An interview with Daphne Siaw, a living inspiration from Sarawak.
Daphne Siaw — as many may already know — is a cat-lover who offers creative and digital marketing solutions at Made it Media Sdn. Bhd., a visual artist and illustrator of various mediums at ArtsyDaphy.com, and is a producer and host of Stays and Spaces.
Daphne currently has 10 years experience in areas related to Property (Development, Architecture, Interior Design & Marketing) and has painted murals and designed for brands such as Nas Daily, Tune Hotels, Sarawak Energy & more around Malaysia & Singapore.
She is always up for a creative challenge and has said, ‘yes’ to this simple Questions-and-Answers interview.
1. Your work in Borneo has captured the hearts of many — do you mind telling us bit of yourself?
Thank you for the kind words.
I’m a self taught artist with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
My interest in artistic things started when I was very young, especially in drawing portraits and animals. I like to experiment with all sorts of art mediums every time I get the chance.
After university, I worked in the property development and architecture/interior design industry for a few years before choosing the path of self employment.
Today, Artsy Daphy has been running as a registered business for 7 years and we have painted hundreds of murals over Malaysia and Singapore apart from other digital illustrations as well as branding and design work.
We’ve had the privilege of serving small and large entities including brands such as Shopee, Darlie, NAS Daily, Tune Hotels, and more.
I also run a small digital marketing company focusing on branding, design, and content creation.
Other interests and projects include Stays and Spaces and my personal style & lifestyle Instagram and TikTok accounts under the handle daphnesiaw where I experiment even more creating tools for the digital marketing business.
2. Can you show us 5 pieces of work you have done and what each mean to you?
#1. Feast and Furious Mural
- This was the first largest mural trusted to me while I was still working in the Archi company. At the time I was working both the 8–5 and art commissions every night, weekend and holiday.
- The mural was not only a symbol of trust others had in me (the restaurant owner, Alex is now a friend) that made me believe more in myself, it also helped get my brand out there as it was in a high profile area in Kuching city.
- It was the point where I decided I could leave my full time job and try this art career.
- It was also a unique piece because the entire piece was drawn with lines instead of patches of colours, bringing out a unique sketch style. It was a spontaneous decision to draw in the style last minute on site, something I don’t do very often.
#2. Eden Recycled Bottle Installation
- After obtaining my scuba diving license I was in love with the underwater world
- It saddened me that pollution was destroying the magnificent world under the sea, so when I had a chance to propose a wall piece for a hotel around the time, I decided it should be something for environmental awareness.
- The method was inspired by an installation I saw at a hotel in KL, where they used plastic utensils to create a feature wall.
- So instead of shiny new utensils, we worked with the hotel to obtain the used plastic material to create the piece.
- I’m glad that the short video we made of the project was well viewed on YouTube, where schools and companies around the world were asking on the method to create this piece to apply to their own projects.
- We were also commissioned to do a few more environmental-awareness related art projects after that which is heartwarming to me as more of us today are more environmentally conscious and want to spread the awareness.
#3. Sarawak General Hospital RTU Mural
- This is a charity project for the cancer ward at our local general hospital.
- This painting was requested by the doctors of the ward to lighten the hearts of the patients and their loved ones
- As my mother had passed from cancer when I was a teen, I could relate to the difficulties faced by everyone at the ward
- When we were painting, a patient (or their family member) told us that it was nice to get their minds off their worries and have something colourful to look at
- This mural makes me grateful that I have skills to bring just a moment of happiness into the lives of others.
Darlie Semangat Together Campaign mural
- Post-Covid, the brand wanted to create a mural that features the unity of citizens in East Malaysia in riding tough times together.
- I am a proud Sarawkian at heart, and I truly believe that we are a very friendly and harmonious community. I also think that our cultural elements are what makes us unique (hence, if you look closely, you will see subtle modern Sarawakian elements in a lot of our art work).
- Being able to represent Sarawak and illustrate our unity for this brand’s project is something I’m quite proud of.
NAS Daily Office Mural
- It was an honour at the time to be able to paint in this very influential figure’s (21 mil followers on FB) new office in Singapore
- It inspired me just to meet the man himself. You can immediately tell that he deserves all his success, and being in the proximity to witness it is a privilege
- The mural itself has the meaning of unity as well as productivity.
- “Build something” — encourages us to use each of our unique abilities to create something for the world
- The many coloured hands show the different people around the world coming together. In a way, perhaps it also says that everyone has the power to build something (always love art with multiple positive messages)
- If you noticed, there are some Sarawakian tree of life patterns on one of the arms tattoos
3. What have you learnt throughout your journey thus far? Do you think often about the future?
Yes, it is in my nature to overthink everything, including the future — haha!
There is so much to learn, let me try to put down some key points:
In business (as a founder), one must:
- Be responsible.
- Be respectful.
- Think of the value you offer others.
- Don’t take anything too personally or emotionally.
- Be comfortable with your pace.
- Be okay being different and doing things your way (that’s why there’s “differentiation” in business anyway).
- Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, there is no truly ugly or truly beautiful piece, there is just a piece a person(s) likes at the time.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Inspiration is in everything.
- There is no wrong or right technique.
- Find meaning in what you do or find something that gives meaning to you whether it is in work or for people you love… because that’s what you’ll be willing to suffer for in the long run.
- Be okay with your timeline.
- Expect less from others, you have the power to make yourself happy.
4. Can you name us a few places West Malaysians should visit in Sarawak?
- Take a walk along the waterfront or get on the Sarawak River Cruise.
- Go to the Sarawak Cultural Village to see the Dayak traditional homes and dances, then head over to the sunset bar at Damai Beach Resort to chill [relax].
- Bako National Park — lots of amazing things to see.
- Permai Rainforest Resort — go for kayaking in the sea and hikes up Mount Santubong — easily accessible.
- If you’re into more adventure, definitely check out the Mulu and Niah caves
Yes, it’s all about nature here.
5. What are the common misunderstandings people bring up, hold to regarding your line of work that you wish to demystify?
1. I must be rich that’s why I can do art as work.
I come from a middle income working-class family. My parents valued education and as typical Asians, did not support anything related to art. I am lucky to have gotten a study loan to go through university which I paid off myself. And before I started my art business, I worked an 8–5 while working on art commissions until I had enough money to try out being self-employed. Even THAT was very frightening.
2. Art (or creative work) doesn’t make money.
These days, as long as you can offer value, and think for other people (your Clients), you will be able to make money. Might be harder in the beginning, but as your portfolio grows and trust builds, you will be able to meet opportunities where people recognise your value in time.
3. Talent is a gift that brings success
Everyone must’ve heard this a thousand times, but without practice, the “talent” might not show. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, and kept drawing till now, hence, probably the thousands of hours must’ve miraculously become a talent (hehe).
6. Art is amoral but what are the ethics involved in ensuring you are crafting work that does not violate ethical standards? Which you know about.
I’m not totally sure about what ethical standards there are. All I know is to respect copyright.
If it’s about expressing certain viewpoints or creating pieces that people might not like, I think people should still have the freedom to create and express what they like. Just so that people that agree can relate, and people that disagree can express themselves as well (whether to go against or to discuss for better understanding).
It’s almost like language and speech, it’s just another form of expression to me, which is important.
7. How can art help bring about common good to everyday people? E.g. as a medium to express protestation to war, tyranny, unfair treatment.
I see art as a way for people to connect. For people to relate to each other. Like how when you listen to a sad song and feel comforted that someone can express your sadness — you feel less alone.
In that, I see good.
So when people are to use it as a medium to express their cause, I think art is a great tool to communicate and help the people understand each other better.
8. What are the moments that bring you down as an artist and what helps you to stand up again?
In the beginning, it was the lack of security from being self-employed, after that it’s more to do with the fear of not being able to keep physically creating forever.
The thought of being able to do something new and creative everyday gives me motivation. And of course, the appreciation from others makes me realize that, perhaps this is the value I’m gifted to offer the world. So I’ll keep doing creative work and I think I’ll eventually find a way to overcome all the downs.
9. There is a quote I wish to share, if you may, share your thoughts on this:
The key to job satisfaction
There is a lot of evidence that the driver of vocational satisfaction is not working in your passion area.
Rather, it spending time developing skills in a role.The thought is that time-in-role generally yields the skills and experience required to master your vocational craft.
It is this mastery that produces job satisfaction, rather than any innate passion.
A lot of people jump from role to role, or industry to industry, in search of a job that is satisfying.
It would often be wiser to invest that energy into skill development for the current job/industry in which you work.
If you do this, you will probably discover that it becomes increasingly satisfying over time.
(Credits to: Michael Foster & D. Bnonn Tennant from itsgoodtobeaman.com.)
(Reason for sharing is that many nowadays are working on jobs they did not invest their university days in — but that is okay.)
I agree that if you become good at something, you’ll feel satisfaction. Because maybe you have up-skilled in your role and perhaps you feel valued for it.
But I feel in the long run, all the “you shoulds” become boring and meaningless as you get better and better in something you are not (at-least) quite interested in. It apparently becomes the reason midlife crisis(es) happen (according to a couple of Ted Talks on mid life crisis I’ve been listening to). We go through life and its stages because it’s satisfying or because it is a route that is taught to us, but sometimes we forget to ask ourselves what it means to us, and until some point, when there is nothing else to chase, we get lost and in the end STILL try to search for meaning.
I believe that we probably wouldn’t have a lot of progress if there weren’t people who “chased their passion”. If they stuck to a given safe role instead of exploring their creativity and unknown possibilities, where would the original thinkers then come from?
So I would advise most people to do something they are at least a little interested in or good at naturally to pursue as a career/way to make money. It would be easier to find meaning and convince ourselves we are offering value because of some super power given to us. Because with this “meaning/value” thing, we would be more willing to “suffer”(aka work) for it in the long run. It could be as exciting as sports or as boring as accounting. But if someone loves numbers, hey, “boring” is just a popular opinion.
Then again, I am also aware that not everyone would have the opportunity immediately to do something they are somewhat interested in. And also aware that for others, it’s not that easy to even find what they might actually be interested in.
So if needed, sure, work on something else first instead of your passion, but keep the passion alive anyway through hobbies.
For those who haven’t found it, I’d say, look at what you’ve been continuously doing, or bring you joy, since young till now, maybe it’s right under your nose. Or, just try everything and see what sticks. If you still stick to a job you find boring, maybe you don’t really hate it after all.
Perhaps we can also consider that there might be a spectrum to passion, so some would feel a strong desire to do something and some just don’t push you enough; and maybe you can have multiple passions too, so it’s harder to pinpoint one; or you’d be tempted to do many things (which I think I am realising now as well).
Many would say my passion is in art, but I don’t feel a burning desire to express myself in the artistic form all the time, instead, I find myself interested in solving creative challenges for others, perhaps then, my passion is in expression? Or sharing?
Hence, I design more for others instead of paint a lot of original pieces; and create digital media content instead of drawing everyday this topic would probably go on and on — haha!
Not sure if this answers the question properly, but I think to conclude, do whatever suits you. Whether you chase your passion or not, accept that you made the best choices for yourself at each point in time, and take opinions and “evidence” with a grain of salt, we are all unique anyway.
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Note: All media featured in this article are credited to Daphne Siaw. All opinions featured here belong to the interviewee and this article-feature does not necessarily endorse all listed opinions.