When she was a schoolgirl in the 1950s, Lady Monjulee Webb never enjoyed her art lessons. In fact, she recalls, her art teachers at Tunku Kurshiah School (now Sekolah Tunku Kurshiah) in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan didn’t have a very positive impression of her artwork.
But at 50, the Malaysian-born, Wales-based Monjulee decided to "pick up a new skill" and learn to paint. For the past 23 years, Monjulee has painted more than 100 pieces of art and has had her work shown at exhibitions at a few art galleries in Wales.
“I had no intention of becoming an artist. I just wanted to acquire a new skill and new interest. One thing led to another and I am happy to have explored my creative streak, ” shares Monjulee in an interview from South Glamorgan, Wales recently.
Learning a new skill later in life is proof that age isn't ever an obstacle to picking up a new skill or hobby, says Monjulee
“Age has nothing to do with learning something new. Being older may be a plus point as senior citizens can afford to indulge in new skills for their pleasure. My advice is to take a relaxed approach without setting goals other than enjoying the journey.”
A visual feast
She started to paint in 1996 – the same year she married British academician and public administrator Sir Adrian Webb, and settled down in Wales. Painting was an activity that the newly married couple could do together and, Monjulee shares, it strengthen their bond.
“As he liked birding, my husband painted birds using watercolour. I too decided to try my hand at painting. Ironically, because of the demands of work, he stopped painting as soon as I started!” says Monjulee, who worked as a college student counsellor in Kuala Lumpur before marrying Webb.
The self-taught artist admits that it took time for her to find style that suited her personality.
“I read books about watercolour painting and learned different techniques and slowly, I identified a style that I was comfortable with. I also got help and inspiration from the videos by well known watercolour artists.”
Monjulee chooses watercolour painting over acrylic and oil, because she finds it more challenging and rewarding.
"Watercolour is a difficult medium, one mistake and you end up throwing the painting away. You cannot paint over mistakes as you can with oil or some other mediums. That is part of the challenge.
"The beauty of watercolour is it has a delicate lightness, somewhat of a transparency". Colours mix well and blend in interesting ways," says Monjulee, who is of Bengali descent.
It was her friend, Welsh artist Arnold Lowry, who encouraged her to exhibit her work in the late 1990s.
“Some of the first paintings I sold were auctioned for charity. I also give many of my paintings away as gifts. The most I have sold at any one time was 14 pieces at an exhibition, ” says Monjulee, whose paintings are priced between £200 and £600 (RM1,030 and RM3,110) in Britain. (To see her work, go to www.monjulee.art)
When she was 60 years old, Monjulee became the High Sheriff in South Glamorgan in Wales - the first woman from an ethnic minority to hold the post.
“High Sheriff is the oldest continuous public role in Britain. It was a great honour to be appointed for this role for a year. One of my main roles was to raise money for charity, and for me, the cause I was championing was restorative justice, ” says Monjulee, who is also vice president of Mid Glamorgan Scouts Association, and non-executive director of Cardiff and the Vale Health Board.
Monjulee wishes to quell common misconception that senior citizens can't develop their lives after retirement. Though as a grandmother of nine she relishes her time with her children and grandchildren, Monjulee believes that at 73, she has still passions she wishes to pursue.
“Enjoying my family and the progress of my grandchildren is an important part of life. But, the secret of healthy ageing is to keep expanding our horizons, to learn new things and take up new challenges. A brain that is learning is one that is fulfilled. And a fulfilled brain is the recipe to remaining mentally alert, ” she explains.
Monjulee loves to read, play golf, potter around her garden and cook.
“I started to play golf later in life. Such interests keep a person younger than they really are. My husband and I are still young enough at heart and mobile enough in our 70s to have "adventurous" holidays across Europe, Africa and Central Asia.
"There are many courses and activities that older people can enjoy and a huge range of opportunities to do voluntary work to help others, and the community. Life is for living to the fullest!