Drawing a Wall – A Malaysian Alien Column #2

Victo Ngai - Tough Choice Letting things go

Why draw?

I previously wrote ‘Why write?’ so this change means bad news to me, my loved ones, and my readers – seems like my focus has once again pendulum-ed back to illustration. But that’s the whole point of this blog isn’t it? To write myself into an answer. Don’t worry, I actually can hear you in the rafters shouting ‘well just write something or just draw something!’ not just talk about it impotently.

But no it’s my blog and I’ll harp on about myself if I want to (haha).

So why draw?

As you may have seen in some of the images I’ve posted on this site, that I am a big fan of Victo Ngai, and recently I have been looking through her portfolio again and feeling that tug on my heartstrings – I wish I was doing this. I wonder if this pulling on the ventricles is a real feeling or just a healthy envy of someone doing something great. But then again, I don’t get that feeling when I see certain other things that are also great, for example I don’t get it when I see someone as a successful CEO, doctor or lawyer or anything. I don’t even get it when I see wonderful professional dancers, and I don’t get it when I see pop stars, even though I love to sing with every fibre of my soul. However, I do get it when I read columns though – not so much when I read books or plays, hence the magnetic diametric pull between illustration and writing. But both within the editorial scope – thank god the field is finally narrowing.

Drawing feels right – like your favourite, softest t-shirt that never really gets any time in the cupboard, but goes straight from drying rack on to your smiling body. But I haven’t properly drawn in ages, and I am finding it hard to get started. I guess because I’ve talked myself into thinking that if I start giving art attention again, then I have to finally make the big choice – to go for it, to jump in with both feet, and to grab the art thing by the balls. But that is scary, so I am putting it off as much as I can for now.

However, the best part is I’ve put in a lot of ground work already. As you all know I grew up in Malaysia and my childhood was really lovely and really awkward at the same time. Lovely because I was safe, happy and I guess a little spoilt as you would imagine a middle class suburban Asian girl to be. Awkward because I was a bit precocious, a bit of a know it all. I was that child – you know the one – slightly tubby, far too earnest and enthusiastic, and just a bit embarrassing. The kind of child that would happily correct your grammar or tell you some snippet of general knowledge that you might have already known, and that you might have found charming coming from a pretty wisp of a child. But coming from a greasy haired, rounded bellied, thunder thigh’d dumpling of a girl, it just resulted in being a little bit annoying.  But I really just loved the cool and clever things in life, and was not afraid to tell people about it (I guess in a way there is something quite precious about being so honest and care free, but I would never want to go back there again, I feel much safer in my oh so cool thick coat of adult cynicism).

Inevitably being prone to know-it-all-isms led me to being a little Tammy-no-mates. Even my older sister (but let me take this opportunity to say, that in the last 10 years we’ve become increasingly close, and I love her to mini pieces) wanted nothing to do with me. She couldn’t stand to be in the same room as me. Which is hard as we shared a room. So I would quite often find myself at a loss as to what to do, and without a room to go and hang out with someone in (and it being the 80s in Malaysia – there was NOTHING to watch on TV except random Arabic soap operas or Japanese serials staccato’d with repeated calls to prayer), I started to draw. I remember listlessly walking through the hall way in our old house, a minimalist white, marble floored colonial bungalow, clinging to the cool chalky white walls not knowing what to do with myself. Opening and closing the fridge door over and over again during the course of the day. But then I found a book in one of the glass fronted cabinets in the dark TV room – a book on the history of famous painters. I was smitten, and spent hours pouring over each page on the parquet floor of the TV room, the slow blades of the ceiling fan creakily folding the hot air above my head. I diligently made my way through this book, copying each of the old masters’ style – mainly Monet, Da Vinci, Millet and Degas. Not very well mind you – although my old high school kept my ‘Autumn in Argenteuil’ on display for a good ten years, which I’m very proud of. I then moved on to more graphic and illustrative styles mainly using pencils – quite often sketching my sister while she was on the phone. My sister being a dancer would sit in the most striking poses, all long and skinny nut brown limbs folded about themselves, and flowing black hair that shone silver in the sun, feet that walked  themselves up the wall while the rest of her body would be lying on the floor, the phone cord snaking itself through skinny arms and long fingers. I would sit and study the shapes within shapes, and try and replicate them in graphite. I started to paper the wall in the guestroom with these sketches, and after a while I had a whole wall of drawings. This was actually quite a good idea because the guestroom eventually became my room, as I’d commandeered it off any promise of future guests.

I probably confused my parents to no end – half wanting to be proud of the fact that I spent my time with a somewhat respectable hobby, but petrified that I might want to be an (Asian god forbid) ARTIST. But it didn’t matter to what end, what I was doing was rapidly chalking up to my 10,000 of Gladwell Hours. Even if his theory is de-bunked, the process was definitely training my eye and my hand.

So that’s ‘why draw’ really. If there is one thing I know I can do in the world, it’s draw. I recently watched a TED talk that said it could tell you what you’re meant to do in 10 minutes. And it asked these questions (I’m just remembering this off the top of my head, so it might not be so accurate):

Who are you? (Tammy).

What is it you do? They quantified this with what is the one thing that you’d feel qualified to teach others, or help others learn to do. (For me it’s art)

Why do people come to you for this? (Whenever people have come to me for anything artistic, it’s mainly because they’ve seen something I’ve created, and liked it enough to commission something else. Quite often it’s because I am just starting out and so the option of mates rates (or mates = no rates) is available.)

What do you offer these people? (I offer my style, I offer my eye and artistic interpretation.)

The TED talk said that the above questions are a good way to interpret what it is you actually want by reversing focus of the question to what you offer others, as opposed to what you want yourself. Either way though, the only answer to those questions was art because it’s the only thing I feel confident about on the stage of the world. I don’t have that kind of certainty with anything else, not writing, not dancing and definitely not singing.

But I do wonder when the pendulum will swing to something else again though…


Image copywright to :  Victo Ngai



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