Sharon Kow is a dedicated coloured pencil artist with an overwhelming drive to master her craft and bring her favourite art medium to the attention of the mainstream art world.
After making the decision at a young age to support her family and placing her art dreams on hold, Sharon is now a shining example of how it can be possible to reignite the fire for creating art later in life. She has gone on to become a successful and truly inspirational international artist.
In this interview Cindy Wider talks with Sharon about her life journey, where she has come from and how she has developed over the years as an artist. Along the way Sharon provides absolutely invaluable advice for anyone who wishes to follow their own dreams.
The Early Story
Q: Welcome to DrawPj.com Sharon. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I go by my full name, Sharon Siew Suan Kow and I am a Malaysian.
I was born in Malacca, a historical state located in the southern region of Peninsular Malaysia in the year 1970 but was raised in several different states because of my late father’s occupation with the Malaysian Police force.
I am currently living in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, an island located in the northwest coast of the Peninsular Malaysia with my husband, Eric, a practising architect and our only child, a daughter who is pursuing her degree in architecture.
Q: When did you first realise that you enjoyed creating art as a child? Were you supported in your decision to create art?
A: As a child, as long as I recall, I have always love creating art. In fact, I was a very quiet child, a loner. I guess the reason was because I was the only girl in a family of 5 boys. To escape my boisterous and noisy brothers I found peace and solitude in my own world of imaginations. One of the naughtiest thing I did when I was about 5 years old was to ‘borrow’ some of my mother’s Mary Quant make up stuff and use it to paint on faces of vinyl album covers, especially female artists. My mom got so upset that she reported to my father but instead of punishing me my dear father said that I had talent and bought me a brand new set of crayons and colouring books.
During my secondary school years, I had a very strict and dedicated art teacher. He let us explore several media for our artwork and I found my forte with coloured pencil and have been using it for all my art exams when everyone else uses either water colour or poster colours. My art teacher, instead of telling me to switch to another medium, he in fact encouraged me to stick to colour pencils and told me that he believed that I will pass the national art exam with flying colours which I did and scored a distinction for my art.
The most supportive person of my art was my late father. He was a very creative person in every way, be it in drawings, wood carvings and even gardening. I was always by his side observing his every move. He was the only person in my family who noticed my flair in art and had been extremely encouraging when I told him about my decision to pursue it seriously back in 2013. But sadly, he left us just when my art career was about to take off. I miss him terribly and really wish that he is still here to see what I have achieved today.
Q: Thank you for sharing that Sharon. Can you tell us more about what your journey has been like as an artist? Did you study at all and if so where?
A: I started picking up coloured pencils again at the age of 43, 25 years after I graduated from secondary school. I did not further my studies as my family was not financially well off and I had 3 younger brothers who were still schooling. To ease my father’s financial burden in supporting our family I had to begin working at the age of 18.
During the years of being in the rat race, I got married, became a wife, a home maker and a mother while the real me was put aside. Whatever tiny free time I had to myself my mind was always floating away. My husband loved to tease and said that I am always dreaming, lost in my own world.
Time for Me
When my daughter was in her final year of secondary school, I realised that it was time for me to do something for myself after years of taking care of others and I chose art. I chose it not to be a hobby but as a career. My decision was made and I vowed to go all out and give my all. I believe that at the age of 43 I am mature enough to handle the good and the bad that comes with being an artist.
Coloured Pencil as a Medium
Firstly, I began surfing the internet to see whether there is any fine art using coloured pencils. What I discovered blew me away. The artwork created by the medium was jaw-droppingly amazing. The discoveries made me even adamant in pursuing my dream because I foresaw a huge potential and opportunities in this medium and I strived to be as good as I can be.
I began setting up a plan and goals, did more research on the internet about the medium, joined coloured pencil art groups on Facebook to learn more about the best brand of pencils, papers to work with, techniques etc.
After much research, I realised that social media is the way to go to get wider exposure of my art work. I set up art pages on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter and began writing blogs after I completed an art piece. I also realised that in order for people to take me seriously as an artist, I need to have an impressive profile. My art work has to have wider exposure internationally, for instance, getting into juried art exhibitions, publishings and many more audiences. I began taking part in online competitions. Paid an annual fee and joined the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA), aiming to earn the signature status. I set a goal for myself that if I were to pursue this, I will go all out and be the amongst the best.
The Discipline of Expression
Q: Now the big question is, “Why?”. What is the primary motivation for why you create art as an adult?
A: Art has always been a passion of mine. I always see things that people around me don’t. I have difficulties in expressing my thoughts and feeling with words but with art, I find it easy to express my inner most feelings.
Also, since coloured pencils are not a widely and easily accepted medium in major art scenes, my mission is to get wider exposure for this medium and prove that it can be just as good as the recognised media and hopefully one day, it can be widely accepted in both the local and international art scene.
Q: Does income play a part or is it only your burning desire to create art?
A: All this, I do because of passion rather than an being motivated by income. Of course, earnings from my art is an added bonus and after years of not earning my own income, it is a blessing.
Q: What goes through your mind while you create art? Do you experience doubt, fear or any emotions at all? If you do, how do you overcome these?
A: I love listening to music while working, especially oldies such as songs from the early 50s and 60s. Somehow I felt connected to that era and it calms and inspires me.
Fear and doubts are always the first things that comes to me when facing a blank paper, even the times I had the perfect subject. Deep down I know that I can do it and yet the fear of where to start still creeps up. To overcome it, I tell myself to just dive into it and do not think what is wrong or right. Free my mind from rules and regulations and let my creative mind do the work.
When I am faced with some difficulties in my technique, I try not to get worked up about it. I will set it aside and come back to it when I am in a calm state. I refused to work when my emotions are wired up and I dislike trashing any work.
Q: How do you make time to include art in your life, do you have any suggestions to help others manage their creative lives?
A: Discipline is the word. I can say that I am very disciplined in my daily routine. Weekdays are full working days for me and I saved the weekends for family time unless I have urgent deadlines to meet.
I will finish up all household chores in the early part of the morning and then begin my working day in the later part of the morning by first going through all my emails, social media pages and finishing whatever paper work relating to my art. Allocating a few hours a day for social media is not a chore or a waste of time. This in turn, has helped me in my career as an artist tremendously. I allocate a certain time frame in a day for this and keep to it, or else one can easily get carried away. After all that is done, I will then head on to my studio and work at least 5 hours a day.
Here, I need to stress the ‘power’ of social media. It plays a huge role in today’s society and practically everything can be done without the need of leaving the comfort of our home. Websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. are fantastic platforms for artists to get wide exposure for their artwork and also to use for business needs.
In addition to social media, a proper website is paramount if you want to be taken seriously as a professional artist. Established galleries, professional art bodies still require an artist to have a proper website that they can review at a glance.
Apart from all the above, I keep a record of every piece of art that I have done since day one in one big journal. I have a filing system on everything relating to my art career, hard copies in files of contracts, exhibitions, interviews & competitions.
I believe that by being organised and disciplined in what we do, will be a lot of help in the long run. Even though it can be time consuming and mundane, trust me, it will come in handy when you need it.
The Reason Behind It All
Q: Is Drawing and creating artworks your only profession or main business?
A: Yes, drawing and creating artworks is my only profession and I strive to keep doing it until I am not able to.
Q: Do you have any special advice or skills that you wish to share with other artists?
A: To me, every artist has their own unique way of producing artwork in terms of skills and standards. I strongly believe every piece of artwork is unique on its own. Even if it is a copy, no living person can reproduce an art piece by another artist. It is like a thumb print, there is no two alike.
Perseverance and determination are a must. It is never an easy path for any artist in the real world, we are bound to face many hurdles and rejections. Like the saying goes, “One man’s meat, another man’s poison.”. Therefore there is no comparison at all. Life as an artist is not a competition.
Humility is another trait that I stressed on. It never pays to be arrogant. It is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Q: Sharon, please tell us about any significant awards you have received or exhibitions that have made an impact on your life.
- Artwork Juried into the Coloured Pencil Society of America Annual Exhibition (2014)
This was my most significant achievement. This was the first time that my artwork was being exhibited abroad.
- Award of Excellence (2015)
- Obtained Signature Status (2016)
- Artwork Juried into the Coloured Pencil Society of America Annual Exhibition (2017)
This year, too, marks my 4th acceptance in a row in the Coloured Pencil Society of America Annual Exhibition.
On the international front, my artwork has been published in several magazines and on websites. I have also had the opportunity to contribute to a number of step by step instruction/guide books.
Major Partnership – Faber Castell
After about a year of getting exposure abroad, my artwork started to garner attention in my country, Malaysia, and also in the South East Asian regions. It caught the attention of Faber-Castell Malaysia and I was invited to their headquarters for a talk and demo session on coloured pencil art. They have since been very supportive of my work.
Following these, I have seen a huge increase in local followers on my social media pages and that leads to several opportunities that I would not have dreamt of. I have done several local social media interviews and was published in an In-Flight Magazine of a local flight carrier. Who would have thought!
One of the most unbelievable opportunities was the invitation to be one of the participating artists in a Malaysian organised Art Biennale 2016. Following the event, I was also invited to the 2017 Taiwan International Art Exchange Exhibition.
These events are pretty huge for me as a coloured pencil artist. To be recognised, invited and accepted into the mainstream art scene is a great achievement.
Q: Congratulations on your achievements Sharon. Please share with us some of the major and significant goals you have for your art. Who or what inspires you to be the best artist you can be?
A: The most significant goal in my art journey is to get coloured pencil art recognised and accepted as serious art form, especially in the Asian region. Many still think that coloured pencils are a child’s play or it is just hobbyist past times. I want to prove them wrong by giving my very best in creating art that is gallery worthy using this humble medium.
I have always loved doing art since my younger days but because of life commitments, I had to put it aside for many many years. Now, in my late forties, with most of my commitments fulfilled, I have all the time in the world to pursue doing what I love and I am giving my all to be the best that I can be, as an artist.
Q: Where do you see your art going into the future?
A: I will take one thing at a time and enjoy the process of bringing my vision to life on paper/canvas. I do not want to burden nor pressure myself by blindly producing art just for monetary sake. It is not that money is not important to me, it’s simply that I would not want to be a slave to it.
I am most contented and happy if people buy my art because they love and understand it. To me, when they treasure my artwork, it is worth more than the sum of money I get. It is called satisfaction.
I do art truly because I am passionate about it.
Challenge the Status Quo
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your art that sets your journey apart?
A: Besides being known as a coloured pencil artist, I am also known as a realism/contemporary realism artist. Now, both these medium and genre, respectively, are things many established galleries, collectors are not quite in favour of. The medium, coloured pencil, is too new for them and the genre, Realism, is too old, even if it is contemporary.
I can always go the easy way by doing what is acceptable and will sell in the art scene now but I know that I will never be happy or contented in doing so. Stubborn, I may be, but for now, I am standing firm on my ground because I love what I do and I do it best.
My subjects are straight forward simple, common objects and scenes. I want people to see it immediately and just appreciate the beauty of simple things in life, it is just that simple.
Q: Sharon, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and passion for art with us. Where can we find out more about you and your amazing work?