JOURNAL // 1 Jan 2019
My first years
I started getting interested in art about two years ago, thanks to encouragement from my partner Winnie Lim. She believed I must have loved art since I chose to study it as an elective in secondary school, so why not pick it up again? And so two decades after brushing art off, we got reacquainted.
This was one of my first pieces when I started, it is a painting of W painting in one of our rare art jamming sessions. It was my first time using watercolours, they were bought for W because she wanted to try painting.
I enjoyed art so much I often looked forward to the next chance to make something new. This was one of the main reasons why in March 2018 I quit my dream job in sustainability (10 months from time of writing), to buy myself time to explore this part of me. I was lucky to have some savings to get by on, and the support of my family (or at least non-objection), yet it wasn’t an easy decision to drop out of a proper full time job, particularly because this was a narrative that did not exist for me growing up in the pragmatic Singapore.
At some point in the past couple of months, I started to call myself an artist. The label seemed to describe what I do yet it felt alien and uncomfortable. But as W says, you don’t have to be good at art to be an artist, you just have to make art.
Getting to know myself and knowingness
The main reason I want to explore art is to get to know myself. Creating things is such a direct way of getting to know what’s inside me, what I’m made of, what I am capable of.
I struggle a lot with the opposing desires for validation and being true to myself. The primitive part of me wants to make things that are well liked because to her that is a measure of whether she has produced good work. If popular art were the goal, I would have to take note of which pieces bring in the ‘likes’ and make more of those. I could also look around and see what is popular, what gets sold, and adopt that style. I could spend more time on marketing and networking to promote my work.
Then there is another part of me that sees the falsity in letting ‘likes’ direct my journey in art. If my goal is to have a better understanding of myself, my art will need to be self-directed. I will need to learn how not to depend on external validation. Without the need for validation, there is no rejection to speak of.
I have found that I enjoy meticulously painting in the details of highlights and shadows like in the painting above, and I also enjoy making really quick and gestural pieces like the one below. From my experience, most people appreciate detailed / photorealistic art more, perhaps because technical skills are easier to judge as opposed to expressiveness.
I learnt that I think in diagrams:
On this road trip of ours, a rather abstract image has popped into my mind again and again — that of a curved line winding up and down as it cuts through a horizontal straight line. I see this as the meanders we take, where we veer in and out of the comfort zone, to re-enter the everyday constant as a new moment. akin to how time can only be experienced through the perception of change. I tried to represent this through the beautiful mountains of NZ in their passage through time.
I have also discovered a certain knowingness through art. Life is so complex, with no clear answers on what the right thing to do is at any given moment. With art, every micro-action stems from a decision: what brush do I use, what colour, how does the brush approach the paper, where do I place it, how should it feel, when is a piece complete? It would seem impossible to process each of these decisions with the logical mind. There is a need to tap into something deeper inside, the part of you that just knows, and to trust that.
“Pauline’s Peonies” was a commissioned piece and the largest watercolour I have ever worked on at 80 x 80 cm. It was challenging because this was new territory, even buying the backing to stretch the paper was a hurdle as we got stopped by an MRT train official.
Yet in the many attempts I made for “Pauline’s Peonies” I learnt so much about perseverance and the willingness to try, without really knowing what I was doing. When I saw the painting the next day, I wasn’t sure how that happened. To develop that sense of knowingness I need to get comfortable with my fear of failure, with letting go of control, and surrender.
The peonies commission was followed by this one for white and lime hydrangeas, commissioned by W’s friend, Eric. W and I had some conflict during the time I was working on this and attempting several versions to try to get it right. I was facing the challenge of rendering the small hydrangea flowers in the style of the large-petaled peonies, as well as the challenge of painting white flowers on white paper. She gave me a number of suggestions that I tried and got frustrated with because it felt like I was stabbing around in the dark. I realised that I need to have the core vision inside me from which the peripherals would flow, rather than trying to build the painting using only peripherals.
I can actually feel the difference that practice brings. Things that I do repeatedly get easier, and the act of doing it gets more enjoyable.
I’ve put this painting in the section on “Practice” because I learnt so much from working on it. Perhaps I tried to fly before I could run, and basic things like drawing animals accurately were challenging. From the first leaf painted at the bottom left to the last finishing touches, I had painted more plants and animals than I ever did before, and came out of it almost as a different person.
It was also such a complex layout there was no way I could plan and sketch properly before going into execution. I was encroaching on the blank paper bit by bit, afraid that at any moment I would make a mistake and ruin the entire painting. (Watercolour is a bit more unforgiving than some other media because of its transparent nature.) I am just glad that Shihui and Nick were happy with the end result and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to paint their “Garden of Eden” — I have learnt so much more about myself and what I can do.
Forever a beginner
While recognising the value of practice, I hope to retain my willingness to always try new things, and step outside of my comfort zone. If I don’t try all sorts of things, how will I know what I really like doing, and what tools I can choose from to make art?
Trying out different kinds of paint:
Trying out different surfaces:
Trying out different concepts:
Trying out animation:
Trying to paint on canvases big and small:
In Dec 2017, I set up an Etsy shop to sell art. I was rather idealistic:
I have since dropped the pay what you can feature but kept the 50% to charity.
This was the first painting that I had ever sold, thanks to the kind support of an old school mate! At that time I liked to paint children in fantasy worlds, I liked that sense of wonder.
I think it was because I kept posting art on social media, I have been very lucky to have supportive friends who started asking me if I would take on commissions. This is helping me to continue making art for as long as possible.
Below was my first ever commissioned piece, kindly requested by Anna Simpson for her friend’s newborn twins. As with most commissions, I get stressed while working on them because I want to make them as good as possible. Sometimes even when I have tried my best, I would doubt if the work is good enough.
And in March this year, I painted my first ever wall mural for Mei Ming Daphne Lim whom I am thankful to for having such faith in me. I have to admit that taking on this project was terrifying, I had never painted on a wall, and was afraid to make a mistake and make a mess of my friend’s wall. I tried my best to plan and prepare everything as much as possible and I am so grateful that W came and accompanied me for the three and a half days, her presence was comforting and she bought food too.
My first commissioned pet portrait was of Sandy’s Oreo. I am thinking of putting up pet portraiture as a service one day. (There is an ongoing competition between making new things and stopping to organise and sell)
My first ever art booth, held at the Pasir Panjang Power Station. In hindsight I don’t think it was the right market for selling art, but it was fun and a great experience. Thanks to W and my family for all their help.
This was a piece commissioned by dear Heidi Hauf. It is one of my all time favourite paintings. I feel that it bears a sophistication beyond me, embodying an atmosphere I might not be able to recreate even if I tried.
During our trip in Kyoto, I was inspired by the style of Hokusai and painted this series of watercolours. With thanks to Cheryl Beh for her idea and continued support, I reproduced these as prints for friends to place orders. Curiously this series seemed to have resonated with many. Why?
I am thinking of one day creating a simple website, organised to show the areas I work on, and what pieces are available for sale.
Where does inspiration come from and when does one bond with an idea so much so as to devote the time and energy into birthing it?
Inspiration from travel:
This was one of my first sketches made while travelling. Looking back I admire the freedom in my younger work, a part of me that once existed, that I may never be able to go back to.
W believes in travelling while we still can, when we are young enough. While I agree with this, she is the driving force for all the trips we have made. Travelling has turned out to be a great source of inspiration for my art, simply because there is so much new stimuli.
Inspiration from art and artists:
We enjoy visiting galleries together, we call them art dates. It is inspiring to see the works of artists in person.
I read a post from Richard Claremont that beautifully said how art is not just the thing you hang on the wall, but is the story of the artist and her journey. From then on I started writing with every post I made my thoughts about the piece, or a snapshot of my frame of mind at that time. Before, I had never seen myself as someone with thoughts, in fact I believed I was the opposite of that. With this new way of journaling my thoughts through art, I have come to see myself in a different light. This was the first post where I started writing not too long ago:
“I came across the notion that what we look for in art says a lot about us, in the sense that art may fill an absence in ourselves or our environments, and bring us balance. I think it says a lot that what i would choose to display in my room are pieces that are simple and gentle.
And perhaps this applies to what i wish to paint as well. This is a view of a simple pure landscape we came across in NZ.”
Inspiration from the space I live in:
In May 2018 we bought and moved into our own flat. I was excited to finally be able to frame and display art around all the new white wall space. I love putting paintings into frames, because suddenly they are undeniably transformed into art.
Inspiration from a call to duty:
Grateful to be able to use art as a means of making a point.
In September this year I joined Jie Hui and team to support Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) in a match-funding campaign. I was inspired by their founder’s love of sunflowers to create a series of art as part of the fundraising drive.
W as inspiration:
Life with W is a tremendous inspiration for my art, and I am grateful for the means to be able to capture our memories together. Until today as I put them all together, I never realised how much W inspired art I have created. My partner, teacher, muse, whom where words fail to paint, art steps in to describe: