The writer, seen here with her paintings at Design Orchard, on Nov 24, 2021. Photo credit: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY
This article was first published by TODAY on 12 Dec 2021.
This is the story of how, at the age of 34, I decided to leave my civil service career of 12 years to pursue my passion in fine arts.
If you have a gift that you dismissed by telling yourself that you just happened to be better than others at it, I hope my story will make you rethink — or perhaps realise that you have a passion waiting for your pursuit.
Everyone in Singapore knows the 5Cs of the Singapore “dream”: Cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club membership.
To achieve it, academic excellence was prioritised over all else in school.
Art was a compulsory subject for me in lower secondary school. I often topped the class in art assignments and exams, but never gave a second thought to pursuing it beyond the classroom.
The typical stereotype of the struggling and starving artist is they are those who could not make it in school, and most were deemed to have “no future”. This narrative is still prevalent, and is as ubiquitous as the Singapore dream.
Born and raised in Singapore, I was pretty studious and did well at school. After A-Levels, I was awarded a PUB overseas scholarship by the Singapore Government.
Five years later, I returned to Singapore after graduating from Imperial College with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and the University of Oxford with a Masters in Water Science, Policy and Management.
I started my career in the public service working on government policies and infrastructure planning. Work was hectic and intense, and I longed for an outlet to let off some steam.
As I explored possible hobbies and activities, I was reminded of my old friend — art.
Despite telling myself as a teenager that I just happened to be better than others at art, I sometimes wondered how different my life would be if I pursued it further at school.
As I adjusted to my new life back home in Singapore, art became my hobby. Over time, it grew into something that featured strongly as part of my personal identity.
I spent my first few years of painting replicating photos and images of my choice on the canvas.
As I gained confidence in my craft, I moved away from replicating — and started creating.
Drawing inspiration from my Singaporean roots, I dedicated my first collection to the traditional art of street hawking.
I named it Mo-Hawk as a playful nod to the modern interpretation of traditional hawker food by local chefs.
My first artwork was acquired soon after I started painting, and commission requests also started coming in.
The author’s Mo-hawk collection currently exhibited at Labyrinth, a restaurant, and her Not Just A Little Red Dot collection that is inspired by national symbols from significant milestones in Singapore’s history.
Eventually, I founded Kelly Ser Atelier but not just as a platform to showcase my art but also as an avenue to give back to society through charity auctions, public wall murals and raising awareness on mindfulness.
As I sank my roots deeper into the arts, I found myself gravitating towards marketing and communications work. So I pursued a part-time Masters at Singapore Management University in Communications in 2017 and transitioned to a marketing communications role at work.
Friends are often in awe with how I juggle a full-time job with my art.
I credit it to good time management and my firm belief in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule: That it takes that amount of time spent on intensive practice to gain mastery in a particular pursuit.
Whenever I have small pockets of time, you will either find me painting away, working on my website or creating digital marketing content.
Covid-19 plunged the world into unexpected chaos. The silver lining was the extensive downtime it provided for most people, and I used it to reflect on life, re-evaluate what really mattered and whether I was prioritising them.
There were moments when I wondered what it would be like if I became a full-time artist — something many friends encouraged me to consider as they witnessed the evolution of my works.
The author (fifth from left) at Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens where she, her friends and other volunteers painted a wall mural in 2019 as part of community work.
As I sat on the proverbial fence waiting for the wind to blow me in the right direction, the stereotype of the struggling and starving artist was always looming at the back of my mind.
As the Chinese saying goes, God’s plans supersede our own (人算不如天算).
The gust of wind that I had been waiting for finally came, and it hit me as unexpectedly as the sheer force of it.
I was put in a position where I had to choose between my career and my passion. I had to decide whether to give up a stable career or to take the plunge and pursue my passion in fine arts.
I knew for sure that I was not ready to give up my passion. I also believed that the efforts put into honing my craft over the years and my past work experience would help me succeed as a full-time artist.
As the saying goes, you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take. So I recently quit my job to pursue my passion in the arts. This was not an easy decision.
Thankfully, my family and friends have been very supportive and excited about this leap of faith that I am taking.
My work experience has equipped me with the skills needed to leverage on technology to build my brand and navigate the arts scene.
Over the years, I have also developed my signature painting style which transforms mundane encounters and daily routines into modern contemporary creations.
A key feature of my works is the bold and experimental use of kaleidoscopic colours and purposeful creation of tactile textures, which makes them instantly memorable.
I am honoured to be a featured artist at Design Orchard, a space that showcases the best in local arts and design.
Some of my pieces inspired by memorable local landmarks and iconic national symbols from significant milestones in Singapore’s history are displayed there.
I recently returned from a fine arts sabbatical in Brittany, France, where I worked on pieces inspired by the local Bretagne l’histoire and culture, and created a new collection titled Transformation that was inspired by my time there.
I am excited to see how this next chapter in life unfolds, and will continue to create art that tells my story to the world, taking inspiration from my Singaporean roots and life experiences.
The past months have boosted my confidence as a full-time artist, with collectors and galleries from around the world noticing my art and commission requests flowing in.
The writer with (from top left) her partner, mother and brother, all of whom have been supportive of her artistic pursuits, she said.
I have also expanded my art beyond the canvas into homeware and fashion. On the digital art front, I will be beefing up my non-fungible token art collections to include new designs and concepts inspired by Singapore.
My goal is to build a sustainable and empowering global brand based around my art, which transcends the canvas and can serve as inspiration for designs that help promote mindfulness through art.
I will continue to use my creations as a platform to profile Singaporean culture and heritage to the world. I also hope that my journey can inspire others who are afraid to pursue their passion to do the same, and paint their own path.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelly Ser is a Singaporean artist and the founder of Kelly Ser Atelier (www.kellyseratelier.com).