Art inspiration from Singapore to Kuching
IT WAS A HUMID and sunny afternoon at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) Airbags workshop when I noticed the man sitting next to me was busy sketching each musician who stepped up to explain and demonstrate how their bagpipes worked.
After the workshop, my curiosity led me to say ‘Hi’ and ask what he was doing.
The man introduced himself as Marvin Chew, an artist hailing from Kuching but who had been residing in Singapore since 1998.
Chew informed me that he was back in his hometown to lead a painting trip organised by Singapore Watercolour Society (SWS) from June 25 to 29.
A painting trip? That’s not something you usually come across, especially now with digital cameras and imaging.
According to Chew, 13 of them had joined this trip and although it was organized by SWS, some of the Urban Sketchers Singapore members were also tagging along since some of the members were part of both groups.
Before they bid Kuching goodbye, I grabbed the opportunity to check out what these artists were doing on their last day here in Kuching.
And so on June 28, I caught them armed with painting utensils in front of the Old Courthouse deeply immersed in their art.
Thank goodness Chew had the ability to multi-task. As his right hand was busy stroking the paper with his brush, we talked about his artistic background.
“Since I was in school, I liked painting and anything to do with arts. Thirty years ago, our parents always thought that painting or art could not earn one a living. So I ended up doing something totally not related to arts,” he said.
The 39-year-old artist put his passion in art on hold for a while to pursue his studies, eventually becoming a certified accountant.
“In 2002, I got my ACCA certification. It was also the year I went to find a teacher to learn how to paint using watercolour for two years,” said Chew.
He may have never taken any formal education in art but studied under a senior professional artist in Singapore.
In 2004, he joined the Singapore Watercolour Society as a member while still maintaining his professional work as an accountant.
The fruit of all his passion revealed itself by the end of 2011 when he was asked to conduct a watercolour class for beginners at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum, which is how he started teaching the art of painting.
Unexpectedly, the subscription for NUS class was overbooked and there were people on the waiting list. So he did a second round of the class.
It had gotten him to thinking about fully pursuing a career as an artist, but he didn’t have the courage to do so yet.
He finally took his painting seriously in 2012 when he quit his job as an accountant to focus on painting and teaching art.
“I sell my paintings through galleries, private collectors. Some collectors collect my artworks in Singapore. I guess in Kuching we don’t have this kind of market. If you asked me to come back to Kuching, I think I cannot survive,” said Chew who is also the Vice-president of SWS.
What kind of advice would this professional artist have for all the aspiring ones out there, I asked.
Chew said, “Practice, and there is no shortcut. Everything you want to learn in life, there is no shortcut, whether it is music, arts, or sports.”
People always assume that you need to have the talent to draw or paint. Chew doesn’t completely believe that, saying: “There is a quote; genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. It is actually hard work.”
Joining him on this painting trip was Mabel Yap, a doctor from Singapore. Dr Yap is also one of Chew’s art students and has already taken four to five classes with Chew.
After trying other art mediums like pencil, charcoal, and acrylic, Dr Yap said her current favourite is watercolour. “I’m always a control-freak, so watercolour allows me to let go, just let the watercolour flow.”
Dr Yap shared her thoughts on painting, “Initially it was hard because you’ll have this preconceived idea on how things look like until you learn to say ‘OK, just draw what you see’. You really need to follow your eyes but not how you imagine it.”
This outdoor painting session drew a lot of attention from passers-by, tourists and even fellow artists.
Local artist and CEO of Fame College, David Chew also swung by at the Old Courts House that day to sketch, even bringing along his five art students.
Throughout the five-day trip the members of SWS and USk Sg visited picturesque places around Kuching such as Chinese Museum in Kuching Waterfront, Siew San Teng Tua Pek Kong Temple, Main Bazaar, Sarawak River, Semenggoh Wildlife Reserve, Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhose in Padawan, Santubong Village, Sarawak Cultural Village, Carpenter Street including shophouses and Old Court House, and Sarawak Museum.