I did it without having an art degree and YOU can too!
Maybe you just want to be recognized in your own town. Or, like me, you want to cross the Pacific Ocean. Whatever your dream is, it takes persistent and consistent effort to promote yourself as a creative artist and to find an opportunity to market your own work. I want to help shorten your learning curve by sharing everything that I learned over the years.
My self-taught artist’s recipe: Make art that matters to you. Follow your instinct. Invent your own way if you can’t find it in a book. Create interesting life events – you only live once in this world.
Read my story on how I got started to help inspire you to craft your own artistic journey.
I was born and raised in Melaka (also spelled Malacca), the Historical City of Malaysia. As a child, drawing was my favorite past time. I drew almost everything – characters from comic books, Malaysian rice fields, tiers of cakes, flowers and more. I trace my artistic skills back to my mom. My mom was the biggest influence in my art. She was an amazing artist who mastered watercolor painting. She was able to use the watercolor paints straight from their tubes and make her paintings appear to have been painted with oils. As a child, I loved to watch my mom paint and wished that someday I could paint like her.
Love for Portraits
When I was 13, I was exposed to portraiture. I'd never heard of it before because it wasn’t taught in school. After seeing a classmate's pencil portrait, something flickered inside of me and thought, ‘I can do that!’.
When I got home from school, I took my sketch book and a pencil, along with a magazine, and went to the backyard. I sat on a bench under a full green mango tree that my late Dad planted. I flipped through the magazine's pages and found a Princess Diana picture. I sketched away my first ever pencil portrait!
Since then, I brushed up my portrait skills on my own. Encouraged by my parents, I sent my artwork to the radio station. When I was a freshman in college, they brought me to the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur so I could show my pencil portrait works to the famous portrait artists there. I got inspired by their work and the medium they used, pastels, to create realistic portraits.
Pursue Other Path
Although my parents supported my art, they didn't want me to pursue it in college. They persuaded me to take something else in college. They said that artists can’t make a living doing art. Reluctantly, I agreed and studied Secretarial Science instead of Art & Design. I put my dream aside so I could focus on my school, with the aspiration that someday, I’ll pick it up when the right time comes. Soon after college, I got a job as a Secretary. In my free time, I learned about pastels and saved money to buy my first professional pastel set.
To brush up on my skills, I scheduled time on the weekends to go to the Central Market to observe the portrait artists work. I implemented some of their techniques on my own paintings.
One of my biggest challenges was to learn the business side of art. I wanted to know how to promote my art the right way; there were no books specifically written on selling art. So I applied what I learned in college to my ‘art business’. I began planning my goals for the future on paper.
A simple conversation with friends about what I do as an artist led to receiving portrait commissions from them. The joy that they showed after they received the finished portraits encouraged me to pursue my art even more. At the same time, I planned to continue my studies for a bachelor’s degree overseas. Failing to get a scholarship to an American university, due to the economic downturn in 1997, I had no choice but to continue my studies locally. Now that I was on my own I thought, should I major in art now? After some serious deliberations, I chose to major in Business instead, focusing on marketing, thinking I could use the knowledge to help promote my art.
For a number of years, I was working full time during the day, studying part time at night, and working on pastel portrait commissions during the weekends.
Long Distance Marriage
Meeting my husband online was one of the most memorable events in my life.After chatting online for 2 years, we made the decision to get married in Malaysia. Since he was still in the U.S., I was in charge of planning the reception. I wanted our wedding invitation card to be unique, something that would wow our guests. So I searched on the Internet, but I remember my research was limited back then, unlike now where we have Pinterest, Flickr, and other sites. While I worked on our portrait in pastel, I also searched for a perfect cardstock, embellishments and how to print the final cards, from start to finish. I got a great response to my invitation cards and some guests even commissioned me for their portraits.
In early 2001, I left the working world for good after 6 years working as a secretary. For the first time, I felt totally free. After a few months of ‘taking off’ work, I began to plan what to do with the rest of my career. My husband suggested that I start a portrait business from home.
Working from home in 2001 wasn't as well known as it is today. However, I instantly fell in love with the idea because I could work on the things I loved while raising my newborn baby. It was my turning point; I regained my focus and I aimed to finish my studies and start a home-based company taking portrait commissions full time. The foundation that I had made me confident that I could run my own business and be my own boss!
Shortly after I graduated, with a degree in Business Administration (Marketing) from MARA University of Technology in 2003, I had an opportunity to do my first solo exhibition, ‘Through My Eyes’, a portrait exhibition in pencil, pastel and colored pencil at a local gallery in Melaka. As a result, I got my first newspaper feature! That was the start of my professional journey as an artist.
Opportunity from the UK Author
In 2005, the author of the book, “Madonna in Art”, emailed me asking if I was interested in having my Princess Diana’s portraits, which he found on my profile at Artwanted.com, featured in his new book project. Talk about the power of the internet! This once in a lifetime opportunity could bring a brighter future to my art career and I said yes.He also commissioned a specific portrait of Diana for the book. While preparing my paintings for the book project, I was also preparing for the biggest move in my life!
United States of America
Life in Another Country
2006 marked the biggest change in my life. I, and our then 4½ year old son, moved to Los Angeles to reunite with my husband, David, permanently after living separately for nearly 5 years.
I had one goal in mind when I moved to the United States from Malaysia ten years ago; to be a successful portrait artist.
With the move, I secured my second feature. In 2007, my Princess Diana's portraits, both in pastel and colored pencil, were featured in Mem Mehmet's new coffee table book, “Diana in Art”. What excited me the most was not only I was included along with 150 other artists from around the world, but it was also my first international feature!
Being in a new country and not knowing anyone yet, I strived to do more publicity for myself and my work. Once I signed the contract that my paintings would be published in the book, I sent out emails to local newspapers and magazines locally and in Malaysia. As a result, I got featured in the local newspaper, the Valley News, and two national women magazines, Nona and Mingguan Wanita, in Malaysia featured my story and my Princess Diana's portraits.
In a single year, 2007, I got featured in these three countries' publications: the United States, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom.
My portrait journey started with Princess Diana's portrait and ended with its publication!
However, I decided to leave portraiture in 2008 for personal reasons. You must be thinking, what a waste to work hard all these years just to leave it behind after I got all that publicity. Honestly, leaving portraits wasn't easy for me. I remember asking myself, “What I'm going to call myself now?” I didn't know what I’d do next.
Around the same time, in 2008, I was searching for unique Islamic cards over the Internet to send to my family in Malaysia. Disappointed with my findings, I thought, “What if I created my own greeting cards?” A light bulb went off and I started toying with the idea. Greeting cards were my new calling. First, I decided what images I wanted to use for my cards. Since I used to create cards with a portrait on the front, I chose to portray my still life artwork on the front of these new cards.
I loved this new subject, still life and florals, because, truthfully, they’re not as complicated as portraits. I quickly shifted my focus from being sad about not being able to do portraits anymore, to excitement as I began paying more attention to my environment. Leaving portraiture has opened my eyes to the beauty of other subjects. I began exploring the colors and shapes of these new subjects; their unique qualities are captured in my paintings.
Entering Paper Crafting
I reused my wedding invitation card idea to create greeting cards.
So, for the next 4 months, I challenged myself to produce one still-life painting a day. I gathered the necessary materials, photographed them and started painting beautiful illustrations for my soon to be released greeting cards line.
Since there was a lack of resources on how to create your own cards back then, I had to figure out by myself how to put everything together to create greeting card. I researched on papers, printers, card sizes and so on in order to produce cards that looked like store bought cards. When one customer was surprised when I told her that I made the card, I knew I achieved the level of quality I was after. My card making journey has taught me valuable lessons on how to create beautiful cards from my own artwork!
I further developed my crafting skills by spending hundreds of hours online, watching and learning from the best crafters to truly understand the art of paper crafting. Over the past several of years, I’ve created my own methods and techniques of hand making paper craft products. Take a look at my artwork and stationery in the Gallery and the Shop.
I continue to bring awareness to my work. To date, I’ve contributed art and articles for Azizah Magazine, Colored Pencil Magazine, and I was recently featured on a major Malaysian TV show.
Live to Inspire
I’m passionate about sharing my knowledge in creating arts with you. I want to provide the support, the encouragement and guidance for you to get going if you’re willing to invest in long hours in practicing the skills.
Through my website, you’ll get tons of resources that you can use to make your dream come true. I never doubt that, as a self taught artist myself, if you work hard you can achieve as much, or even more, success as artists with an art degree.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope to connect with you soon.