly.
Do you ever revisit a piece and see symbolism that wasn’t obvious to you when it was made?
Sometimes I do, but it could also be overthinking, heh.
(Unfathomable was depicted in 2010 to envision the future in 10 years)
Was there a moment you felt things “took off” for you as an artist?
When I sold my first painting at the opening of my first show. My family, friends, and the greater community came and supported the show, which felt great and assuring!
After that, more show opportunities started popping up out of nowhere. It’s wonderful that people from other parts of the world get to see my work.
Where and what year was the opening of your first show? What was that experience like for you internally/personally?
My first art show was in 2010. It was a group show. I couldn’t sleep the night before the opening. My head was full of internal monologue and uncertainty… I’m glad it turned out great!
Which artistic mediums are easiest for you?
In general, digital painting, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years.
Which mediums are the hardest?
It’s hard to say, I haven’t explored enough to tell. I believe each has its easy and hard moments. For example, I find drawing freehand lines much easier with traditional media, while it takes me much longer to achieve the same natural effect inking digitally. Digital media is something I’m used to, thus easiest for me, but the expensive production cost is a different story.
What are the expensive production costs tied to digital media?
Printing. Fine Art Giclée costs a lot. I’ve also explored other printing and mounting methods like Diasec and Lenticular. They are both very expensive to produce and they cost a lot to ship due to their bulkiness.
How would you describe your relationship to color?
Love and hate. I can love and hate a color at the same time when it’s on different things or used on different occasions.
What inspires your color palette?
My sudden fascination.
Which aspects of yourself do you reveal most through your art?
The tendency to be prudent and detail-oriented, always remaining true and not following trends. Just basically giving less of an F about what others do and doing my own things.
What are some of the major life experiences behind your work?
I tend not to link my life experiences to my art as it’s not my preferred subject matter now, but I love to include elements from my cultural background in my work.
Can you describe some of the cultural elements included in the background of your work?
For example, the window frame in my work “Dollmaker” (2022) and the recurring cheongsam (dress) seen in my other pieces, were both popular in old-time Hong Kong. As time goes by, these gems have become a rare sight but they remain a significant element in my culture.
How have your themes evolved over time?
From dark to whimsical to serene and then a combination of all these.
What is your relationship like to spirits?
I’m a Buddhist and I don’t define spirits as good nor bad. We have our own duties and missions in our respective realm. It’s wise not to disturb them. Just be kind, humble, respectful and have good intentions towards others.
What is the most meaningful dream you’ve had?
Dreamt of someone telling me something that helped me realize an important matter, leading to improvement in a certain area of my life.
How would you describe the art scene like in China?
I think it’s stable and heard that art lovers started to express interest in something different from the current contemporary art movement.
What do you find most rewarding about creating?
It connects people and it helps me release stagnant energy and quiet my mind, that’s why it’s also therapeutic.
If you could design a world of your own, what would it be like?
It would look like the strange and beautiful places I visited in dreams… minus the messed up and dangerous areas!