For Au Lai Mun, 28, quitting her job and returning to her hometown Ipoh to focus full-time on her passion for resin craft seemed to be the best decision she has made in a long while.
Some years ago, the Universiti Sains Malaysia graduate was working full-time as a graphic designer and application engineer to service design software in Kuala Lumpur and crafting after work until midnight. After a while, she began suffering from severe migraine. She said, “I was so depressed from work stress and had to drag myself to the office every morning. I had migraine attacks as often as twice a week. I consulted many doctors, none of whom could cure me of my migraine. It miraculously disappeared when I returned home.”
Now almost four years running her home-based craft business, Lai Mun has made a name for herself as “Half Lemon”. While Lemon is a play on her given name, Half is added in front to depict imperfection, recognising the fact that no one is perfect.
Lai Mun specialises in building miniature art houses related to Malaysian culture. Feeling strongly about the impending loss of heritage and tradition due to modernisation, she shared, “So far, I have built an authentic village house, a Chinese coffee shop, a traditional grocery stall, and an old-style barber shop, among others. I believe these artwork will evoke precious memories in those who view them, especially if they are from the older generation.
“One of my miniature houses won the Penang Tanjong Heritage Award in 2009. My shop house model was a traditional grocery stall on one side and a modern convenience store on the other side. It touched the hearts of the jury because there is a policy by the Penang government that prevents shop owners from changing the heritage design of their shops. However, businesses have been renovated into contemporary styles, as I have shown in my model. Although the shops maintained their exterior, I feel that the purpose of preserving heritage is lost.
“On the other hand, those from the younger generation are usually surprised when they see my models, wondering how anyone could live or work in these environments. As such, I find that my models are great eye-openers for youngsters on life in the old days.”
Coming from the younger generation herself, where does Lai Mun get her ideas and inspirations? She explained, “I started modelling after my grandmother’s village house and its surroundings. The ideas just flowed from there. I also do my research by reading up and going through old photographs of houses and shops, to see how they were decorated.”
Lai Mun’s miniature houses seem like time-consuming work. After coming up with an idea, she would gather the materials required, including cardboard for walls, doors and windows plus paper clay for wall texture as well as resin clay for food like sausages, ginger and garlic. What about the canned food? Lai Mun shares her trick, “I use pencils. After cutting them into short parts, I paint them silver and stick them with self-made labels.”
She continued, “It takes up to three months to complete a project but most of my time is taken up fulfilling custom orders from my clients, usually gifts for their loved ones, for weddings, anniversaries or to commemorate some other special occasion. Besides, I am a freelance graphic designer for a few local brands and teach holiday classes for children.”
As if that’s not enough on her hands, Lai Mun also showcases her products by attending craft fairs both locally and overseas as far as Korea and Australia, in addition to promoting them through social media and personal blog.
Being her own boss, Lai Mun is a lot happier now that she can generate revenue from her hobby. However, there is still something that irks her. Speaking on behalf of artists and crafters like herself, she said, “We are delighted that people appreciate our work. We do not mind them taking photos of our art but we hope that we, the creative minds behind those work, are respected too. I noticed that people would just come by, take a few shots of my models without seeking permission first or even give me a glance. A smile or maybe “good job” would definitely encourage us to do better.
“It also hurts when potential customers would ask for a discount for our art. It’s never easy to put a price tag on custom-made items or place a value on the passion that one puts into creating art.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Teeny weeny art] was published on 1st June, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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