Want calmness? Do what he does – draw owls


  • People
  • Sunday, 27 Sep 2015

Dr Alvin Ng doodles owls as a form of meditation. Photo: The Star/Ibrahim Mohtar

It all started two years ago when a cousin gave Dr Alvin Ng an owl origami and called him “Owl-vin”.

An idea struck.

He liked the moniker, and since art was one of his hobbies, he started doodling owls.

“I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, especially superheroes, funny stuff, caricatures, human figures and things based on current affairs. It’s a sort of mental health management for me,” reveals the 40-year-old clinical psychologist and lecturer.

Some of you may recognise his voice – he dishes out advice during his free clinic on Astro’s Lite & Easy radio channel every Wednesday morning.

While most people might happily draw a variety of different birds, Ng’s fascination is exclusively with owls.

“They are one of the cutest birds around,” he reckons. “I’m also an avid birdwatcher and saw a collared owlet in Awana Genting, Pahang, once. He kept opening his eyes to look at me and when he realised I wasn’t going to move, he started taking small steps sideways to distance himself from me,” he intimated, grateful that he was privy to that wonderful moment.

One of Ng’s favourite birds is the burrowing owl, although this species is foreign to our landscape. It’s a small, long-legged owl found mostly in open pastures and grasslands in North and South America. Mostly found walking on ground or making short flights to low perches, these owls have a distinctive facial pattern with brown cap, white eyebrows, and large yellow eyes.

This is one sign that hangs on Dr Ngs office door when he is unwell and doesnt want visitors.
This is one sign that hangs on Dr Ngs office door when he is unwell and doesnt want visitors.

These mostly nocturnal birds of prey often intimidate other bird species. In fact, fake owls are often placed on top of buildings to keep pigeons and other types of birds from nesting there. The owl is said to be a symbol of wisdom, and they make a unique and distinctive hooting sound at night that is very recognisable.

Most of Ng’s owls are sketched perched and fluffy (he likes them cute!), but they all have expressive eyes – depending on his mood when he begins drawing.

He doodles all over the place – on art blocks, napkins (when meal time conversations get boring), diaries, walls, tiles, tee-shirts, etc – and anytime he is stressed, bored, inspired, or when his students are presenting papers. But no, he doesn’t turn to his drawings to counsel students or for classroom work.

“I centre myself when I doodle. I don’t think about the past or future. It’s almost like meditation. Afterwards, there is a feeling of calmness or satisfaction or glee. I’m a moody artist. If I’m drawing something and it doesn’t turn out well, I will get really upset, so owls are my saving grace because I can doodle them pretty well.

“I don’t need people to like my doodles, but someone, somewhere, must see it! So, I post it on Instagram or Facebook and welcome comments,” says Ng, who has also appeared on television, speaking on mental well-being and psychology-related topics.

His finished masterpiece is usually hung up as signboard on doors to show his mood for the day or to inform people where he is. These include “Owlverine On A Mission” and “Stay Owlt”.

When he is really proud of a work, he gives it away as a gift and receives plenty of compliments.

Ng jests, “People don’t take my signs seriously! So, I use it for corridor entertainment. It keeps me creative as I find new ways to express myself. I also think of puns to go with the sketches.”

So enamoured is Ng with owls that he even joined a Facebook doodle group and picked up some handy tips to refine his skills.

Over time, people started giving him owl-related gifts and collectibles – soft toys, figurines, pencil holders, mugs – all of which are on display in his office or home.

Within two years of starting his hobby, psychologist Dr Alvin Ng has doodled over hundreds of owls.
Within two years of starting his hobby, psychologist Dr Alvin Ng has doodled over hundreds of owls.

“I don’t have a pet owl because owls are hard to keep. They are fussy about food, eat steak, vomit out pellets, and get jealous easily. I’d rather see them being free and roaming outdoors.

Ng keeps sketch books in every nook and corner so that he can doodle anytime he is bored or inspiration strikes.
Ng keeps sketch books in every nook and corner so that he can doodle anytime he is bored or inspiration strikes.

“Every now and then, friends will find some cute owl and tag me on Facebook. They are really the easiest things to sketch. Other birds are not as cute.”

Ng uses monochrome to sketch, but on rare occasions, he colours his work, too.

He says, “I tend to draw the eyes first, as these comprise the centre of the face. I give them different features. I’m an ideas man and if I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and doodle. So, you could say I doodle about two or three drawings a day. I also have sketch books all over the place.

“Now I’m thinking of selling my doodles as postcards!”

Any buyers?


Seeking hobbyists

Fly-catcher? Finger wrestler? Air trumpeter? If you have a unique, out-of-this world, wacky hobby or passion that you’d like to share, please write in to our hobbies coordinator, Revathi Murugappan, at star2@thestar.com.my

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