Painting a colourful pastime


THERE’S much to admire at JessicaSue Decorative Art, a studio in Sri Hartamas that was opened three years ago by two ladies, Suzanne Tan, a former tax consultant, and Jessica Yew, a former lawyer. 

Specialising in decorative art, the studio is full of custom-made pieces that can be used as decorative accessories at home or given away as gifts. 

The cosy ambience of the studio also makes it a perfect place to learn about decorative art, with the two ladies at hand as instructors. 

Yew became interested in decorative art while she was in the United States, where she lived for six years, in the 1990s. She took up painting lessons and met a woman during one of the sessions who was to take her deeper into the world of decorative art. 

PARTNERS IN ART: Tan (left) abd Yew with their array of decorative items.

“She invited me to her home to view her pieces. Later, she also gave me some pointers on the art,’’ recalls Yew. 

When she returned to Malaysia, Yew, 42, was keen to share the joys of pursuing decorative art as a hobby with other like-minded enthusiasts and began taking in students. 

“I had five students sitting around my kitchen table at the beginning,'' says Yew, adding that the students were initially sceptical of producing anything worthy of being called beautiful.  

It was at this stage that Tan, 48, stepped into the picture, first as one of Yew’s students and subsequently as business partner. The two struck a friendship, which saw the setting-up of JessicaSue Decorative Art in 1999. 

“I had indulged in decorative art elsewhere but I became interested in Jessica’s method of teaching, which was more in-depth,’’ says Tan. 

Within the partnership, Yew concentrates on teaching while Tan provides the studio space, which is a house in Sri Hartamas. Not only is the place filled with all manner of decorative art items, even the doors and walls are artfully painted! 

“Teaching is not my forte but Jessica is good at it as she has inter-personal skills to reach out to students,’’ Tan admits. 

At this, Yew quickly chips in to say that Suzanne provides very strong moral support and encouragement to everyone, including the students.  

Evidently the partnership is still strong after three years. The ladies complement each other and agree that their priority in the business is on personal satisfaction rather than commercial gain.  

Yew says that their initial investment of RM40,000 has long since been recovered. 

“Nowadays, the expenditure on a tri-monthly basis would come up to about RM20,000,” she says, adding that many of the materials they use are imported from the US. 

“The imported brushes, with a starting price of RM20, are the expensive items. However, these are only used to do the intricate designs.” 

Though they have not struck a goldmine, Yew says the business generates enough income for them to keep on going comfortably. 

“We were not too sure how it was going to work out but decided to take a chance,” she says. “We enjoy what we do, it is enough to pay the bills and travel, and it is all done in a stress-free environment.” 

Apart from teaching, Yew and Tan have also taken up commissions to do special pieces for companies. But this depends on timing, says Yew, whose time is mainly taken up by teaching. “This would require a lot of time, working on new ideas and going for refresher courses. 

“A wood frame piece we did in 2001 took me 15 days to finish. I was working as many hours as I could a day,” recalls Yew who had to compete with various other artists to get the commission. 

Yew and Tan both favour their privacy so it is no surprise that their advertising is through word of mouth. This has worked for them, since Yew herself prefers to keep her classes small to ensure that individual attention is provided. 

“My students enjoy working here as they love being in the laidback atmosphere, which is very different from a normal classroom scenario,'' says Yew adding that her students say they learnt patience doing decorative art. 

The students comprise mainly housewives eager to break their normal routine for a few hours of each day, and creating something nice in the process. 

“I bake bread every morning and we all enjoy coffee together while painting. So it is a relaxed setting,” says Yew who values this personal atmosphere very much. 

Of the students, Tan says some make things to give to charitable organisations while most just pursue decorative art as a hobby. One was a cancer patient who wanted to make something for each of her family members before she passed on. 

“She found decorative art the perfect therapy for her condition,” says Yew. 

Being the teacher, Yew sets out a syllabus that allows her students to be slowly moulded into the various techniques of decorative art. Fees start from RM700, which includes payment for 15 tubes of paint, palette, brushes, brush bin and other tools used in painting.  

“Of course, this is the initial fee. As they go along, there will be other materials included as well. You can take as long as you need to get into painting more difficult and intricate designs. It all depends on your interest,’’ Yew explains. 

“The wonderful aspect of decorative art is that it keeps on growing. Each year either Suzanne or I would go overseas to pick up new skills and techniques to impart to our students,’’ she adds. 

Compared to other countries like Australia, Japan, Korea, the United States, and even Singapore, the Malaysian market for decorative art is quite limited, Yew says. But the world at large is their source for ideas, and they get these through their travels, from discussions with students and through books and magazines. 

In fact, inspiration could be just under one’s nose, as they found when they noticed a moon cake gift box. They worked on the plain cover and transformed it into a gift box to hold wine or vinegar bottles. 

“It is really up to you to decide what you want to do. We get the carpenter to make the shapes we want out of medium density fibre wood. Then our work starts,” says Yew as she holds up a finished item. 

The studio offers lessons in a variety of techniques, including Victorian, Zhostovo, Norwegian Rose Malling and Dutch Hindeloopen.  

“As you progress in learning the art, you would be able to advance to more intricate designs that you may want to do,” says Tan. 

As they want to keep the business small and personal, they don’t even have a website or plans to expand.  

“At present, we are content to run the business in this manner. Maybe we might do it later,” says Yew. 


o Jessica Yew can be contacted at: 013-3634731and Suzanne Tan at 012-2908206.  

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