Always Cute, Sometimes Sad: Flavia Chan

Written by T.K. Mills

In March 2023, BeerCanvas and UP Magazine hosted our first annual ‘March Art Madness’ in which artists from around the world submitted creative designs for custom glassware, with the winner having there design printed, as well as being awarded a cash prize and an interview with UP. It was a heated & energetic competition with over 50 entrants, which was curated down to a bracket of 32 artists.

The tournament was broken down into 4 different categories: Pop Art, Characters, Abstract, and Nature. Each week we hosted rounds of voting, with artists and audience rooting for their favorite through our Instagram Stories – and after a month of voting across 30 rounds – there was one clear winner: Flavia Chan, aka CatsCanPuke.

The Vancouver artist, whose work she describes as “always cute, sometimes sad” was the crowd favorite. Behind bright eyes and cherub-like heads there’s a hint of melancholy to her work. Her specialities include pen and ink, watercolor, digital painting, and toy customization, though recently she’s expanded in larger work and acrylics.

Flavia Chan has exhibited her work internationally, taking part in public art projects, and creating published works. Her love for art events led her to opening up her own gallery in Vancouver, One More Life. Beyond her art career, she enjoys teaching kids and encouraging them “to just have fun and be creative.”

UP Magazine recently got the chance to chat with her about career – read below to learn more about this talented artist and our 2023 winner!

 

T.K.: When did you first start exploring your creativity?

Flavia Chan: It’s honestly always difficult to answer this one! I’d like to think that I have been exploring my creativity ever since I could hold a pen. My mom was obsessed with making home videos of me and my sister in our daily lives, and that was a lot of evidence of how drawing just became my place of peace ever since I was little.

Drawing was just always my go to in finding a way to escape into another world and release my emotions.

 

T.K.: Where does the name/handle ‘Cats Can Puke’ come from? 

Flavia Chan: My handle, Catscanpuke, is reminiscent of my younger self and angstier days. Believe it or not, my artwork was not always cute. In high school, as much as I always loved cute things, I was also heavily inspired by darker themed artworks and artists! These darker inspirations were evidently in my earlier artworks; I loved drawing puking cats, monsters, and eyeballs popping out of sockets.

I really let the angst and anger in me drive the theme and feel of my artwork. As I grew up, somehow, some of those feelings subsided a little and just kind of left me with melancholy.

Nowadays, I still love drawing cats and I continue to use the handle because it still resonates with me. Art to me, is similar to puking. You take in all that the world around you have to offer, whether it be in nature, people, or just the state of the world, and sometime later, you find yourself hunched over and pouring it all out onto a piece of paper.

“Art to me, is similar to puking. You take in all that the world around you have to offer, whether it be in nature, people, or just the state of the world, and sometime later, you find yourself hunched over and pouring it all out onto a piece of paper.”

 

T.K.: What inspired your character design? Why do you like to do ‘cutesy’ characters? What aspects of the melancholy do you incorporate, and why?

Flavia Chan: Most of my characters follow a 1:1 ratio, where their head size is approximately the size of their bodies. I learned in school that this is how you can achieve maximum cuteness and it’s stuck with me ever since! I want to make sure that my characters are cute and seemingly sweet and innocent, so that when inserting them into sad or difficult stories, it is that much more impactful and heart-wrenching. It’s also amusing to see how sometimes someone will be really drawn to my artwork because it’s cute and then they will take a step back when they see the tears or heavy feelings in my illustrations.

Even though I use creatures as the main subject in my artwork, I do think that people also see themselves in my artwork. I think that inside all of us, there is just some cute, sweet, soft creature that sometimes sobs alone and is unsure of what to do.

In some way, all my sad little characters are a reflection or tiny piece of me. I take whatever unhappy emotions I have, like grief, heartache, or loneliness and just pour it out and it becomes these sad little things.

 

T.K.: What attracts you to drawing animals / mythical creatures?

Flavia Chan: Another big inspiration of mine are fairy tales and fables. In those stories, every animal and creature exist just like a human, with emotions, intentions, personality, and a story that shows you why they are how they are.

I like to use animals and creatures to convey my emotions and state of mind. Sometimes it is just easier to express my thoughts and feelings behind an illustration of a sad little creature than to come right out and say it myself. It can get difficult to stare right into the face of so much sadness, and it is a little easier to introduce a creature to carry that burden instead in my artwork.

“I like to use animals and creatures to convey my emotions and state of mind.”

 

T.K.: How did you get involved with street art and mural making?

Flavia Chan: I got the chance to design and work on my first mural back in 2018 when the art school I was teaching at extended the opportunity for me to bring some color to a dimly light stairwell that really needed new life. That was my very first mural experience, and it was really cool that I got to lead the kids from the art school in the actual painting of the mural.

I’ve since then got to design and paint a couple of murals and work on some public art projects!

If we want to go back to much younger days, there were definitely some nooks and crannies in my old neighborhood that I put some art on. I used to make little drawings on labels and silkscreened prints to wheat paste around my neighborhood.

I’ve always loved how artists will just find the space to be creative. We don’t just wait for chances to come along, sometimes we just claim little spaces to share our creativity.

“I’ve always loved how artists will just find the space to be creative. We don’t just wait for chances to come along, sometimes we just claim little spaces to share our creativity.”

 

T.K.: How did you hear about the March Madness Tournament and what were your thoughts on competing?

Flavia Chan: I heard about the March Madness Tournament through Instagram!

The competition was really fun for me! Much love to BeerCanvas and UP Magazine for hosting the friendly competition. I felt lucky to compete against such awesome and talented artists. Every artist was so humble and kind, it really had a lovely sense of community.

The competition was a really good opportunity for me to think outside of the box for my design, I was so used to just seeing my artwork on paper and toys, I hadn’t thought of putting my artwork on a glass before.

Everyone’s support during the tournament meant a lot to me. It was humbling to know that people not only wanted to see my artwork, but to also have it as a glass in their home that they can use to enjoy their beer!

It also felt extra special to get to win a competition based in New York. I’m originally from New York and I had always wished that a part of me could’ve stayed there and be a part of the art scene there. And getting to win the tournament just felt like full circle.

I like to see every gallery show, competition, or project as a chance to challenge myself and grow.

“I like to see every gallery show, competition, or project as a chance to challenge myself and grow.”

 

T.K.: In what ways has social media impacted your artistic practice? 

Flavia Chan: Social media has been quite influential in my artistic practise.

I’ve been so lucky to develop relationships with other artists and creatives through social media. There are artists who I’ve followed for like a decade and it’s been so amazing to watch them grow and expand their careers.

Aside from relationships, social media keeps me aware of events happening like the March Madness Tournament and encourages me to take part in fun projects and opportunities that often transcend my physical boundaries. Social media offers accessibility to new ideas, people, and even events. That is the feature of social media that I really appreciate.

Without social media, I wouldn’t have been a part of things like my first solo show in the US with StrangeCat Toys or the March Madness Tournament.

 

 

 

T.K.: What was the experience like for your first solo exhibition in the US (‘Grown from Tears’ at StrangeCat Toys in 2023)?

Flavia Chan: It was awesome! Strangecat Toys invited me to have a solo exhibition in the beginning of 2023 and I was absolutely over the moon! I was so surprised and humbled to have Strangecat Toys appreciate my artwork and take a chance on me.

While I’ve had the privilege of being in group shows based in the States before, I had never been invited to have a solo or even been able to see any of the shows in person myself. Grown From Tears was such a meaningful show to me because it truly encouraged me to keep going during a time when I felt so low in regard to the age old of question of “what should I even do with my life?”

Most of the artworks in Grown From Tears featured crying characters. It was my take on how sometimes we do have to go through all the sadness and difficult times in order to grow and move on.

The invitation to have a solo show really helped rekindle my pursuit of art. I was challenged in toy customizing since I got the opportunity to customize different toy platforms for the show. I also gained new confidence and perspective in knowing that there are those who do resonate with my artwork and want to support me as an artist. It was truly my honour to get to show with Strangecat Toys in that capacity.

 

T.K.: Do you approach painting a wall differently than an illustration? 

Flavia Chan: Yes and no. Painting a wall requires a lot more planning ahead. Aside from the subject matter and layout, I also must prepare and have a solid idea of what I want to do for the colors so that I can get necessary materials. Whereas with illustrations, the coloring portion is a more experimental part of the process for me, and my artwork could end up consisting of a few different mediums.

Painting a wall also means I have to plan out my time accordingly; like when is that wall accessible, will the weather have an effect, and do I need any extra help?

 

T.K.: Can you tell me more about your pop-up gallery ‘One More Life?’

Flavia Chan: I created One More Life, a pop-up gallery, about half a year ago, with the intention to bring more accessible, fun art shows and events to the community. Over the years, I’ve found that spaces for creatives to gather and showcase their work was rarer and rarer. Instead of waiting for shows to take place around me, I thought I’d take the lead and just organize some instead!

My love for gallery shows was ignited ever since I tended bar for Hot Art Wet City, an awesome gallery in Vancouver that gave so many artists the chance to share their artwork, and for creatives to connect and bond. It was at this gallery that I got to try my hand at curating and received so much support from the owner, Chris Bentzen. Even though the gallery closed a handful of years ago, it really made a lasting impression on me. The work experience I had there, along with my participation in gallery shows, sparked my passion for organizing art shows.

Our very first group show was the ‘Spooky Postcard Show’, and it featured over 60 artists and 300 pieces of artwork. It was a successful first show and I felt so lucky to have not only a large roster of artists put their trust in me and support my vision, but also for the community to come together and celebrate art.

Accessibility is a very important aspect of One More Life; I always do my best to have a free workshop that coincides with the show to encourage everyone to join in, take inspiration from the artwork, and create their own.

The motto for One More Life is:

‘It ain’t over yet! So let’s do what we want, create what we want, and see where it goes!’

And luckily enough for me, that’s basically what I’m doing now!

“It ain’t over yet! So let’s do what we want, create what we want, and see where it goes!”

 

T.K.: What is the Vancouver art scene like?

Flavia Chan: Very talented! There’s so many artists here that come from a wide range of backgrounds and they all shine. The variety of artistic discipline is what really amazes me and reminds me that whatever you love doing, there is a space for you.

T.K.: What are your long-term goals as an artist?

Flavia Chan: My long-term goals as an artist is to be able to make a living doing what I love. I will always come back to art in some way no matter what, I’ve tried a handful of times to close that chapter in my life and I now know it’s just too hard for me to leave behind!

I want to share my artwork wherever I can and hopefully it resonates with someone.

I hope to continue to exhibit around the world, and hopefully work my way up to some solo shows in a new country! I would also really love to one day have my own original characters become art toys and have their stories told!

I also want to dedicate energy and time to creating more spaces and opportunities for artists to showcase their artwork, and for any and everyone to rediscover the joy of creating.

Oh and of course every now and then I’ll draw a cat puking, just for fun.

 

To learn more about Flavia, make sure to check out her website catscanpuke.com

T.K. Mills is the Editor-in-Chief of UP Magazine, a street art publication based in New York City. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, he discovered a love for graffiti while backpacking through Cuba and pursued life as a writer. Outside of UP,  T.K. enjoys writing poetry, personal travel essays, and occasionally short stories. His work has been published in The Smart SetThe Vignette ReviewGenre Urban Arts, and Eternal Remedy among others. Beyond art, T.K. loves reading and traveling.

    @t.k.m85

    tkmills85@gmail.com

    www.tkmills.com