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Creative Collaborations: Cindy Leong, Visual Artist - Esse

Creative Collaborations: Cindy Leong, Visual Artist

At the heart of Esse is a deep appreciation for the process of creating and craftsmanship. As creatives ourselves, we're often stimulated by the work and craft of other artists and makers, and we believe that by supporting and nurturing a community of like-minded creatives, we can foster thought and enrich each other. In this ongoing series entitled Creative Collaborations, we engage with creatives of all disciplines, explore other fields of making and collaborate to create original objects that celebrate the beauty of handmade. 

To kick things off, we share a special collaboration with New Zealand artist, Cindy Leong, who is no stranger to our brand. We first met Cindy over Instagram in 2019. During that time, Cindy was travelling to Japan for a year and we had put a potential opportunity to work together on hold. In 2020, a serendipitous opportunity brought us together again, and our working relationship started over a cup of coffee.


A collage that Cindy created for us in March 2021.


When we first met Cindy, we were drawn towards her grounded nature and peaceful aura. We found a lot of common ground in her approach to the image-making process, as we were both drawn to the natural outdoors and a more conscious approach to living. On the other end of the spectrum, Cindy exudes creativity and a child-like curiosity, and her fearless and forthcoming nature often allows a piece of work to blossom into something beautiful and unique in her hands. Having dabbled in a variety of photography genres, Cindy hardly shies away from trying new things or expressing herself visually, leading to a host of creative and commissioned projects that have been exciting for the both of us.

Over time, as our working relationship developed, a conversation developed organically, and we decided to create a tangible piece of work together, that extended beyond the digital realm. We’re honoured to be able to share a series of artworks created by Cindy, that have been inspired by nature and Esse's understated colour palette, that have been translated into greeting cards and art prints. 

Read on as we speak to Cindy Leong about her practice, creative process and the inspiration behind our latest collaboration. 


Hi Cindy! Tell us more about yourself.

Hi Alicia! This is such a broad request! I suppose I could start by saying I’m a Malaysian-Chinese-Kiwi born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland). Throughout my life I’ve been a curious and creative person, often wanting to try new things and express myself visually. At the moment I have been engaged mostly with painting and photography.

You’re a self-taught artist and you picked up painting over the years, before deciding to attend art classes and enrol for art school. It’s an unconventional route – tell us how you developed a passion for creating art and why you decided to study art.

I’ve always loved painting from a young age and was involved with some form of art up until my final year of high school. I never considered art as a career path and looking back I don’t know why – it could be partly societal conditioning that art should always just remain a hobby, that it was only reserved for the ‘Masters’ or that anyone pursuing art would become the stereotypical image of a starving artist. Fast forward through years of university and working in the corporate world, at the age of 25 I took the leap and started from square one again. I self-learnt photography and freelanced over a few years which gradually gave me the confidence to pursue a creative, self-employed career. My transition into painting then started when I took a few art classes here and there as I missed painting when I was a child. Then momentum took hold and I found myself itching to paint. I don’t believe there is one path to become an artist as there are many successful artists with different backgrounds. The importance of going to art school is mixed however my decision to study it now is mainly to have access to the facilities, develop practical skills and build a network of like-minded people.

What is your design ethos/ aesthetic?

My visual choices are mainly guided by how something makes me feel rather than what it is or looks like. Due to this I don’t have any set rules - I just let my innate feelings guide me which usually feels best when something is calm. Visually this can result in lots of empty space, ordered lines, and muted earth tones. Something I do know for sure is that my process involves a lot of reduction.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

Philosophy and nature are my two most profound forms of inspiration. I often ponder life’s big questions and have resonated the most with taoist and buddhist philosophy. Reading books like the Tao Te Ching and partaking in Vipassana silent meditation retreats have been transformational to my perspective on life. Also living in picturesque New Zealand has been a big influence. Whether it’s looking out in the horizon of the ocean, observing the patterns made in the sand by the wind or sunlight casting shadows through a blanket of leaves, there is a lot to be learnt and experienced through nature.

What are some concepts or themes that you’re exploring at the moment?

Acceptance and Impermanence.


Do you have any short-term and long-term plans for your artistic journey?

Short term would be to graduate from art school (though this is proving tricky due to lockdowns) and to have a solo show. Long term is to just enjoy living as a working artist.

We’re very lucky to have met you, and to have been able to work with you over the past year to photograph for Esse. I feel like we have a very similar ethos, and it’s nice to find someone who understands our creative vision and is able to execute it beautifully all the time. What does this collaboration mean to you? 

Thank you, I am very lucky to have met you too. I love being able to collaborate with others, especially as we can fuse ideas together rather than being isolated in our own heads! As we have a very similar ethos, this collaboration has felt very aligned for me and I truly enjoy working with you. 


Where did you draw inspiration for this particular series of paintings from?

When working on this series of works I thought about the driving principles of Esse, the impetus of why it was formed and correlated this with my own meaning for being an artist and the context behind my paintings. I found we strongly aligned in our love for nature and adapting a slower, more conscious lifestyle.


“I had a lot of fun creating the artwork for this. It challenged me to think in a different way - on how to make this Esse yet retain my own artistic style and contextual meaning. After a few trials of different concepts, I came to a final decision which I felt embodied the aspects we are both aligned in - calmness, simplicity and nature (with the artworks hinting at an abstract resemblance of landscape).

You'll find lined strokes have been continued in each piece, representing a mark of time, a meditative repetition of inhalation and exhalation. It also follows in the same vein of the stripe pattern in the outfits I have chosen for inspiration.”

How do you switch between the headspace of being a photographer and artist? 

There isn’t really an on and off switch I toggle between to get in the modes of either practices, they are both so fluid in what you might be tasked with. The two being in the space of visual communication work well symbiotically however have their nuanced challenges. Photography requires problem solving and technical thinking on the spot as there are often variables out of your control. Painting can involve a lot of internal battles as you are creating something out of nothing. A blank canvas can be very confronting and you feel through your art a part of your soul is exposed for the world to see. It’s a nice relief to be able to change things up and work between both modes – though they can equally give you a pretty strained back!


What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently working on multiple things all at once – collaborations, exhibitions, commissions, updating my website etc., the list is never ending. 

This holiday season, Cindy Leong creates 3 exclusive artworks for Esse drawing on aspects that inspire both her practice and our brand’s design ethos. These have been translated into fine art prints and greeting cards that are now available online and in-store.

'Sweeping Serenade'

'By The Riverside'

'Solace In The West'

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