Aspiring to be a full-time artist, Liu Ling’s craft has improved dramatically in the short 2 years that she sought formal art education. We find out more about her early encounters with art, why she felt compelled to choose art over computing and the process of creating each piece in Pure Days: Art & Life.
1) Your bio mentions that you relocated to Singapore in 2002, what made you decide to relocate?
Before I came to Singapore my future was planned out – national exams followed by a decent university followed by a secure job. I was doing fine by struggling hard, although I failed to understand the point of struggling. I couldn’t share most people’s enthusiasm for competition and their sense of success, which was often built on others’ pain of failure, or on choosing being constantly busy over a 10-min casual walk during lunch break. Besides, I was more shy and awkward back then. Few would join me on that walk. A deep sense of not belonging troubled me.
Doodling offered me comfort, but it was discouraged as a distraction from schoolwork. I was too obedient and timid to think about what kind of life I wanted. I just felt that the life I had at that time was suffocatingly undesirable. I guess that’s why when Temasek Poly went to my senior high school for enrolment, my heart suddenly brightened up and said let’s get out of here.
Liu Ling came from Dalian, China (Photo credits: Panoramic)
2) Have you finally found your sense of belonging in Singapore?
Despite limitations, Singapore has given me the air of freedom that I couldn’t get in China. Art-related events are everywhere. It is always a pleasure to enjoy free live music at Esplanade. The amazingly many public libraries across the tiny island have opened my mind with all kinds of books. Although it is also a stressful and competitive society, here I have more control of my life and more opportunities to learn art. Finding Art Is studio makes my life better. It’s great to have like-minded artists on the same journey inspiring each other.
3) When did you graduate and why did you decide to pursue a career in the arts when you studied a science-based subject like computing?
I graduated from TP in 2005. Distinctions and As paved my way to NUS in 2007, but never convinced me that I was good at computing. The realisation of my limited ability of grasping advanced abstract concepts became more clear during my further study in NUS, where study were much tougher. My grades in major modules were not pretty, whereas I easily excelled in art related enrichment modules. Most importantly, I enjoyed them much more than programming. As it is said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I hadn’t given up climbing trees after graduated from NUS in 2010. I thought that being a web designer was a perfect balance between dream and bread, and it was enough to have art as a hobby. But the fish inside me didn’t agree. It gradually got fed up with the amphibious life and wanted to jump into the sea.
Digital paintings from Liu Ling’s art enrichment modules
4) Is anyone else in your family artistic/creative?
I have two uncles who are self-taught artists. They were more into Chinese painting and calligraphy. Unfortunately I am not close enough to them to learn from them. Sometimes they gave me sketchbooks, but at the same time warned me not to take the path of art, because they didn’t become professional artists and had a hard time making a living.
My own father insists that he can’t draw but I believe he has shared his two brothers’ artistic genes. He developed great interests in photography and Flash animations after retirement. The biggest lesson I learned from them is that talent is not everything to be an artist. It takes a lot of self-belief and not giving up. And don’t listen to the adults too much. 😛
5) How did you find Raphael’s studio? What made you decide to take up a course at his studio?
I took a short-term charcoal drawing course at NAFA where Raphael happened to be the lecturer. Besides the coursework, he also gave me valuable advice on my personal pen drawings. 8 sessions were not enough for me to learn from him so when I asked he told me about his studio, and showed me Alessia’s oil paintings. The moment I saw her Red Gems, I thought “I want to paint something like that.” That’s when I made up my mind to follow him to his studio. So far it’s the best decision I have ever made in my life. I feel like a fish finally finds water.
J.K. Rowling, Charcoal Drawing by Liu Ling
Stephen King, Charcoal Drawing by Liu Ling
Terry Pratchett, Charcoal Drawing by Liu Ling; Print editions available
A collection of charcoal drawings from her first solo exhibition, Faces Of Writers at Booktique: Where Writers Shop.
6) What was different about Raphael’s teaching methods that made you decide to join his studio and continue to pursue this passion in the arts?
Raphael is nice in person but strict with fundamental skills. We are constantly pushed to achieve our best. Being a big fan of realistic details, I need that push to build solid foundation. He encourages us to explore on our own and to treat mistakes as discoveries, learning art by abandoning old habits and seeing things independently and openly.
Raphael believes that you have to be a good person to make good art. His teaching is integrated with his philosophy of life. I’ve learned more than art skills from him. It’s a good deal to have a 2-in-1 course teaching art and life at the same time, so I never tried to find another teacher.
7) You mentioned doodling at a young age as an outlet — what did you doodle about and do you still keep copies?
My interest in doodling first began with Japanese anime when I was around 12 or 13. My drawing subjects were usually typical manga girls with half-face sized big eyes. So far as I can remember, the first girl that inspired me to draw is Marian from an old and not so popular anime called Robin Hood’s Great Adventure.
Unfortunately, most of the earliest doodles were done on scratch paper during homework or exams, so few of them were preserved. These are some later ones probably done at the age of 16 or 17, when I got much better after copying and tracing a lot of Sailor Moon.
Uncovered manga drawings by a teenage Liu Ling
8) How did working part-time as a web designer help you to realise that art was your true calling and that you wanted to pursue it full-time?
Unlike art, web design rarely allows me to express myself or showcase the subtle beauty I see. I really appreciate it for providing me bread, but it’s less interesting and technically more challenging for me. Meanwhile, my interest and ability in drawing have kept growing. Maybe it’s just me not being energetic enough, splitting time between the two is exhausting and I often become unproductive in either area when I try to balance. I have to make a choice, and I choose art.
9) How long did you take to complete the pieces in Pure Days: Art & Life and what was the process like?
Most of my artworks are done on and off. It is hard to tell the exact amount of time spent. I usually don’t set deadlines for artworks, and prefer my works to grow with me at a natural pace.
The tree drawing was developed from my small sketchbook. I often scribble trees on the bus. My mentor Raphael encouraged me to draw on large scale, so I did. After 2 enjoyable attempts on A2 sized paper, I drew that one of 100 x 70 cm. Scribbling on big paper is physically demanding. I think it cost more time for my strained wrists to recover than the approximately one week for the whole drawing to finish.
Paper Clips is the most time consuming among the 4 pieces on the wall. It is a charcoal drawing course work at Art Is. Each clip, regardless of size, took me about one lesson of minimum 3 hours. I never counted them and did the math. In real life there is only one clip with different poses. The most difficult part is to find the right location for it and keep the whole flow spontaneous.
Bright Eyes was initially a few hours’ sketch study. I didn’t have any further plan for her at the moment. One month later she came back to my mind when I wanted to try a photo-realistic portrait. It took me another 1 or 2 weeks to finish it. I was happy with the result, especially with the subtle smile that replaced the sadness in the first version.
Like most of my portrait drawings, Autumn Dream is based on a free reference photo online. I did not follow the photo strictly but tried to include as many details as I wanted. At first I decided to leave out the patterns on the boy’s jacket due to time constraints. However, it felt like a huge potential regret. It is said that you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did. So I kept on with details and planned for a substitute if I couldn’t complete it on time. Luckily I made it. It took a month from start to finish.
10) Are you working on something new now?
I’m currently studying oil painting at Art Is, progressing from monochromatic drawing to coloured painting. At home I’m about to finish a portrait study by oil bar very soon. There are another two works in progress of coloured charcoal and coloured pencil respectively. There is also a clay sculpture draft sitting in the corner of my room waiting to be completed.
Sneak peek at what she has in the works:
Giuliano de’ Medici, Oil on Canvas
Gaze, Charcoal on Paper
Clint Eastwood, Oil Bar on Paper
11) Where do you see yourself in 5 years and what would you be doing?
Tough question. I don’t even have the confidence to see myself in 5 days. Life can be very unpredictable and out of control. As a person lacking ambitions and long-term plans, I’m trying to take good care of today, and hopefully tomorrow will take care of itself.
Having said that, I think it would be nice if I could be still doing art with the same/even more passion 5 years on, and it would be nicer if where I would live or work is within walking distance to a library and/or a beautiful nature park.
Intrigued? Find out more on her website.
Pure Days: Art & Life will be on show at SPRMRKT till 26 July. Print editions are also available for viewing upon request – email us at email@example.com.