What should you see and where should you eat when you come to George Town?
According to artist Vanessa Ho, there are at least 80 things to see, do and eat here that she has documented, replete with colourful illustrations in a book titled GT 80.
Commissioned by George Town Festival (GTF) to put together the book within two months, Ho has skilfully captured the nuances of George Town’s beauty through her strokes of watercolour illustrations.
Ho, who is from Kedah, visited George Town several times to personally taste the food and visit the places before immortalising these in her illustrations.
“I did a lot of online research first and then I visit all these places to make sure these places still exist and I also tried all the food that were featured in the book,” she said in a recent interview with Malay Mail Online.
The list of 80 things were also finalised with GTF director Joe Sidek before she started work on the book.
It was no easy task because Ho only began in May, and took over 700 hours of work to rush to complete it in time to be launched during Macam-Macam ASEAN last weekend.
She started the book with introductions to the George Town World Heritage Incorporated building in Acheen Street, the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower in Lebuh Light and historical places in George Town before on to traditional trades such as the flower garland makers along Queen Street, Chulia Street and Market Street, the songkok maker in King Street and local hawker fare.
Each page is filled with her illustration of the location or food, along with a brief description and history of each.
In between, she inserted a full page on the intricate tiles of George Town and another, on the many items related to the Penang Baba Nyonya culture.
Uniquely restored and repurposed buildings such as 23, Love Lane and Seven Terraces, both of which are now boutique hotels, are also featured.
Ho was not always a full-time artist prior to her return to Malaysia. She studied in Taiwan and subsequently worked there, and only returned to Malaysia in 2013 after spending 15 years studying and working overseas.
“I was working in an advertising agency but not as an artist, as an assistant and I did translations,” she said.
Ho likes to draw and paint as a hobby and had never considered turning it into a full time career until she came home.
“After living overseas for so long, I decided to come home to my family in Kedah and I was only doing illustrations to past time,” she said.
Her big break came when Sin Chew Daily commissioned her to draw illustrations for one of the newspaper’s weekly column last year.
“That was when I started getting commissioned work and I started to take it seriously as a career,” she said.
This year, the 38-year-old attended a design workshop organised by Think City and George Town Festival where she met Joe.
“After he saw my presentation at the workshop, he was interested in my work and asked me to meet him to develop something for George Town Festival and that is how this book came about,” she said.
GT 80 features more than 20 different types of food, over 20 grand heritage buildings and 30 places to visit and traditional trades to see.
Ho’s book is still available for sale at GTF office in Armenian Street. Find out more about GTF events at georgetownfestival.com.