Evelyn Chan became ill, but discovered the art of telling stories in miniature

  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 05 Dec 2017

Chan loves telling stories through her tiny, intricate paintings, which she turns into wearable art. Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

A tiny, perfectly-detailed autumnal tree – every leaf ablaze – in a field of flowers. The distinctive pink peony on a blue-green base, immediately evocative of Chinese Peranakan porcelain ware. And the little silhouette of a small girl exuding determination and courage, looking out at a sky full of stars.

These are the fruits of Evelyn Chan’s imagination, translated in miniature detail – via a fine needle or brush and a magnifying glass – onto ceramic, porcelain, metal, resin and translucent plastic paper, then turned into jewellery with a whimsical, artistic bent.

Her passion for painting bloomed when a swollen neck revealed a growth in her thyroid, which needed to be removed. “They found some cancerous cells, but the removal meant that they got them all,” she explained.

“I had to be on bed rest for a month, and that’s when I took up painting. I found this artist, Eva Thissen, on Etsy – she paints miniature art on polymer clay. And I thought how nice to be able to tell a story in something so petite!”

“In a time like that, there are ups and downs, certainties and doubts – and you don’t want to just be talking to people about your illness all the time, it’s very negative,” mused Chan. “The painting helped me to express how I felt without always having to verbalise it.”

She watched YouTube videos to learn the technique, and started by painting minuscule flowers.

Her latest experiments have seen Chan turn her resin pieces into statement earrings.

Born in Hong Kong, Chan moved to picturesque Devon in Britain when she was just 13, to attend boarding school. Here, she was surrounded with the sort of pastoral gorgeousness that now finds expression in her jewellery. Memory often serves as muse.

She then went on to complete a degree in Mathematics, followed by a PhD in Optimisation, and then opened her own translation business, which she still owns and runs. Chan married a Malaysian, and the first house they bought in Britain was an old Victorian.

“We didn’t have much money, so we used to go to car boot sales and antique sales, they were cheap then.”

The timber floors of the house hid a secret – a sealed crawlspace filled with antique treasures, like 1940s china. The discovery of these treasures seeded a love for art, and a particular fondness for antiques and the vintage style that Chan now uses in her own art.

“When I was young in HK, people didn’t really invest in art,” said Chan. “But when I had my elder daughter in the UK, we started visiting a lot of museums, first edgy, often controversial contemporary art, and then the classics.

“We moved to Malaysia in 2012, because my husband wanted to come home,” said Chan. And that’s when she really found herself as an artist.

Chan's Be Fearless series, pictured here on resin, is inspired by her daughters.

Chan paints in several series, under the YiliYuli label (www.yiliyuli.com), named for her two daughters. There’s Flower Power, which appeals to those who like pretty florals; fascinated by Chinese Peranakan culture, Chan has dedicated quite a few pieces under this series to it.

There’s also the Tree of Life range – “this appeals to many people, including those who live an organic, natural lifestyle, and those seeking meaning”. And the Be Fearless range, which features a series of silhouettes of little girls inspired by her daughters, fearlessly navigating a beautiful, frightening world.

Many of her pendants are essential oil diffusers, bought by people interested in wellness or who are ill, and who have found resonance with her work. “It’s a humbling experience to create a pendant, and have someone tell me that’s exactly what they needed,” she said.

Now, Chan has also moved into a combination of painting and assemblage, incorporating vintage glass beads, or the gilt cherubs of her Angels Watching Over You series. “When the vintage beads and findings arrive from all over the world, they are often in the original packaging from the 1920s – it’s like opening treasures!”

For Chan, discovering both her love of art and painting skills also saw a shift in her own perspective. “I find that I look at things in more depth now, and appreciate craftsmanship more,” she concluded.

Chan has painted these pretty flowers on curved pieces of metal.

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