In Humans of SKY, Yarraville

Like what you've read? Share the love!

Resident of Yarraville, Artist and Teacher

Owner of Dawn Tan

I’ve always loved art since I was a little kid. I was exposed to and started making art even before I could walk. I recently came across many pictures of baby me, chewing on ribbons and crayons. Mum used to love hosting parties and there was always access to all kinds of fun and colourful trims.

Growing up, I failed at almost every subject in school, apart from English art and of course, anything that required me to be vocal. Hah! I was a hardworking student but just couldn’t figure out numbers and equations. I simply loved and wanted to do art all day long.

I was quite lucky as Mum and Dad were supportive of my passion. They ensured I was surrounded by art as they saw how much I enjoyed it. To hone my passion, they sent me to weekend art classes. I pretty much took art classes from the age of four till I was 16.

I am born and bred in Singapore and moved to Melbourne when I was 21. After completing high school, I had aspirations to be an artist in Singapore. However, the cultural mentality of the country equates an artist to someone with a low-paying job. People talked me into being a designer instead. After all, being a designer sounds cooler and would mean I get to work in an advertising firm of sorts and that meant having a stable job.

As a young lady, the idea of calling myself a designer sounded fun so I decided to do just that. I spent three years pursuing the diploma but found it really boring as I was often hiding behind my screen, working till late, talking to computers most of the time. I craved sharing my craft and talking to actual people. This boredom somehow led me to explore teaching and setting up my own little art illustration business, while still in the midst of my diploma.

I started to volunteer at a Japanese art studio. I sat in classes, helping out whenever the teachers needed an extra hand. I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese but was always happy to communicate with the children via gestures and actions.

One thing led on to another and I was lucky enough to be offered a few classes on my own to teach. The studio started enrolling more children and I started to teach my own classes. It was also during this time when I decided to explore other options where working with children was involved. I spent time running weekly classes at other art studios, shops and in kindergartens. I even spent the last bit of my extra time volunteering as a rider guide with the children at Singapore’s Riding for the Disabled Association.

Upon graduating from my diploma course, I decided to move to Australia to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. Even though I was studying here in Australia, I would still take on freelance jobs and I’d also fly back to Singapore during my school holidays and continue teaching at both the Japanese art studio, as well as at several other places. I simply loved teaching and missed

When I graduated in 2010, my plan was to return to Singapore to teach. However, I was already in a stable relationship with my then boyfriend, now husband, Darren. We were both happy living in Australia. He had a stable job and of course, I loved Melbourne so much, I chose to stay.

I spent the most of 2011 picking up freelance work that came my way. I did lots of illustrations for magazines, companies and personal clients. I collaborated with fashion events, did work for organisations and museums and shared my career as an artist at talks and on blogs. I focused on teaching art as well as the development of my art career. To me, they both go hand in hand.

My aim was always to just do it all and enjoy the moment. In 2012 I decided to pursue a Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching, while still juggling freelance work. I never once let any work go as I felt it was important I did not abandon my business halfway. This culminated in an art-teaching job offer in a school, where I stayed for four years before deciding to be fully self-employed.

Self-employment is both fun and stressful. I’m positive by nature and am able to let things go. Occasionally I overthink about my finances, but I try and tell myself not to think about money. Just do stuff that makes me happy and everything will fall into place.

Even to this day, when I’m in Singapore, I often get asked how I’m surviving and do what I do. My parents and friends would ask me how much I make. I think it’s difficult for Singaporeans to understand what creative self-employment is like as Singaporeans are brought up to believe in a one-track route.

You buy a house, get married, have Kid Number One, followed by Kid Number Two while securing a stable job. You spend your whole life climbing the job ladder, just like everyone else. It’s quite sad.

I love Singapore, but it has changed way too quickly. Old buildings are torn down to make way for the new. The city seems to get shinier and taller each time I return. It’s always a constant rat race, a constant desire to move forward and I find it increasingly heartbreaking each time I return as there’s nothing nostalgic left.

The country has progressed so quickly, and I understand it’s good for the economy. Everyone is persuaded to have more babies and to push for excellence. As a result, most Singaporeans resemble a page from the photocopying machine. Everyone’s life looks the same.

These days, when I speak to a lot of my Singaporean friends, many of them are actually thinking of ways to migrate. They too have come to realize the country’s loss of magic. It’s really sad and I sometimes wish Singapore would slow down a little and just not change so fast. However, it’s hard. It’s just the way the world works I guess…

I’ve always had a dream to have a little home studio of sorts. A cosy place where I can make art, have kids or adults can join in the fun. It’s been my dream since I was 16 and I’ve spent the past 15 years making it happen!

In 2014, we moved into our rental in Yarraville. I had seen pictures of our house come up and I just knew it was the one. Lots of our friends live in the Inner West and they were always telling me to come to the west.

‘The bridge – It’s not as scary as you think it is, it’s actually quite nice,’ they’d say.

The yurt came out of a suggestion from Darren. We had stayed in one while we were travelling and it was magical. Friends originally suggested having a teepee as a classroom. ‘How cool!’ and as a joke, Darren suggested a yurt. I thought he was crazy, but the more research we did, we realized it’s a smart idea as it’s fully removable and solid enough structurally.

Our yurt is produced in the USA for by a professional Yurt company that’s been in business for over 30 years. It’s a proper yurt that people could live in. In fact, the company makes yurts for cliffside resort lodging in Big Sur! Safety and sustainability were our two top priorities.

I’ve always been sharing my work and ideas about my little art school on social media, and when we purchased the yurt I began sharing the building process. People were very curious and had a lot of questions. Many just couldn’t wrap their heads around an art class being conducted in a yurt.

To solve that problem, I started a few mini classes. I ran classes and had a photographer come take photos. I reached out to mums and bloggers to come see my yurt and do some free classes but unfortunately got turned down by many of them. It probably sounded too strange!

Thankfully the stars finally lined up and one of the mums Joyce Watts of popular parenting blog, TOT: HOT OR NOT shared my classes on her blog. Word got out, another two mums signed up, loved what I did with their children and they’ve just been such amazing supporters – always sharing with other mums and friends!

In July 2017 the Little Art Yurt was born. It has since grown to 24 kids every week. I am so thankful for the parents, who appreciate and believe in what I do. Without their support, my little yurt couldn’t have possibly grown. I often get asked to open more classes. However, I want to keep the numbers small. To me, it’s all about keeping the magic and making it super special.

As I’m working on freelance projects all the time, I physically can’t do that many classes. I find it important to have the right balance so it’s still awesome to be ‘funemployed’!

I know there are some local art schools in the area, and one of them actually asked me to work for them instead. I decided to be upfront about my dream of owning my own little studio. I told them I wasn’t in any way keen on stealing their business. In fact, when some parents ask me where else to send their kids for art classes, I always mention these studios because I think they’re super.

At the end of the day, I’m an artist that loves sharing and working alongside with children and my yurt is a space that allows me to do so. Kids fascinate me with their creativity and I never really see myself as a teacher, telling them what to do. They teach me and we learn together! I’m all about having fun and if kids are keen to come create with me, welcome to my yurt!

The way I see it, the world needs more art. The more kids there are enjoying art classes, regardless of where or whom they learn from, the more colourful it’ll be for our happy Earth!

Like what you've read? Share the love!

Recommended Posts
Showing 3 comments

Leave a Comment