Staff Reporters
Dec 16, 2021

Creative Minds: Nafe Tong's doodles and poems take flight

The creative and brand partner at Adwright in Singapore answers 11 of our questions. Learn how his 'lazy bone' sometimes leads to creative inspiration and see the work he's done to speak on behalf of the wrongly imprisoned.

Creative Minds: Nafe Tong's doodles and poems take flight
In Creative Minds, we get to know APAC creatives through their answers to 11 questions, ranging from serious to silly (Why 11? Just because). Want to be featured?

Name: Nafe Tong

Origin: Singapore

Places lived/worked: Singapore

Pronouns: He/him

CV:

  • Creative and brand partner, Adwright (2013-present)
  • Art director, AdBox Advertising (2012-2013)
  • Senior designer, Euro Group (2009-2011)
  • Junior art director, Crush Advertising (2008-2009)
  • Graphic designer, Adwright (2006-2008)

1. How did you end up being a creative?

As the cliché goes, I used to love drawing and was extremely imaginative when I was a kid. On top of that, I was very keen in languages and loved to write. I hated math and after my ‘O’ levels, I went to visit LaSalle (then LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts) and immediately fell in love with the aura and charming vibe of the compound. I’ve never looked back since.

I was pretty intrigued and challenged with the fact that my doodles and poems could make a living and would enable someone’s products or services to do good and take flight.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

This set of two posters. It was for a local non-profit organisation—ACRES (Animal Concerns & Research Education Society). I deeply admire the work that Louis Ng (founder of ACRES) has done and was inspired by his constant advocacy in freeing the captive dolphins back then.


It was a work purely done out of passion, and having watched dolphins swam freely in the wild, I firmly believe that they do not belong to aquariums. When the news of another two deceased dolphins broke, we did a followup.

I’ve actually worked on a couple of similar initiatives—from the advocacy of humane-killing of chickens (for PETA Asia) to anti-bear bile campaigns (ACRES). Passion projects like these allow any creatives to be more expressive, with no boundaries.

To date, I am still advocating for the release of the captive mammals. They are defenseless and they do not have a voice. What we can’t hear doesn’t mean there is no cry for help.

Commercial work wise, best is yet to come.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

Peta's 'Fur is dead' [Warning: Video shows a violent attack on a woman.]

I swing to extreme ends with my creative process—either they slant towards the evocative route, or it can go extremely provocative. I don’t really fancy the neutral and safe concepts. To me, any other agency would be able to achieve that. A piece of good work must make an impact.

I was first shown this video by an external lecturer when I was still a student, and I remembered very clearly the impact it left me. It was shocking and somewhat confusing, I didn’t understand what I should feel. It was to me, simple and effective. It went on to leave a deep influence on how I would go on to find my creative path.

Like I said, a good piece of work could be divisive. But it must set one thinking.

4. Who was the most important person in your life that wasn’t your parent?

I shall list two.

Nur Hidayah, Dean of LaSalle College of the Arts. One handwritten line from her (she may not even remember it) when I was still a student under her stewardship has left such a profound impact in my career. I always believe a teacher can make or break a student’s mentality.

My mentor, Danny, whom founded Adwright 25 years ago. Having graduated from LaSalle with high honours, I thought I could make magic out of everything. Danny interviewed me and my (over)confidence intrigued him enough to offer me my first job. I was brought down to earth and was humbled by what the industry expected of me immediately. I wasn’t as good as what the college perceived me to be. Throughout my two years with Adwright, I mastered a lot of fundamentals that as I progressed into larger agencies, those skills that I had honed would prove to be beneficial.

About eight years back, Danny invited me back to head and run the agency. I was made partner. He has since taken a step back and left Adwright under my leadership.

5. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

Definitely under pressure. I have this lazy bone in me, and it takes a lot of disciple to keep that in check. Calmness sets me into a comfort zone. I am not a believer that comfort sets one creative. Most of the craziest ideas I had were derived from high-pressure moments. I like to be challenged.

6. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.

Honestly, I don’t believe that there is a 'worst' job. Every place I’ve been to has taught me something in life. As a barista, I learnt to smile and appreciated the service crew. It taught me to be patient to all the servers out there. And even when you served under a horrible superior, it will teach you not to be like him or her when you were given the chance to lead one day.

7. Tell us about your tattoo(s).

I’ve a few. My favourites will be the signatures of my two boys, Ayden and Ethan. I’d never wanted kids, but when they were born into my life, my sense of purpose pivoted. The ink on me will remind me of that every single day of my life.

8. What makes you really angry?

Ignorant and irrelevant clients that still want to prove a point. Trust your agencies. They do what they are doing for a living.

9. Cat person or dog person?

Dog. I had three (one belonged to my sister). I told myself not to have another after my charismatic golden retriever left me five years ago. He was 14. Would like to think that he lived a full life. He was my big bud, my best friend. Irreplaceable.

10. Extrovert or introvert?

Ambivert? Does it make sense? I believe everything has a balance. I used to be an introvert by nature, but as time went by and as business progressed, it came a circumstance that I’ve had to bring out a side in me to song-and-dance. It’s never about myself anymore when you’ve the responsibility to lead the entire team.

That said, I will always make it a point to wind down alone. A drink at a bar at the end of the day, a movie and a swim on a weekly basis—just to be in touch with my soul. It is important not to lose that and it recharges me for a fresh day ahead. Keeps me sane.

11. Any regrets?

Was headhunted to venture into China 10 over years ago—twice. I believed the scene was blooming back then and they wanted to gather bilingual talents to spruce the industry up. I didn’t pursue as I wasn’t ready to leave the family behind. Could have broadened my senses and sharpened my acumen then.

I have to say the creative scene over there is very mature and vibrant now.

There will be plenty of regrets in life, but no point dwelling, instead just push on and progress. To all young talents out there, follow the passion and success will follow.

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