Showcasing Their Craft Through Carousell’s MADE in SG Initiative – An Interview With Artist Leah Chong and Freelance Actor Dwayne Lau
With the Media, Arts, Design, and Entertainment (MADE) industry thrown into a statis because of the COVID-19 outbreak, local creatives have brought their array of skills online to supplement their lost income.
To aid them, Carousell has launched MADE in SG, a platform for creatives to continue to engage audiences online and to dazzle Singaporeans with their crafts. The initiative was built in collaboration with the Singapore Brand Office and the SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group.
Launched in late April, the platform will provide all members of the creative community with free exposure to sell their creative works and services as part of a curated collection. Members that register under the initiative also stand to receive a CarouBiz Starter Pack consisting of three months-worth of Caroubiz subscription and S$100 of Carousell coins.
From pottery to customised digital paintings, the curated platform showcases a wide diversity of artisan goods created by Singapore’s very own artists available for purchase. Not limiting itself to goods, MADE in SG also features local creatives sharing their skills from photography to acting through online masterclasses.
Amongst the creatives on the platform are Leah Chong and Dwayne Lau. Leah, a lettering artist, calligrapher and illustrator, has for sale gorgeously lettered and detailed illustrations in a variety of sizes. She has also brought her experience teaching calligraphy online through lessons complimented by video lessons and worksheets. Check them all out on her Carousell page!
Dwayne, a freelance theatre actor and drama coach, started out creating handwoven fabric necklaces as a hobby before being convinced by his friends to bring them to the market. Starting out in 2018 with Instagram being the main platform, these quirky and vibrant nUdles are also now available on Carousell.
We caught up with two of these creatives to find out about them, their crafts and classes, and their plans post circuit breaker.
Tell us about yourself and your work
I’m an artist based in Singapore, specialising in lettering, illustration and mural art. My work is inspired by everyday life and feelings, and I strive to create art that empowers and heals or provokes thoughts to start conversations. I left my day job as an accountant two years ago and was able to turn my passion into my full-time job.
I hope to inspire others to do the same, living life in the present moment. Do what you love. Recently, I’ve also started an apparel brand, called Passion Parade Co., which is essentially wearable art that’s mental health and empowerment-centric. Visually, it’s dark but positive, feminine and also kinda edgy.
How has the initiative helped you out during this circuit breaker period?
I love how MADE in SG highlights local makers, artists, musicians, creators and more, and it’s nice to be part of the local community filled with amazing like-minded people. It’s also cool to learn more about other creatives in Singapore and checking out their diverse and incredible works!
Could you give us a brief overview of your online calligraphy courses on Carousell?
Sure! I’ve been teaching calligraphy in-person in Singapore for about three years or so, and I do so fairly frequently over the years. I love teaching and sharing the craft! I’ve had a course run scheduled for June initially, but unfortunately as you know, due to the COVID-19 situation, they didn’t go as planned. I then asked my audience on socials if they’d be interested if I were to bring my calligraphy course online and they said yes! So I dived right in, did a bunch of research about online teaching so that I know I’m doing it right and well. I was also able to bring over my students who signed up for June’s run to my online course, so they’re still able to learn calligraphy as scheduled and planned.
My course is called The Ultimate Calligraphy Course, which spans five weeks. It’s a step-by-step online course to help you master calligraphy with clarity so that you can create the work you envision with ease, confidence and success. It includes everything from Copperplate basics, minuscules and majuscules, flourishing, modern calligraphy, ligatures, digitisation and more, taking you from clueless to confident! Essentially, it’s everything that I know from my past five years of experience with the craft, condensed to digestible lessons with a clear roadmap for others to accelerate their learning and find success with calligraphy, not in five years, but in five weeks!
Could someone with no background in art benefit from the online calligraphy courses?
Absolutely! I’m self-taught myself and I believe that anyone is creative and can create beautiful and artistic things; it’s just a matter of dismissing limiting beliefs like “my handwriting is terrible” or “I can’t create/draw/calligraph beautifully even if I tried”.
I also find that apart from learning the artistic skill of calligraphy itself, there’s another valuable aspect of practising mindfulness and being present in the moment when you get into the flow state while writing. Kinda like art therapy, where you’re able to set time aside for you and your own creativity, unwinding and slowing down in this fast-paced world.
So far, I’ve had the privilege to share my expertise with many students over the past three years and have helped them learn and grow their calligraphy journey – from local Singaporeans to visiting tourists, calligraphy beginners to seasoned practitioners, casual hobbyists to business owners from other fields (e.g. florists, bakers, illustrators, graphic designers etc.), designers from brand agencies and MOE school art teachers. So yes, someone with no art background will benefit from this course, as the course is made for absolute beginners with no prior knowledge at all, and I’ll be covering everything from the ground up!
That said, the lessons are progressive so even though we are tackling increasingly advanced topics, I’ll guide you step by step along the way so that the learning curve is gradual, but never plateauing.
What are the main challenges teaching online compared to teaching in a class?
As I’ve been teaching offline for some time, it was easier to translate that to an online platform. I know what and how to teach, so content wasn’t an issue! For most people, there might be a concern of not having that one-to-one attention from the teacher through an online course so I tried my best to solve this by covering all the common mistakes and how to rectify them so that students are able to understand the why and how behind the what, and would be able to spot their own mistakes on their own.
I’ve also introduced one-to-one coaching where students can get personal feedback or live calls with me so they get that one to one attention still, just like an in-person course. Also, having a Facebook group to answer any questions promptly is helpful as well.
While the teaching part itself wasn’t an issue, I’d say the challenges I’ve faced lie mainly in the technical aspect such as filming in multi-camera angles, which is something I strive to do in future when I’ve more camera gear for better production quality. I also had to learn new things like a little bit of HTML coding for my website (where I host the online course) as well as how to compress audio for better audio quality. Those were a challenge for sure but thank god for Google!
What have you been up to during the circuit breaker period?
Filming and editing my online course! Plus the occasional binge-watching on YouTube like watching people make Dalgona coffee but I end up not making any for myself anyway. Evening walks around the neighbourhood and supermarket trips. Staying at home. Drawing and snacking way too much.
What are your plans after the circuit breaker?
I plan to create more apparel designs and shoot some visuals for the merch outdoors! Also looking forward to seeing friends, visiting parks, reading by the beach, people-watch at a coffee place etc.; just the little enjoyable things in life.
Tell us about yourself and your work
I have been acting since 2007. I graduated in 2007 doing theatre in university. After that, I was a freelance performer and a drama coach in St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School. I’ve been coaching them for about 11 years already – I’ve been coaching at other schools as well but St Anthony’s has been the longest one. I juggle between that and theatre. So I do performances – I perform and act in musicals and in plays. I’m also a playwright writing scripts for companies, and I also direct as well. So I would say that I am a full-time freelancer performing, writing, directing and teaching.
How did you find out about Carousell’s MADE in SG’s initiative?
I have a friend who was volunteering during this COVID-19 period and he found out about the initiative online. He then asked me if I wanted to try this. I think I tried to sell [nUdles] on Carousell before but to very little avail so I’ve been mainly doing it on Instagram. So I just submitted [the application to be featured on the MADE in SG platform] and it was a pleasant surprise that I was selected to come onboard this initiative.
Have you been affected by the tightened measures on home based businesses? Are you still able to sell the necklaces with the measures?
Yes I can, because I have zero contact with the clients. How it works is that they select stuff from my Carousell account or my Instagram account and then they communicate with me via my phone so they just tell me what they want. If they want to customise one, I will discuss with them over the phone, and then once it’s selected or once it’s done, I will just post it out. And my Singpost mail box is literally just downstairs. It’s less than five minutes walk away so I just post it in and it goes straight to them. Since it’s in small packages and it’s light, they don’t have to go to the post office to collect it or there’s a need for the postman to go to their doors.
So I’m quite thankful because initially when the tightened measures came in, I was a bit worried when they said all home-based businesses are going to be affected. Then I read it and I was like, eh but I have no contact at all even walking to the post box.
While my Instagram account is mainly followed by friends or people who already know me, Carousell is a more public platform so anybody who Googles for necklaces or accessories would be able to find my page. This has been helpful as I’ve been in contacts with people that I probably wouldn’t have been in contact with – who are not following me on my Instagram or are not in my social circle.
I have had people who have linked to my Instagram from Carousell because I have a longer history of stuff on my Instagram so they can scroll from there. So how the initiative has helped me is that it has definitely given me a greater platform, especially when I’m featured on the banner.
I’m quite thankful for suddenly being thrown into the spotlight. I mean, I really appreciate it. I honestly never saw that coming at all. So it has helped a lot and I’m still learning how to work a business account lah you know, because with the 10,000 [CarouBiz] coins I still don’t know what to do with it. If I boost for three days, okay, I’ll use 100 coins – is that enough? Am I doing it right? I’m not the most entrepreneurial person so this is a bit new to me.
How did you get started making nUdles?
A couple of years back, maybe three and a half years ago, there was another lady who was [making hand woven necklaces] at a Christmas fair along Orchard Road and I bought them for my friends. When I started giving it to people, my friends were all commenting about how nice they are and how they complement the colours they wear. Then my sister and some of my friends told me that I can actually make it myself. I was like, “Oh really? I will just try it lah.” I went online and found out that people cut up their T-shirts to make the yarn [for the necklaces] because these yarns actually come from excess cloth from factories after making all the shirts. They transform the unused cloth into yarn so that they don’t waste it.
I mean, of course, there are online tutorials of cutting up your own T-shirts and all but then I was thinking, who would want to wear my T-shirts? So I found contacts of where I could buy the raw materials from and I started off making them as gifts for Christmas or birthdays just to friends in general. I made a couple for myself to wear too since I personally like wearing accessories.
Suddenly, somebody told me, “Eh, you should sell these things, you know? These things are compatible, they are worth selling in the market.” I had doubts that anybody would buy them since I’m just an actor who is making these necklaces as a hobby but my friends still pushed me to try. I have a photographer friend – I think all the photos on my Carousell are by him – and he was like, “Dwayne, I will come to your house and I will take photos for you. I will bring my girlfriend along, you can put the necklaces on her neck, and I will lend you her chin and her collarbone.”
So they came over to my place, I made about 20 nUdles, he did a little shoot and, wow, within three hours I had a couple of orders already! And I was like, oh my gosh I need to start making stuff now. It was a nice sideline kind of thing because it would be extra pocket money for Christmas and to buy presents.
And then yeah, I just started making it and then it became…I mean it was never a business, business because it’s only just me and I also have a lot of other things to do. When I have time, I would pick it up, sit down, do a couple and post it up on Instagram. As and when people would ask if they can customise something for their friend’s birthday and I would be like, yeah sure.
So that’s kind of how I started. I mean I like making them as a friend, and I know people appreciate them because I think to find…for me personally, sometimes I want customised things and it can be difficult to find them in the market. If you want something with dinosaurs hanging all over it, you won’t be able to find it unless you make it for yourself. So I guess that’s my niche – I can create stuff. Anything you want to hang on the necklaces, I can hang it for you if I have it.
How long does it take to make one nUdle?
It depends on the complexity of the design so the fastest can be about 30 minutes. Then you have to factor in the time stringing the beads or adding this and adding that. Often it takes a little bit more time because I have to factor in what kind of colour combinations work.
Some people are more specific in what they want – they know what colour combinations and style. But others would be like, “I really don’t know leh, can you help me match this dress?” So they will show me a picture of the dress, and I will customise it for them. Or if the guy wants to buy for his girlfriend, he would say, “Hey I never bought accessories before and I know my girlfriend likes to wear accessories and I don’t know how to buy [them].” So I would ask them to show me her Instagram account, or show me some pictures of her, and I would kind of analyse – try my best lah – to analyse what kind of person she is. She might be very quirky, or likes colours, and I will recommend certain things.
Most of the time I haven’t gone wrong lah – if I’ve gone wrong it’s because the person chose wrongly. But I find joy in.. for me it’s not just about making the necklaces, because I mean you could just go online and buy necklaces online, but I like to communicate with the buyer and… I mean that’s my personality as well. I like to make it such that at the end of the day the buyer has a sense that they created the necklace, and they could tell their partners, girlfriends, or friends that they designed it for them.
So that’s what I’m also quote-unquote selling – not just the product but also the communication and the process of creating something.
Has it been difficult to source for the materials during this period?
Yes because of postage. Some stuff has been stuck in mail. Some stores have not been able to open because of the lockdown. They can’t even go in to pack their stuff. So I have to work with what I have. Sometimes clients will come and ask if I have a particular design and I’ll let them know that I don’t have it now but they’re coming in about a few weeks time, and that I can offer alternatives.
Sometimes they don’t mind waiting, others don’t mind the alternatives. As postages have been delayed, sometimes what would take two days for local mail might take five days.to reach when I send it out. So I would have to send out a disclaimer to them about the delay unless they want courier servicing.
What have you been up to during the circuit breaker?
Been up to quite a lot of stuff actually. I thought I would be really bored but I’ve been making nUdles – that’s one thing. I’ve also been doing storytelling on Saturday mornings for a gig whereby I record myself telling a fairy tale in 20 minutes for a kids programme online.
I started before on site but now I film it in my room. I have been telling fairy tales like “Jack and The Beanstalk” and “The Elves and The Shoemaker”. I dramatise it, record it live with no edits – literally 20 minutes of me just telling a story and reenacting with costumes and all that.
So that takes up some time. I’ve also been doing random YouTube videos over the past few weeks. I’ve been parodying a lot of what’s been happening in the past few weeks, for example the whole stay-at-home thing and the whole incident about the sovereign lady. So I’ve taken songs from Le Misérables and I rewrote the lyrics.
I’ve also been doing another storytelling with my godkids and a few of my friends’ children whereby I get them to film in their own houses, and then I will edit everything together into one seamless story like a storybook with the kids playing the different characters. Just to keep them busy as well because it’s now the holidays and then the parents are all like, “Oh no what do we do?” So that’s basically what I’ve been up to.
What are your plans after the circuit breaker?
While schools probably will start, the CCA programmes definitely won’t start because that is the least of their priorities. I coach drama and it’s a close contact activity in confined spaces so that definitely… I dare say it wouldn’t start until next year.
All the contact sports have been cancelled. I’m not even sure if they are willing to let the programmes go online because it has to be an initiative from MOE, I can’t create a programme and bring them online because as coaches we come under MOE. If MOE says no go, we also can’t go anywhere.
In terms of theatre, as of now, the next possible gig that I’m contracted to is in October for a show in November with WILD RICE. And as of now, we don’t know yet. Actors can go in and rehearse but we don’t know who is going to come and watch the show. If in November safe distancing still applies, tickets will be four times the original price in order for the audience to remain 2 metres apart and to recuperate the costs. So I don’t know who will pay $200 to watch a show lah.
A lot of the theatre programmes can be brought online. I have been trying to push this as a viable option for parents who want Zoom sessions for their kids and I do storytelling as well. A lot of things are going online so I guess that’s the only way to go for now.
In terms of theatre stuff, I mean you can never replicate theatre online, on screen, because it will be a movie. So fingers crossed that one day soon – as soon as possible – things will get back to what it was before.
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