Local artists focus on enhancing skills

Bong in the process of creating one of her many drawings.

Bong in the process of creating one of her many drawings.

THE arrival of New Year usually means half-hearted resolutions for most people but for members of the artistic and creative world, they are busy honing their skills and planning their next big projects.

Robin Wong is a product specialist for Olympus Malaysia and he is particularly known for his street photography where he frequently captures portraits of strangers.

“As a growing artist, I wish to take my photography to the next level; not (for it to) stay just at the hobbyist stage. I wish to pursue a more cohesive storytelling manner in my street photography and curate the images to form a series of images to fit onto a project,” the 32-year-old tells thesundaypost here.

Wong, who has remained a photography enthusiast since getting into it in 2008, is indeed heading towards the direction of an exhibition, which he hopes would materialise this year.

“Exhibition is the final celebration of any photographer’s hard work, having your work out there in the open for the public to see and appreciate.”

A Kuching boy now based in Kuala Lumpur, Wong also plans to write a book that would feature his photography work and personal philosophy, as well as to advocate everyone to try photography.

“I do wish to have more photographs of Kuching and in 2017, I shall do my best to spend more time photographing this beautiful hometown of mine. I strongly believe that Kuching is such a wonderful city and full of street photography opportunities.”

Wong is a civil engineer by training and has been taught to always follow rules and standards.

“We were not encouraged to bend or break any rule because in this profession, we are constructing buildings and man-made structures that house human beings. Deviation from the standard procedures means that we are taking risks that could threaten the lives and well-being of the public.”

Photography proves to be something artistic that has given balance to Wong’s life. By 2013, his love for and skills in photography had grown to a point where it opened many doors. He resigned from his position as a resident engineer for a consultant firm and joined Olympus Malaysia as its product specialist.

Under this capacity, he is kept busy training others on products, organising consumer-related events and serving as the liaison to professional photographers in the industry.

In the weekends, he would most likely be out on the streets for a round of ‘shutter therapy’ – looking for interesting sights to capture.

“I believe in shooting just for the fun of shooting and doing what you like in photography. In my shutter therapy sessions, I shoot random things that attract my attention.”

Wong started blogging about photography in 2008 and has since amassed a strong online following – 17 million page views, averaging at around 12,000 daily views by visitors from around the world.

According to him, his blog articles about tips and tricks in photography and setting up Olympus cameras have been used as reference and are linked on photography-centric websites and online forums.

“I have also conducted various photography workshops (mostly on street photography) and my photos have been published on local photography magazines such as ‘Digital SLR’, ‘Aperture’ and ‘Advanced Images’.”

On the best part about what he does, Wong says it is making connections through interactions with blog readers, professional photographers and photography enthusiasts from everywhere.

“While everyone has their own separate lives, jobs and coming from different backgrounds, photography is a language of art that transcends all these differences. Everyone can appreciate a beautiful piece of photograph and like the old saying goes: ‘A picture can say a thousand words’. It is a universal form of communication at another level that is so powerful.”

And the worst part?

“The learning process. Getting serious in any hobby is rarely easy.”

Chasing the perfect photograph also comes with sacrifices. Wong speaks about shooting the Milky Way at night and the sunrise that came immediately after on a beach in Kuantan.

“I stepped into a swarm of unforgiving sandflies. Not only I went away with serious sleep debt, the sandfly bites turned into quite a serious infection – I have ugly scars on my legs to prove that,” he points out, adding that the number of scars increased via leech attack after an insect macro-photography session in a jungle in the middle of the night.

Wong plans to write a book about his photography work and personal philosophy, as well as on encouraging all to take up photography.

Wong plans to write a book about his photography work and personal philosophy, as well as on encouraging all to take up photography.

Arts as business

Angelina Bong, 34, wears several hats as artist, poet and writer.

“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. Painting started during college years. I only took it seriously in 2014 when I sold off a series of black and white drawings inspired by Africa after returning from my trip to South Africa.

“I’ve been writing poetry since 2006. Poetry is not my day job, although I hope it would be some day. Painting and drawing compose my day job, along with freelance writing and part-time invigilating,” she says.

For 2017, she plans to develop her arts business and set up an official website so that she would be easier to find onlice. Currently, she is on Instagram via @swakgel.

“I hope to explore more artistic styles, marrying the textile techniques I picked up during my fashion days with my contemporary brush painting. (I also hope for) more exhibitions in 2017 and hopefully, those that would showcase poetry alongside paintings.”

It does not end there. There are upcoming workshops with Wildlife Conservation Society where she will teach rural children how to make art; painting murals to beautify the city; compiling her first poetry collection for publication this year; and holding poetry workshops in English for beginners.

“It is also my aspiration to nurture the growing interest in spoken word performances, writing poetry and stories  among the younger generation in Kuching, together with the Wordsmiths of Kuching (WoK) team.”

Bong also hopes to travel to more poetry festivals as a guest poet. She has read and performed in events and festivals in South Korea, South Africa, Botswana, Australia, the UK, India and Egypt with poems translated into Malayalam, Japanese and Arabic.

As a painter, she has exhibited her work locally and with other members of the Sarawak Artists Society, and also accepts artwork commissions.

“I have learnt that through arts and poetry, we could all come together despite our differences in race, religion, beliefs and political views. If there is anything that could unite everyone, poetry and arts could do it,” she points out, adding that there is so much potential in Kuching among the younger ones and that by itself is amazing.

The worst things are that the finances are unstable, and the working hours are long – sometimes physically straining. However, Bong has decided that the fulfilment is worth more than a regular paycheck.

Bong will be telling her story at the ‘Sharing My Passion’ at the Museum Cafe this Jan 11 at 5.30pm.

Appreciating value of work As a writer and artist, Andrea Tan, 40, can relate to the lack of a regular paycheck when pursuing freelance creative work.

“It doesn’t matter if I work full-time or as a freelancer – I appreciate payment on time like every other occupation when the work is delivered. People willingly pay a doctor to perform surgery, so why not pay writers and artists for their work too? Writers and artists may not save lives the way doctors do, but a client pays for the value of work, which includes the time, effort and learning invested in their craft, the investment in their tools like art supplies.

“All that eventually leads to the outcome of the work that they can skilfully produce for you, the client,” says Tan, saying that she can always justify the price on her quote and is happy to explain it.

“To charge less than market rate just to get the job, not only ruins the market for other creative works but it also undervalues my own skills and knowledge. I mean, nobody asks the surgeon for additional discounts before surgery, right?”

Tan presently works as a content writer for a content marketing company in Kuala Lumpur. She has also been a freelance writer for many years, having ventured into art in the past year with an aim of taking it further.

Being a writer was a childhood dream of her.

“I’m self-taught. I finally pursued writing in my mid-20s and eventually landed a feature writer job at The Borneo Post. I later went to Kuala Lumpur for other writing opportunities to expand my portfolio.”

Art was something that she always wanted to do but did not get around to until three years ago, when she taught herself to draw.

“My art is all hand-drawn, mainly black-and-white line art, but now I’m also painting with inks and watercolours. I’m looking to see where my art will take me from here.”

Early last year, Tan was offered an opportunity to write a book about her creative pursuits. Her book ‘How I Learned to Play: My Adventures in Writing & Drawing’ – to be published by MPH Group Publishing – is set to be released this year.

“I emphasises on how play is an important part of life, especially for an adult, as it helps one explore creativity and to simply have fun.”

Tan also sold some artworks via her online store, and designed a book cover for a poetry book published by an US-based independent publisher early last year.

“As a content creator in my day job, my work goes beyond writing. I’ve done video filming and editing as well, as new ways of visual storytelling for brands and companies. It’s a new set of skills that will also be useful in my other pursuits.”

For 2017, Tan plans on turning her focus to art projects, developing products for her online store and perhaps, writing an eBook.

She is happy to play with any medium, to experiment and not be confined or defined by one role.

“I get to explore storytelling and self-expression in many ways. Also it’s fun and challenging at the same time. There’s always something new to learn or try.”