Work/Art/Play – registration ends tomorrow!



Some people have asked me why I came up with the Work/Art/Play online class. And it’s a great question because it was something that came together quite organically. It was a result of me being underwhelmed by the students that I taught in college – who I felt lacked real-life strategies and were unprepared for the world beyond graduation. Turns out it wasn’t just my students who had issues. A lot of artists mentioned to me that they had the same problem – no matter if they were self-taught or if they had studied the field before.

And so it all began.

Three years ago when I first taught a bunch of students at a local college, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I was supposed to teach them about creativity, and that I had 3 assignments that students had to complete in one semester. These assignments were to increase their creative thinking skills as illustrators, and while all 3 of the assignments were different in execution, the fundamentals of the projects undertaken was similar: how to create work that would sell.

As we ran through the assignments (I had designed them specifically for the class), I had more and more students come up to me – a lot of whom were overwhelmed, scared and unsure of their capabilities. Some weren’t even sure if they’d want to continue being an illustrator after they graduated, citing the lack of local opportunities and the horror stories of not being able to afford feed themselves and keep a roof over themselves as a new graduate.

So apart from tutoring them on the assignments, I began to include snippets of information and profiles of artists who were changing the world, one stroke at a time. I taught them new concepts and undid outdated ones – trading old beliefs with new ones that were positive and ones that served to propel them forward as opposed to ones that held them back.

Entrepreneurship seemed like a far-flung concept to them, one that was intimidating and hard-to-reach. So I started from the bottom, and slowly built a foundation that was easy to digest, and one that allowed to build their own future. The process wasn’t a quick one, I’d tell them. It would take time. But if you knuckle down and continue to build your dream slowly – even if you maintain a full-time job, the result could be quite magical.

It would happen before you knew it. You would inch closer and closer to being able to create the life you wanted. That you’d be able to work on the projects that you’re interested in, and you wouldn’t have to compare yourself with others because you’d be working on things that you believe in. Having the option to choose the work that you’ll do, and to be able to select clients would no longer be a dream. It would be real. You would be able to dictate your own time and enjoy your work.

So here’s what I’d like you to ask yourself:

What would you do if you could work on your own terms? How would it feel? What would you pursue?

What if you could learn strategies that work for you as an artist and illustrator in this modern day and age? What if instead of focusing on tactics that merely give you a short-term high, you took a good look at your career and plan out how you’d like to spend your days – in a fun, productive manner? What if I told you that you could take proactive steps to make your dreams come true instead of wishing for something or someone to aim their gaze on your portfolio and website, and then bless you with just 15 minutes of fame?

What if you could take control of that process, so that it’s thought out and methodical, instead of holding out on your work to get chosen because of a fluke?

I’ve designed Work/Art/Play to give you a roadmap on what you can do to effectively put your goals and ideas on track. I want you to make a difference. I want you to feel excited as you jump out of bed in the morning, and instead of merely waiting for other people’s approval of your work, you find the right people to connect with.

It’s a full on, 6-week immersive online class that’s now open for registration until tomorrow, Friday 7th August 2015, and everyone from anywhere in the world can join in. If you’re looking to build your own illustration empire instead of merely being a pencil pusher for someone else, then this is the perfect course for you.

Registration has ended, thank you so much! Click here to sign up to be notified when the next session begins!

Paper, white: The ballad of a creative block


It sneaks up on you,
the blankness of it all.
That piece of paper you have.
Still white. Clean. Unmarked.


Your hand waits at the ready,
For when inspiration befalls.
And when you’re ready to leave a mark.
Any mark at all.

And so you start. One stroke. Two.
A dot here and a dash there.
You pause. Furrowed brows.
It’s all wrong.


Beads of sweat
across your head.
Muscles tense
in your hand.


A dance forms between your sheets.
Pen and paper mingle and intertwine,
leaving traces of themselves
over each other.

Again and again.

A rhythm ensues, a careful one.
Soon, soon.
Don’t hurry
But soon.

A sound from afar breaks your flow.
You stop, alight and awake.
A short walk,
a break for now.

That’s ugly.
What was I thinking?


With hands up in the air,
A fistful of hair,
Forehead on knee.
You surrender inevitably.

Sleep, sweet surrender.
Twas not to be.
Eyes wide awake,
Heavy breaths, restless heart.

The brain churns,
The body turns,
Like rusty wheels set in motion
The haze lifts, slowly.



Scratches in the shadows,
A hunched back,
The dance continues
By the light of the lamp

Shhh don’t scare it away
Quiet, quiet.
Squint your eyes
Erase all thoughts

Make space
For that glimmer of hope
The lighting strikes
All but once

Tap, dig, move,
Make way for inspiration
When it comes.
Grasp, grasp.


Paw, wrestle, claw.
Kiss it, embrace it,
Put it all down.
Before you go blank

[Art: Froissé by Michel Fracois, plaster]

8 things my parents taught me that years of art school never did

Marija Tiurina

They say that school is where people go to learn.

I beg to differ.

While there are great schools out there, the majority of the graduates I’ve encountered so far has mentioned how they were inadequately prepared for working life. When I graduated myself, I didn’t really give it much thought – I just simply went out there and tried my best. Maybe I got lucky because  I had really thick skin and didn’t take “NO” for an answer. I used unconventional methods – this was when Google was still in its infancy – and marched right up to companies in industries I had no prior experience in (and probably no business being in either) and told them why I should be hired. I sold myself the best I could.

In all fairness, I was really curious about the work that people did. I was armed with a professional degree in landscape architecture but I wanted more: I wanted to demystify the whole creative career market to see what the world had to offer; and so I thought my best bet was to send in my application and see what the job entailed. I sent in my resumes to jobs that I found interesting – a variety which included being a visual merchandiser at a mall, a carpet designer, and even an junior florist. I was hired on the spot for almost all the jobs I interviewed for – save for a couple which I deliberately self-sabotaged because it didn’t seem like the place for me: *cough* carpet designer *cough*.

I thought people would naturally know about these sort of things (not the self-sabotaging one’s interview bit, but the one where you hustle and tried everything because you didn’t have anything to lose), but as I climbed the organizational ladder and had to interview people myself, I was in for a rude shock. Some were really, really bad. Some made me cringe. Some made me want to cry, but a lot of them just made me wonder.

Some of them had great portfolios – but many took for granted that this was all they needed to get their foot in the door. Some were rude. Some were late. There were those who were shy, but there were a lot of people who didn’t know how to communicate effectively.

They say you shouldn’t judge too quickly (heck, I said that myself last week) but when you’re interviewing the 30th person for a few days at a stretch, you see a pattern emerge very quickly. Call it intuition or just plain experience – you get quite good at reading people after a while. And when you know these people can do better – I remember the impulse of wanting to grab their shoulders and give them a shake – you start to wonder: what went wrong along the way? Then I flipped the question and asked myself instead: what did I learn that they didn’t?

Turns out you don’t learn everything you need in school, and neither should you expect to.

My practical, effective, thrifty, Asian parents

My parents – especially my father – held us to particularly strict standards. Me in particular. Being Asian and the eldest in the family meant that I would have to set a good example for my younger sister. He was a project manager in the construction industry, and for as long as I can remember, he was home on time for dinner every day when he was based in town (he was posted overseas several times throughout his career). I didn’t realise it back then, but project managers had a lot to do; and the fact that he made it back in time everyday for dinner before the traffic pile-up, was a feat in itself that’s worthy of praise.

He drilled into us the importance of a few key things, a lot of which I took to heart. I’m passing this on to you because I know I’m lucky to learn from someone who’s practical, efficient and very, very thrifty. So if you didn’t have an Asian dad breathing down your neck when you were younger, here’s what advice from him would feel like:

#1: If you’re not in the car by 9.00 we’re leaving you behind.

Time management was one of the first thing we learned as a kid. When he said that we’ll be out of the house by 10am, he would back the car out of the driveway by 9.55am. So we’ve learned to ask the exact time when things would happen, or where we would be going a day in advance so that we could plan our time properly. My childhood (as far as I remember) was an orderly one – we were responsible for keeping our own time and failure to do so was frowned upon by my dad. A lecture would ensue about time-keeping and about being considerate to others – a fate we made sure not to repeat.

#2: Put the clothes in the wash first, so you can move on to do other things.

My dad was nothing if not for being one of the most efficient person I know. He would plan things in advance so that he could squeeze the most out of the day. Because a load of laundry takes time to finish, he’ll make sure that it’s the first thing to be done when we get home from a vacation. Or on a weekend. By the time he’s pottered around the house completing the rest of his chores, the wash is done and he’s done for the day.

#3: What do you do when you enter a room?

You greet people. You say hello. Coming into a room silent without acknowledging people is very rude in our parent’s eyes. Even if its our own parents! Cowering away in a corner was never an option for us kids. We were taught to say hello when we entered anyone’s home/office/event and you learn that ice breaking is as easy as saying hello.

#4. That is not how you use a pair of chopsticks.

When I was about 5 years old we sometimes had dinner at my paternal grandmother’s house and they used chopsticks and bowls instead of a plate with spoons and forks. I was trying to use my pair very unsuccessfully – and if you’ve ever tried to use a pair of chopsticks, you’ll know that you can muck it up pretty quickly. So I kept trying and thought I had my rhythm going until my dad saw what I was trying to do and sat me down to teach me how to use a pair properly. And once I mastered it, I was so proud of myself – I could pick up the tiniest thing with my pair of chopsticks. My hand didn’t hurt from holding it for a long time and I got nods of approval from old folks wherever I went. Sure I was creative – he gave me points for that – but at some point, it’s better to learn how to fully utilise a tool so that it can help you do things faster and quicker. Plus using chopsticks the wrong way is an abomination (his words, not mine).

#5. Why should I buy you that toy?

As long as I can remember, my childhood was a series of negotiations done between me and my parents.  When I walked into a toy store, my parents would notice when I was lingering at a particular toy. They would ask me if I wanted to buy it, and my usual answer would be no, it’s alright (I rarely ask for toys – I feel bad because they had to pay for it). But one day, I saw this amazing purple My Little Pony with the most gorgeous hair cascading down its back. Hair that I could play with endlessly for hours on end. Plus there was a comb that doubled up as a lock for a compartment! I looked wistfully at the box – and my dad showed me another pony (and definitely not from the My Little Pony collection) that was cheaper. I told him it wasn’t the same. I kept quiet on the way home but once I got back, I began to draft a handwritten letter that stipulated that I would do extra chores like sweeping the kitchen floor after dinner to earn that pony and that it would be my last toy EVER. I presented my proposal to him. I got my pony. The kitchen floor was clean. Win-win. I’ve learned how to effectively negotiate and trade ever since.

#6. Speak slowly and clearly. I can’t understand you.

My brain would go faster than my mouth when I was younger – a fact I believe was what drove me to talk at high speeds so that my mouth could keep up. And this exasperated my father who would often then tell me to speak slower and to enunciate my words so that I could speak clearly. Sometimes I got ahead of myself and words didn’t come out right either and it’s times like these he’ll pause and asks me to repeat myself – only this time to make sure I listen to myself as I spoke.

#7: Stand up straight

I was considered a tall kid, and had a habit of hunching my shoulders to make myself look “smaller” like the rest of class. Towering over small people was no fun, least of all to boys who hadn’t caught up to their growth spurt yet – so I hunched. I remember my parents – in particular my father pressing my shoulder blades to straighten my back whenever we walked. Bad habits shouldn’t have time to form, he said. Besides, standing tall makes you more confident, inside and out. This one still sticks because I still need to be careful with my posture, lest I slip into old habits.

#8: If you’re not sure, ASK.

“Don’t be a smartypants” was one of the lessons drilled into me when I was young. If I wasn’t sure about something, I should be asking someone who does. And I shouldn’t just stop at one person – I should ask a few to make sure I got it right. Because people can be wrong. They might not be doing it on purpose, but we had to learn to listen and figure out what’s right instead of merely depending on one one source. We were encouraged to put up our hands to ask questions, to step up and to make an impression – because people remember you that way. Shyness won’t get you anywhere.

Sure, you protest – no one ever says these sort of things in art school! Or design school. Or whatever school for that matter. Of course! In school, we’re focused so much on the academic side of things that we forget the human side – how we communicate, how we approach others, how we manage time, etc. Those sort of things can be taught and learned – it doesn’t mean you have to be in school for that. But it’s precisely these small little habits that build up and can make lasting impressions and relationships at work. When you have a good solid foundation to build from – the sky is the limit.

Maybe you need someone who’s effective and practical to help guide you too.

Making sure artists have a good foundation was the reason why I built my online course Work/Art/Play. While I was teaching undergraduates at a local art and design college, I realised that it wasn’t just pure academic or technical knowledge that they needed. They needed help with reframing their ideas, their mindsets and also learning how they could be the best they could be so that the world could benefit. Although I was brought in to teach a particular subject, I quickly found myself answering questions that ranged from personal style to self-promotion and marketing. Most of my students couldn’t imagine fending for themselves out in the world once they graduated. Talking to seniors and grownups didn’t work because they were equally confused; and it made things worse.

So I put together what I’ve learned — through experience and by learning from others on what worked and what didn’t. I helped my students put what they’ve learnt into practice — with great results to show for it. Maybe it’s true what they say: that deep down inside we all want to pass down things we’ve learnt: whether it’s from our family, friends or people we’ve met along the way. So if you know someone who needs a tough yet gentle guiding hand to help their art career, do check out our syllabus right here. And by the way, in case there’s any confusion: There’s lots more in there besides advice about putting your clothes in the wash ahead of time. Just sayin’.

FYI: enrollment closes 07 August 2015.

I’d love to hear from you – what’s the best advice your parents ever gave you? Share them with me in the comments and let’s not let good advice die out!

[Illustration by Marija Tiurina]