Artist interview: Sia Joo Hiang

I stumbled on Sia Joo Hiang’s work when I was in Doinky Doodle, a shop in Singapore run by the inexhaustible PiXin. Sia’s work (or better known as Auntie Joo (although she is anything but an auntie (auntie is Malaysia + Singapore’s colloquial term for a middle-aged woman!) I emailed her for an interview and here is what she has to say!

Sia Joo Hiang

Name: Sia Joo Hiang
Location: Singapore
Website/Shop: Freedom From Pity
Blog: Freedom From Pity
Illustration media: gouache, water colour, inks

Tell us a little more about yourself!

I live my life as a happy-go-lucky person who tries to enjoy the present.

As an artist, I am like a schizophrenic. I like and enjoy surprises and don’t like to do the same thing over.

I also teach part time at an art school, working with 11-15 year-old students.

Where do you live? What stands out about living where you are, and what is your daily schedule like?

I live in a flat with my parents and a younger brother, in an area called Serangoon Avenue 3. This is like a suburban
area of Singapore. There is a secondary school and a primary school across the road, a few eating places, 2 clinics and a couple convenience stores just next block. Not far from my block is a huge mall that just opened last year, but this is not on the same road of my block, so the place I live in is mostly a quiet place. As I am answering this interview now, I can hear voices of school children shouting “one, two, three, four!” a few times-could be the Girl Guides or some uniform group from the school across the road, rehearsing for some event. I can also hear cars whizzing past in the rain,and the creaking sound of my father closing the drawer in the next room.

Sia Joo Hiang

The room I work, sleep, think and dream in is not big, but it has lots of light coming in from the big window during the day.
Outside of my window, is a tree which I love looking at whenever I rest my mind.

Nothing special about where I live really, but I have accumulated things over the years in my room that it is a great place for me to draw and paint in. Somehow my books and music collection, together with the dust, scents, and sounds in the air, seem to serve as wonderful companions when I work. Oh, and also that tree outside my window.

I don’t have a daily schedule. I work whenever I have the time, and the mood. But really, I must say I am “working” every day, since the things and people I see and meet everyday provide me material for my work.

You produce a lot of art! How did you get your start?

I work whenever I feel like it.
I enjoy keeping things as raw and spontaneous as possible.
Also, I am an impatient person. So when I work I try to get things done as quickly as possible. I enjoy the rush that gets to me as I draw and paint. I can work like there is no tomorrow, so I always end up with quite a lot of work. Oh, there is always music in the background as I work, and I don’t let anything or anyone distract me.

Sia Joo Hiang

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start on a piece or a project?

My thought processes are very different depending on what I am working on, and the mediums and methods I am working with.

When painting in gouache ( my primary painting medium), my mind is kind of in a vague state of not knowing why, what and how. I don’t plan when I paint, and I like the not-knowing-what-this-is-all-about. I talk to myself in my head, I talk to the painting. I let the work tell me what to do. I improvise.

If I am making comics, I think of the words to go with the images, and I usually plan out a rough layout, before I start drawing. For this approach, I am engaged with the work in a less emotional way.

When I deconstruct old clothes, my mind is thinking of the person I am making the piece for. Or a certain attitude or spirit of a person that I think would wear the piece very well.

I don’t really think about anything when I crochet. Haha!

Sia Joo Hiang

Sia Joo Hiang

What’s your favorite project so far?

I don’t think I have one favourite project…I enjoy making all of them…and they are all different so I can’t really say which is my favourite. But I must say I am very proud of the visual document I am Brinsley Bivouac, which came from months and months of me struggling with the images and finally letting go of a lot of my own insecurities and embracing my failures. Yeah, that feels great.

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?
Ooh, I don’t have many sketches but yeah, I do write down my thoughts sometimes.

Sia Joo Hiang

Sia Joo Hiang

Would you care to share your studio space as well?

Sia Joo Hiang

What or who inspires you?

The 2 people who inspire me the most are:
Kelvin Tan, who is a musician and writer, and also a wonderful friend.

He taught me that I should learn to believe in myself and embrace my gift as an unique artist. He shows me that I don’t have to be compromising. That I should enjoy the freedom of really doing anything I like in my art.

The other person is the legendary Julia Child. I learned from Julia that you don’t have to take yourself too seriously. That you don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes while experimenting and that you should have fun doing what you love doing!

What keeps you motivated?

I know that I want nothing more than to be a freer, happier, stronger human being and if I could, I want to help others around me. This is something that drives me on.

Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?

Over the years, I have become a “happier” artist. I don’t try to control too much the way my works look anymore. Whatever ways it wants to become, let it be. I think I am more cool with leaving the real me all hang out. I used to feel confused ‘cos I had so many different styles, and people around me were brainwashing me to think that that was no good, that I should settle with one
signature style. I have learned that that doesn’t work for me. In fact, I realised that that was some pretentious crap from lazy artists who maybe felt threatened by my versatility as an artist, or unimaginative people who think that art-making can only be a certain way. I am who I am. If my style means having many different styles, so be it. If I need to paint the same face 50 times in different styles, I should just do it. No one can tell me what I should be doing in my art except me, and the art itself.
I am enjoying making art MORE than ever ‘cos I am not trying to be someone else or please somebody.

Sia Joo Hiang

What’s your favourite tool?
I love drawing with brushes made of natural hairs, dipped in diluted inks or paints.

Currently, I love using those cheap Chinese calligraphy brushes to draw, dipped in black inks.

Then, painting over with diluted water colours. The action is like stroking a kitten.

Are you a full-time artist?
Yeah. You could call me that. For a living I teach part time at an art school, which is a job I enjoy.

*_What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?

Find out what kind of artist you are or want to be, and do it all the way. Don’t do it half half.
Do and sell only what you believe in.
That way, you can go on making art for a long long time. Because you are doing something that you believe in, and you will become better at it.

If you don’t think you can make a living from just doing your art, but still want to make art full time, get yourself a part time job which gives you a stable income to support your art-making.

Sia Joo Hiang

Sia Joo Hiang

Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
I think I will still be doing what I am doing now but I will do it differently. I might be working with something totally new. Who knows?

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
It is ok to be honest, happy, free, sad, angry, silly. It is ok to be who we are.
If we don’t love and open our hearts and mind, it is a pity because life is so short and there is so much beauty in the world.

Tell us something random about yourself!
I sleep on the top bed of a bunk bed!


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