KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 — I spend a lot of time in cafés, either enjoying a cup of coffee or working online (thanks to the now ubiquitous free WiFi service). I think most of us do this, which explains the inordinate amount of time spent taking smartphone pictures of latte art or navigating yet another interminable email thread.
Which is why it took me a while to realise I was doing neither the first time I visited Strangers at 47, a cosy café cum crêperie in Section 17, PJ. Instead, I was staring at their feature wall, specifically at the murals painted on it.
It was a part-twee, part-whimsical illustration of a bear and a fox holding hands. Which isn’t entirely inaccurate advertising: Strangers at 47 is a pretty awesome place to bring a date; if romance doesn’t blossom, a shared love of their delicious crêpes must surely ensue.
Who drew this?
An airy, cursive signature at the bottom of the mural revealed the artist to be Hsulynn Pang, whose repertoire ranges beyond café murals — she has also done work for Three Little Pigs, Marmalade Cafe, and Morningwood — to include sublime watercolour illustrations.
Pang was always into art and illustration growing up. She recalls, “I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. My parents encouraged creativity in the family. They had my brothers and me draw and doodle a lot at home. I would spend all the free time I had drawing in scrapbooks and even on tables and walls!”
The Communication Studies graduate did not study art professionally but learned to draw from picture books and comics at an early age. As an adult, Pang finds that watercolour is her strongest medium. She shares, “I love how delicate and unpredictable the shades and tones of watercolour can be. The way the paint bleeds through the water is the most beautiful sight and makes me happy.”
While Pang is known for her mural art in cafés around the Klang Valley, she reveals that she never actively sought out those assignments. “The clients just happened to share similar tastes with me in terms of art and it worked out. My first café job was actually Marmalade Cafe in Publika. I have a friend who knew the owner. My ‘career’ in mural painting began from that. Fortunately for me, I have very good café clients who give me the freedom to be creative.”
For any given project, Pang’s creative process begins with a client meeting. She says, “After getting a feel of what my clients want, I usually work on some rough sketches while putting together a colour board for myself. Once I have an idea that the client is happy with, creating the actual piece is the fun part! I also look at a lot of reference pictures: if it’s an animal, I will research that animal’s physique and the colours of its fur or feathers. This part is fun too because I learn so much about the animals.”
Inspired by watercolour artists such as Quentin Blake and Carson Ellis, as well as mixed-media artist Oliver Jeffers, Pang enjoys marrying these different styles together. “I think my style is constantly evolving and it will evolve again as I discover new ways to paint. This is good because I don’t like being too comfortable in one way of doing things. I get bored really quickly.”
Currently Pang is working on a children’s picture book. She shares, “I have been putting it aside due to my work load last year. I’m trying to make this a birthday present to myself this year by finishing it before the year ends. There are many other projects I would love to get started on, such as other books, prints, and textile designs for home ware. My mind is constantly thinking of things to create — that's the best part about what I do because there is no limitation when it comes to making new things!”
Learn more about Hsulynn Pang and her work at www.hsulynnpang.com