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I am a self-taught water color artist. Staying in Penang, Malaysia now, but had been based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for 10 years.  I love to paint scenery with some element of water in them – seas, rivers, lakes, boats, ships. My deep rooted connection with water stems from my involvement with seafaring during my early days, having sailed on the seven seas and experiencing life on water.

To me, water is very special. It is life-giving, and yet can be destructive. Beautiful at some time, and yet ugly at another time. The water element captures beauty in nature through effects of light reflections and refractions, from gentle fluid movement to violent splashing foam.

I was educated at St. Michael’s Institution, Ipoh, Malaysia. During my school days, I used to thrill my classmates with my realistic drawing renderings of human, animal, trees and other objects drawn with proper artists’ compositions showing perspectives to differentiate between near and far objects.

That was my time of experimentation, trying out different mediums, materials, style, and observations. Sometimes, these experimentation came with surprises too. I remembered an earlier time when my art teacher asked me to explain about my watercolor painting. “What’s this?” she asked. And without much hesitation, I replied, “Clouds”. Not satisfied with my answer, she asked me again and I would give the same answer. This went on for three times.

Well, I should have realized that they did not look like clouds. They were purple in color!

The art classes that we had were very general in nature, they just let us experiment with our creativity – things like potato printing, watercolor pencil drawing, mask folding, opaque water color painting, wood carving, silk-screen fabric printing. Although not significant in terms of art technique development, this early encounter with art did helped me realize that I was pretty good with my hands.

As I studied to determine my future career, I opted to join the science stream and focused more on the science subjects, but I still managed to create beautiful objects with my hands in my leisure hours.

Knowledge of science sometimes did make creation of art possible. Plaster of paris moldings, ceramic glazing, even gemstone polishing could not have happened without my having some basic knowledge of science.

My first ship as a cadet engineer

After graduating from high school, I joined the Politeknik Ungku Omar, Ipoh, Malaysia to study Marine Engineering for a career at sea. This included apprenticeship training as a cadet engineer working on board ocean-going ships and a few stints of apprenticeship at local shipyards.

After graduation, I sailed the seven seas and visited many countries on ocean-going ships as a marine engineer, visiting many countries in Europe, Scandinavia, Far East, North America, Australia, South East Asia, and very often visiting remote places far away from the regular tourists beaten track. In addition, I experienced all kinds of weather from mirror-surfaced calm sea in the summer months to the roughest typhoon-force sea wave condition in the winter; from high temperatures around the Red Sea to the sub-zero temperatures of Sweden.

Maneuvering a ship

Well, working onboard ship can be quite boring if you cannot find anything to do during your free time. For me, it was not boring at all. I took up photography after buying a second-hand single-lens-reflex camera at Shimizu, Japan, which was a regular port of call during my cadet engineer sea training period.

I became quite a serious amateur photographer, submitting my choice photographs to photo agencies and even delving in film processing of ektachrome color 35 mm slides by myself; my cabin being my own darkroom. Luckily, I did not have to share my cabin with another person.

Initially, when I started sailing, I used to buy souvenirs whenever I reached a foreign port, but later when I realized that some of the souvenirs were “massed produced made-in-china” products, I decided to collect photographs as souvenirs. During my sailing days, I managed to amassed a collection of about 3000 kodachrome slides which by now had become old technology and are now collecting dusts in my cabinet.

However, I did not forget my art. I did some watercolor paintings whenever I had some inspiration to do so. In 1983 I was awarded 3rd prize in the Painting and Drawing Competition organized by the Marine Society, London, UK which was opened to seafarers, wives at sea, and lightkeepers worldwide.

At another time, when the ship crew wanted to redecorate the crew mess room I painted a mermaid on the wall, using the paint from the paint store. In those early days, the mess room was used whenever there was a party, dancing and boozing which happened quite often whenever we arrived at a regular port. (Note: This is no longer permitted on present days ships because of non-drug and non-alcohol policies)

I painted in watercolor, more because of the situation I was in most of the time. Watercolor paints do not emit strong smells of turpentine or solvent. If I were to paint an oil painting in my cabin on board a ship, the strong smells would be distributed to the whole ship in no time at all because of the central air-conditioning system. Furthermore, carrying a roll of watercolor paper was much more easier than carrying a framed oil canvas, especially when it was time to sign off the ship.

During the time on shore leave before signing-on ships again, I would do some paintings of the landscapes around my home.

pyramids of giza

Writing articles with pictures for newspapers

However, my photographic activities seemed to be getting better results. There is a saying, “What gets rewarded gets done”. I had a good time taking pictures of the interesting places that I visited, from the remote lumber camps of Canada to the humble dwellings of Port Said, Egypt; from the Eiffel Tower, Paris to the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, and the canals of Bangkok, Thailand to the Great Wall of China.

I found out that in order to sell my photographs, I would stand a better chance of acceptance if there was an article accompanying them. I then decided to write articles. A few of them were sold to newspapers and magazines.

I could get better sales from my photographs than from my paintings. So my watercolor paintings took a back seat. Producing photographs was much more easier than producing paintings. In addition, art books were expensive and it was difficult to become proficient in art without a tutor to guide me.

2nd Engineer

I realized that the execution of a watercolor painting was actually more difficult than for other medium. Swift execution of the water color strokes was key. The colors in a successful watercolor painting were actually merging naturally when they were still wet – something which would not occur with an oil painting. And in creating a watercolor painting, an artist have to work from light to dark, because watercolors were meant to be transparent. This meant that mistakes could not be easily covered up, unlike oil on canvas, where the opaque oil could easily be used to painted over a mistake.

A watercolor artist have to master many other techniques – composition, wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, dry brush, drawing, color mixing, brush strokes, selecting materials, stretching paper, masking and many others. Looking at other artists’ work was also a learning experience. I picked up many tips and techniques by subscribing to Artists’ Magazines and reading about other artists’ work.

Chemical spill drill at a factory in Kulim Hi-Tech Park

After a while, and after having qualified as a licensed 1st class marine engineer, I decided to quit sailing, and try my luck working on shore. That was quite a trying time, working on construction projects as a Boiler Plant Commissioning Engineer for a large power station at Kapar, Malaysia and later as a Field Engineer working at another engineering construction project for a chemical processing plant at Prai, Malaysia. During this time, I did not get involved with much art activities because it was quite a hectic life. I had to relocate far away from home, and sometimes worked late at night in haphazard conditions of heavy engineering construction sites.

Following the construction jobs, I managed to join Intel Technologies, Penang, Malaysia. That was the time when I managed to stay at my home in Butterworth, Malaysia. This was a time when I managed to take up art again. A few watercolor paintings were produced at this time. I also exhibited at the Penang Art Gallery & Museum, Penang, Malaysia in 1994.

Later, I joined Baxter Healthcare, also in Penang, Malaysia. By this time, I would say, my art was gradually getting better and better. I would frame up my paintings and hang them all over the walls of my home. Comments from the visitors to my home were quite positive.

In 1995, I joined Cofreth, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, handling service maintenance of high rise buildings and shopping complexes in the Klang Valley, Malaysia. There were a few paintings done during this time.

Marine Engineer World website

Marine Engineer World website

In 1999, I went back to Butterworth, after having found a job at Fuji Electric, Kulim, Malaysia. At that time, the internet was making its presence felt, and I became interested in it. I created a few websites to share my experiences and skills, namely Marine Engineer World, Facilities Engineering and Cartoon Web Services during this time. No paintings were done during this time.

Underwater inspection of the hull of a floating ship using divers and cctv

In 2008, I went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to work for a ship survey company. During this time, I traveled a lot. Also at this time, digital cameras became common and affordable. Capturing images became very easy and cheap. No longer was there any need to wait for the processing of photographic film and prints at the shops to see the images. No longer was there monetary loss incurred from processing of spoiled photographs. Photographic images by the hundreds or thousands could be very easily stored and viewed from computer screens. Images can be viewed directly from the cameras.

This development was very encouraging to me as an artist. Now, I could very easily capture images from the field for later developing into paintings.

So I went around taking pictures from my camera whenever I traveled. My work took me to places where there would be water, be it a river, a lake, the sea, or a shipyard. Sometimes, I would pass through these places. Sometimes, I would stay at hotels with nice beach-fronts or with swimming pools. I love it! The tools of technology are truly great.

Departing from a ship after a surveying job

One thing I did realized was that photographs of subjects or scenery taken from my camera seldom, if at all, present me with the ideal picture I could be pleased to hang on the walls of my home. Usually, there would be a tree branch, or bits of floating rubbish found scattered all around the scene. Sometimes, the lighting would not be perfect. At other times, the arrangement of the objects would be somewhat out of place and not pleasant to look at.

Sometimes, it would not be safe for me as a cameraman. The object would be situated at a place that would not allow me space to stand or squat in order to capture the whole scene. As an artist, I see it as a privilege to paint a real scene without including the inherent flaws. In its natural state, a scenery may be a sore eye with rubbish all over the place. As an artist, I had the power to clean it up, at least on paper, to present a beautiful piece of art to the public. My hope is that everybody will do their part to make our environment pristine and free of pollution.

Offshore support vessel

Offshore Support Vessel watercolor painting

In 2013, I decided to take up watercolor painting again. A few factors prompted me to take this up. Age was catching up on me. I needed an activity that I love, that would not be too physically taxing to occupy my time in my old age.

I was also able to purchase suitable art materials in Kuala Lumpur, near the place I was staying, in particular, heavyweight 300 gsm acid-free watercolor paper. Sometimes, the choice of the paper could determine whether a piece of art will be successful or not. Most of the watercolor tube paint that I had were already dried up. Luckily, they could be used again once they become wet. I had to buy a few new brushes as my old ones had deteriorated beyond repair. The studio apartment that I was staying was ideal as my art studio.

Another determining factor was the availability of funds for taking up this hobby again. Believe it or not, good artist materials do not come cheap. The struggling artist who strives to create art always have to make a choice between spending available funds for putting food on the table against spending on the purchase of artist materials.

I find that good materials are essential for creating good paintings, particularly the paint. I have also learnt that some good materials behave erratically when applied on the paper. I had learnt to avoid these through trial and error.

Using a DIY drill press to fabricate machines

During those times, whenever I could spare some time, perhaps during the weekends, I would work on my paintings. Always a handyman and with the skills of a carpenter, I had constructed an art table for my work. This table was specially made for watercolor painting. It has a hinge table top where I can tilt it at a small angle for water to gradually flow down when I apply the watercolor washes over the paper. When not in use, my palette could be stored inside to prevent dust from settling on the paint. Water supply from the tap was readily available, and my computer was nearby.

I must admit that my floor quickly become spattered with accidental droplets of paint whenever I did a painting. However, I could easily mop these up later. I have a hair dryer ready for use whenever I need to dry the paint very quickly.

Movable gantry cnc machine and movable bed cnc machine that I made

Then in May 2015, I happened to come across some videos about creating mini cnc machines using floppy disk drives.

I was hooked. Being a sea-going marine engineer trained to be resourceful in the middle of wide oceans and always involved in DIY projects, I had a keen interest in the artistic creation potentials of such machines. Many hours were spent learning about this. Almost everything was new to me. But I plunged myself into this new field with much enthusiasm.

My first few experimental attempts made me learn about input/output, centronics port, parallel port, Linux operating system, stepper motors, stepper motor drivers, breakout board, and LinuxCNC before I could hook up something workable. In the process, I also made several mistakes which fortunately, could be overcome as I went along.

Once the floppy disk stepper motor prototype could be controlled, I started to look around for something bigger. I found many usable parts from junk yards but I had to design according to what I had available.

My second attempt finally developed into a usable moving bed cnc machine design.

During this journey of discovery, I had enjoyed finding out and implementing the creation of a precision machine and using it to create beautiful works of art and experimenting to improve on the quality as well as efficiency of the process.  Along the way, I had also been improvising and adapting technologies which were very often not part of my professional training. Also the software that I had been using would often be no longer supported and I had to look for alternative means to achieve what I wanted to create.

It was not smooth sailing all the time. The machine would sometimes behave erratically and I would have to carefully observe it, analyze the possible root cause(s), implement countermeasures, operate and observe again. Sometimes the countermeasures would prove to be ineffective. Sometimes, it was too flimsy, working for a short while and then breaking down again. Slowly, I managed to find out the problem-causing issues which could be in the computer, electronic board, wiring, or mechanical items. Some items tend to occur recurrently even though I had rectified it previously, like electrical contact of control signals, computer RAM card contacts, computer BIOS memory. Because I was using an old computer, issues like this sometimes cropped up due to the inherent moist or dusty environment it was operating in and was almost impossible to avoid. Being prepared for these helped me to reduce the down time. I also bought some spare parts in case one day one of them failed.

Movable Gantry CNC Machine

As the knowledge on how the movable bed cnc machine behave became more routine, and I found that I was able to solve problems as they cropped up, my confidence increased. I then look for a way to increase the sizes of the objects that I could make. So I decided to make a bigger machine – the movable gantry cnc machine.

At the same time that I was able to make the machine perform more accurate and precise jobs, I started to tackle more complex machining jobs like 3D machining. Creating more difficult projects like acrylic side illuminated 2.5D graphics was the result. This involved using LED lighting, DC smps, resistors, and barrel socket. Slots had to be machined for the components and the latter were soldered in place.

This activity finally led me to the realization that I had actually created the world’s first Divine Mercy with rays that could be lighted and that it was rather unique. I want to pursue this further. It seemed as if I was led by the Spirit to make it happen. It doesn’t seem to be by chance that I managed to acquire all the requirements of producing the “Divine Mercy Image with Rays that Glow” just like that when every aspect of it fell into place like a jigsaw puzzle – artistic, carpentry, engineering talents, electronic, computer, controls, software, hardware knowledge, working space availability, suitable spare parts from junkyard, online purchase availability.

Catholic Marketing Expo 2019

Some efforts at publicity and marketing were also done, at the Catholic Marketing Expo 2019 just to introduce my services.

Christmas Marketplace 2022

With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing everyone to stay away from crowds, my church organized an online Christmas Market Place 2020. I took part in that too. In 2022, another Christmas Market Place was also held and I took part in it too.

Getting better recognition for my products also came about through publication by Herald Malaysia and Journey With Us Asia.

Christmas Marketplace 2023

Christmas Marketplace 2023