Vancouver artist Ann Fu isn’t easily categorized. She paints watercolours, draws comics and zines, and creates Mandarin characters in calligraphy. In addition, she devised characters for a historical exhibition at TAIWANfest celebrations in Toronto and Vancouver. Plus, Fu has written a playful children’s book about her beloved dog Momo. And she’s highlighted lesser-known species in a series about wildlife on different continents.
“I’m just jumping around, seeing what interests me,” Fu tells Pancouver over coffee a few blocks from her Kitsilano home.
Fu realizes that focusing on one area would help brand her as an artist and possibly lead to more sales. However, she is not interested in limiting her creative output.
“I don’t want to do this one thing,” Fu declares in a lighthearted tone. “I kind of want to try everything.”
Fu has a whimsical side as an artist, which is reflected in her book, What Is Momo Up To? One painting shows Momo—who’s part lab, part border collie, and part Rottweiler—performing opera. In another painting, Momo is on her back on a pool flotation device. She’s wearing a swimsuit and shades, soaking up the sunshine.
“The book featuring her was originally a series of quick paintings done when wildfire smoke kept us indoors one week in 2022, and the cover depicts a memory of a drive home after kayaking,” Fu explains. “Mo was resting on the window sill with her eyes closed, nose twitching, washed with dusk light, and it was so beautiful I wanted to capture the essence of that moment. The rest simply followed.”
Fu embraces conservation and culture
In addition, Fu has a keen interest in wildlife and conservation. This is demonstrated in the brightly coloured Earth Day – Asia, which features 17 species living on this sprawling continent. Another vibrant piece in the unfinished series, Earth Day – Africa, showcases 15 species.
She quips that she only has five more continents to go. Fu, who was born and raised in Taiwan, even shows her love of the natural world through body art.
“My tattoos are mostly of Taiwanese plants and birds,” she says.
In fact, she’s considering creating a separate piece about animals that only exist in Taiwan.
“We do have a lot of really fascinating endemic species, as many islands do,” Fu notes.
Fu’s eclectic artistic practice also includes investigating her Taiwanese culture. For example, she created the Traditional Chinese characters for “Taiwan” (台灣) in calligraphy and then decided to do something different with them.
“I scanned and brought them into Procreate, distorting them slightly to form the shape of the island of Taiwan,” she reveals. “I’m going to screen print that on to shirts. It’s been really fun to just play with shapes and characters.”
It’s not her only work that incorporates graphic design. A couple of years ago, Fu launched a series on zodiac signs popular in East Asia. She takes ancient text and overlays it on a silhouette of a horse, monkey, rabbit, et cetera.
“I’m stuck on the dragon,” Fu says. “It keeps looking like a worm.”
From architect to professional artist
The freedom that she enjoys as an artist stands in contrast to her previous career as an architect, mostly in Seattle. Fu’s projects included Seattle Opera at the Center, the University of Washington Life Sciences Building, and the FareStart Restaurant interior. While she loved working on-site with tradespeople, other aspects of the job were very demanding.
“Everything is on such a tight schedule and there’s constantly high stress,” Fu says.
Then there were city officials’ demands regarding their municipal policies and building-code issues. She recalls spending one summer in Seattle working 70- to 80-hour weeks to ensure everything was completed on time.
Fu also has a passion for doodling, which began in her childhood in Taipei.
“I was a very introverted kid,” Fu states. “I would be shut up in my room, drawing things; I made up my own games and cards.”
She even created her own homework, filling in different worksheets for each of her stuffed animals.
Building a new life in Canada
When Fu was five years old, her parents took their creative daughter on a one-year sabbatical in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That’s when Fu began learning English. She returned to the U.S. for another year at the age of 12, further improving her English. Fu was then sent off to a boarding school in Illinois at the age of 17 with the belief that it would enhance her chance of getting into a U.S. college.
She later studied architecture at the University of Washington. In high school, she started drawing things for her friends on their birthdays—something that she continued doing at the post-secondary level.
“People started saying you could get paid to do this,” Fu recalls. “I was like, ‘Why would anyone pay for this?’ ”
Nowadays, she’s regularly commissioned to create works of art. Fu has also shown her art at a Pancakes and Booze event and will be part of a group exhibition at Slice in East Vancouver in February. She strongly urges people to support local businesses, including those that sell products created by artists and craftspeople in the community.
Despite her upbeat disposition, things haven’t always been easy for Fu. She has coped with depression, anxiety, and other difficulties, but she doesn’t let these things define her. Sometimes, she incorporates her passion for mental heath into her art.
“We’re more than the trauma,” Fu insists.
After graduating from university, Fu was able to say in the U.S. on work visas. But by 2020, the last of them was about to expire so her employer transferred her to Vancouver. Fu drove across the border with Momo and created a new life in B.C. In February, she became a permanent resident of Canada.
Not long after, a health scare convinced Fu to leave architecture and “pursue what truly nourishes and fascinates me, and brings me joy”.
Fu collects children’s books
One of her joyful pursuits is children’s books. She recently started collecting them, including works that she loved as a child. Her favourite illustrators in those days included Garth Williams, Quentin Blake, Arnold Lobel, Lillian Hoban, and Beatrix Potter.
She admires great children’s book authors and illustrators who are able to convey so much in such a concise manner.
“There are children’s books that make me cry,” Fu says. “All the books that made me cry were children’s books.”
Then she lets out another laugh before conveying a more serious point.
“My favorite books are usually ones that make me cry, and learning how to process emotions is important for kids.”
Fortunately, nobody dies in What Is Momo Up To?, which is available for sale on her website.
Fu is sensitive to the world around her, which is why she sometimes has difficulty drawing when focused on the many atrocities being carried out in the world. And she acknowledges that she sometimes feels that she should be creating art that has a social or political impact. But it doesn’t come naturally to her—at least not at this point in her life.
“I don’t have that emotional capacity,” Fu says. “I’m more of the ‘draw some things that make us feel some joy.’ ”