Cheeming Boey has taken one of the most disposable, valueless byproducts of Western society and transformed it with substance and value. Boey performs his alchemy on these toss-away with beautiful, at times incredibly intricate pieces of art. Using only a Sharpie and sheer creativity, Boey’s unique choice of canvas has earned him the title of the Styrofoam Cup King of the illustration world. Born in Malaysia, Cheeming spent much of his childhood playing with bugs and birds on his dad’s pigeon farm where an appreciation for nature and its forms were first instilled. He went on to study art in Singapore before working in Thailand as a freelance T-Shirt designer. Soon after, the draw of San Francisco pulled Cheeming to California where he majored in animation. Now Boey indulges his Styrofoam Cup fetish while working full time as an animator… I wonder which is more creative?

Out of all the canvas options, how did you land on a Styrofoam cup?
I started drawing on the foam cup initially, not by choice, but because I didn’t have paper at that time.

Has anyone ever accidentally thrown away one of your coffee cups?
I gave my very first cup to a friend. I told him that it might be worth money one day, and I said, “Don’t throw it away.” When my works became viral, I asked him if he still had the cup, and he told me his girlfriend threw it away. I believe he probably thought it was trash as well, but he said he tried to stop her. Hard to believe, but yes, hes “accidentally” throw it away.

I’ve read the longest you’ve spent on one cup was 3 months.  Which cup was that? Was that mostly conceptual, or do you spend that time on drawing?
The Quatrain of Seven Steps cup took an extremely long time. Much of it was planning. I knew what I wanted to draw, but because I draw directly on the cups with a sharpie, there is no room for error. I spend a great deal of time just staring at the space, and planning. Things are much harder when there is overlapping. If it was a hand holding a dagger with a piece of tassel attached to the handle, I have to draw the tassel first before the handle.

Hit the Jump to continue reading our interview with Cheeming Boey with an additional gallery of exclusive images…

On average, how long do it take you to make one?
I work on multiple cups at the same time, usually 3-5. When I am stuck on ideas for one, I will move on to another. I would say the average time for the cups are a month each.

What is your creative process? Can you tell me a bit about your technique? It seems you switch up styles easily — some are pointillism, some sketch.
I usually start with an idea, and a rough idea of how it would look like, composition wise. Then I’ll listen to a lot of music when I work. Usually a track would stick, and I would play it over and over until the drawing is done. The music usually sets the mood for that cup, and sometimes I would also lift the titles of my work from lines in the song that stand out to me. Technique wise, I like to not have a drawing style that people can identify as mine. I like to be as diverse as possible, which is why I deploy a wide range of drawing techniques. I like my art to appeal to as many people as possible, and I think limiting myself to a certain style limits my audience as well.

How do you decide on a design for each cup? Do you have a favorite?
I don’t really have a design set in stone when I draw. Most of my pieces look completely different from what I had in mind when I started. The cups take a while to finish, and the designs change over time.  I don’t have a favorite, I have several I just cannot part with.

You’re the Styrofoam cup king, but do you recycle?
Am I not recycling?

If you could switch places and have any other job, what would you like to do?
I’m currently an animator at my 9-5 job. And that’s my dream job. If i could have another job, I would like to be James Bond. There are some people I work with that are not so diligent; I wouldn’t mind shooting them.

You said earlier that you listen to music when you work — what do you listen to?
I listen to everything. Everything.

Did you watch cartoons as a kid? What was your favorite show?

I read your interview with Sharpie. You seem to use them a lot, do you have a lifetime supply?
I have quite a lot, but not a lifetime supply of Sharpie. I should.

What’s the most interesting example of design work you’ve seen over the last year?
I would say Offbeat Earth‘s brilliant ways to reuse books.

Lastly, if you were lost in a supermarket, in what aisle would we find you in?
I love supermarkets. I meander through all the aisles, except the pet food and cleaning supply aisle.

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