30/01/2024 02:16 PM
From Soon Li Wei

As the Lunar New Year approaches, many Chinese households and business premises can be seen displaying calligraphic characters on their doorways and walls.

Artistically inscribed on red paper, the characters symbolise blessings, prosperity and good wishes for the coming year.

(Calligraphy is a form of decorative handwriting or lettering. In China, this ancient art form, with a history spanning over 3,000 years, is deeply ingrained in its heritage and culture.)

To give these auspicious symbols a unique and interesting facet, calligrapher and visual artist Vivian Ng Suet Yuan, 32, adorns each of them with doodles or cartoonish drawings.

“Many Chinese calligraphy artworks merely feature harmony- and prosperity-themed letters or words but I liven up most of my pieces with doodles to draw more attention. I want to attract the attention of the younger generation, especially children… it can spark their interest in calligraphy and get them to learn more about it, thus enabling them to perpetuate this legacy,” she said.  

Traditionally, calligraphy artworks are displayed during the Chinese New Year celebrations and not at weddings or other gatherings, according to Ng.

The festive-themed calligraphy décor usually features Mandarin words such as fu which means prosperity, an (safety), kang (healthy) and shou (longevity).

“The words used in Chinese calligraphy are also influenced by the Chinese zodiac and they are put together to form phrases such as idioms,” she said, adding most of her artworks currently revolve around the dragon theme as the coming year is the Year of the Dragon.

“But I also cater to specific requests from clients who want me to inscribe certain words in calligraphic script that fit their preferences and personalities.”



Ng, who showcases her calligraphy artworks in her virtual gallery called Niu Niu’s Gallery, told Bernama she has been interested in art since her schooldays but delved into Chinese calligraphy seriously only five years ago when she volunteered to assist in organising Chinese New Year celebrations for various Buddhist associations in the Klang Valley.  

“I was given the task of decorating the buildings. Instead of using single-use materials for the calligraphy I wanted to produce, I thought it would be better if I used (scraps of) red paper that were already available. And I also thought instead of discarding them (calligraphy artworks), people could take them back home (after the celebrations),” she added.

Her efforts received much praise and some people suggested that she start a small business selling Chinese calligraphy artworks.

“From there I went on to open my gallery (on Facebook),” she said. 

Ng said when she first started taking orders from the public, her calligraphy skills were limited to those she learned during her art classes in school. But she honed her skills by referring to social media applications such as Pinterest and China’s Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book).

Ng also pointed out that calligraphy is crafted on red paper simply because red, in Chinese culture, symbolises valour and strength.

“(For this Chinese New Year) most of my works are created on red paper with delicate depictions of the golden dragon in the background, which enhance the prominence of the words I inscribed in calligraphy using brushes and black and gold inks,” she said.



Meanwhile, anyone witnessing Ng’s live calligraphy sessions will undoubtedly be amazed by the agility of her hand as she sweeps her brush across the red paper – each stroke carefully and purposefully executed – to create an eye-catching piece within five to 10 minutes.

Ng said every step she takes to create an artwork is undertaken meticulously, starting with the selection of brushes, ink colours and paper.

“The minute my hand reaches for the brush and dips it into the ink, I give my 100 percent attention to what I’m creating. I find this therapeutic as it allows me to forget my troubles temporarily. After I complete my calligraphy, I feel calmer and can focus better on my other work,” she said.

Ng said every step she takes to create an artwork is undertaken meticulously, starting with the selection of brushes, ink colours and paper.

The talented artist also accepts requests from clients to have their portraits painted in pop art style – she also does live portrait painting in public places.

According to Ng, her portrait-painting skills became well-known after she produced a portrait of Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah in 2020 when he was director-general of Health and appeared on television almost daily to provide live updates on COVID-19.

“I presented the portrait to Tan Sri at his office (at the Ministry of Health) and also featured it on YouTube and social media. That’s when people got to know me and I started receiving orders (for portraits) from within and outside the country,” she said, adding at one time during the movement control order period, she received orders worth thousands of ringgit.

Ng, who opened her online gallery in 2012 when she was studying at New Era College in Kajang (Selangor), also enjoys dabbling in modern art such as pop art, zentangle and acrylic art and often shares in her gallery the pieces she created using these techniques.

She also advised youngsters who are keen to study art, including calligraphy, not to give up easily and to practice diligently.

“As the saying goes, Practice Makes Perfect. So, it is not a problem if your painting does not turn out as desired… the important thing is to embrace every step of the process towards creating your artwork with an open heart.  

“There is no concept of ugliness in any artwork or painting or not being good in art. I believe each of us can paint, it’s just that these skills are not honed by professionals. We have to practice our skills with the guidance of a teacher,” she said.


Translated by Rema Nambiar



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