October Artist of the Month: Pui Lee

Hands up who can draw? If yes, I’m furiously jealous. And if no, me either – most things I try to draw end up looking like something a primary school child would proudly display on their fridge. In fact my inability to draw, led an arts teacher at school to tell me that I wasn’t very “arty” and so I decided that clearly I wasn’t creative in the slightest and I didn’t really engage with any type of art until I was an adult. That’s the crazy thing about labelling and the narrowness of self-perception, it can be so damaging and limiting.

I am actually hugely creative and I now ironically work in the cultural and arts sector (so two fingers up to you Mr Arts teacher). However, I still can’t really draw but I love to draw! I’m an incredibly visual thinker, so when I’m planning and plotting, I draw things out; it looks like beautiful creative chaos! I find drawing and the visual process is part of my internal dialogue; I can’t work something out and evolve an idea without seeing it and exploring all aspects. Drawing is so intertwined with my creative process, ideation, problem solving and reflection.

But in an arts sense, I probably wouldn’t draw for pleasure which is something i really should, as I enjoy it…..that young girl who was told she wasn’t very “arty” is still in there. I’m sure many people can relate and there often seems like such a barrier to drawing; it’s something technical, something you have to be good at to do, it’s a real skill. We forget that when we were younger, little tinkers, we drew without barriers, scribbled; big abstract pictures of everything and anything. And then somewhere along the line….we stop.

A project and initiative I’ve had exposure to is The Big Draw! It’s a fantastic drawing festival that runs every October and champions the ideal that drawing can change lives.

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The Big Draw Festival invites people of all ages, levels and abilities to take part in drawing activities. Anyone can get involved and there is a yearly theme to inspire. Oh and it’s also endorsed Sir Quentin Blake…….

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Through activity organised by cultural organisations, artists and Big Draw themselves, there is an ethos that empowers everybody and anybody who engages to draw through facilitative and participatory arts activity.

If you’re still not persuaded, Andrew Marr makes a cracking case regarding the importance of drawing; you can watch it HERE.

My engagement with The Big Draw led me to meet a fantastic artist called Pui Lee, who has become a staple regular within Gateshead’s arts programme and has led Big Draw arts activity for Gateshead and many other cultural organisations.

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Pui Lee

Pui is brilliant at drawing (obviously) but her ability to engage with all ages and abilities through the most conceptually creative ideas is just fantastic. I always look forward to getting her emails full of ideas for future participatory workshops. She’s also absolutely dominating at the moment and her interdisciplinary creative practice is going from strength to strength. Her passion and energy for her work and empowering others to engage and give it a go is evident; she loves what she does and lives and breathes the experiential process of creativity, it’s just a joy to watch.

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Pui Lee

So it makes sense, that I decided that October’s artist of the Month, should be Pui. I caught up with Pui after her workshop at Anime Attacks to find out a little more about her practice and involvement with The Big Draw…

Hi Pui, tell me about your interdisciplinary Arts practice?

Hello! My name is Pui Lee and I work as a freelance artist and arts educator throughout the UK. As an interdisciplinary artist, I often work sculpturally with a strong emphasis on making in my practice. This is regardless of the media I am using which can be anything from 3D/installation, printmaking, drawing & painting, craft, textiles, moving image or photography.

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Pui Lee

I like to experiment and I definitely believe that creative problem-solving and reflection lies at the heart of it. My educational work is definitely informed by my practice and vice versa. This is always something that I have aspired to do! The briefs I work on are varied and diverse but I love a creative challenge and every opportunity is an exciting one for me!

Why did you want to become an artist?

I knew I had always enjoyed drawing and making things even as a child, so the thing of looking at the world, making sense of it and creating something has always been there. -I’m sure I was fascinated by nearly everything around me!!

Pui Lee

Really, I think it’s just what I like to do… Create things. And so, it made sense to me that art should be my career choice and therefore, I should do everything I can in order to make it work. I was always intrigued by and liked the idea that something can communicate something or express an emotion without having to use words necessarily.

Making the decision to become an artist wasn’t an easy one. Being someone who was strong in academic subjects as well, there was an expectation that this would be the route in life that I should follow in order for a good and successful life. However, during my A-Level exams, I decided to just go for it and submitted my application to art school! I then went on to study a Foundation art and design course, which is the step you take before moving onto Higher Education and then the rest as they say is just history! Now, looking back, that was the best decision I ever made because I’m here right now living the life I want to lead and hopefully, I’ve proved that hard work does pay off in the end!

You say you’re “A Black Belt on a mission to break down barriers in learning and aspiration through creativity and unwavering perseverance…”; how’s that mission going?

haha… I wrote that statement on my website a very long time ago! Since then, I have been promoted to my 2nd Degree Black Belt in North Korean Taekwon-Do, trained in other martial arts disciplines and now learning Kung Fu too! But yes, I would say that my “art mission” is going well! Although my martial arts practice and artist practice are entirely separate, I think they both require the focus, discipline, hard work and determination to succeed.

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I do feel like my career portfolio is still continuing to expand nicely and I have been lucky to have worked on so many different things. The amount of people I must have met over the years at my art workshops, events, classes and exhibitions makes me feel very lucky to be part of their story. Some of the individuals I work with have low self-esteem or have, for some reason or another, lesser access to the arts; and to be able to empower them in some way makes me feel very happy. That’s why my working ethos as an artist is to “empower through creativity”. Creativity not only improves overall wellbeing but empowers people to believe in themselves as valuable individuals who can make a positive contribution to the world.

Which other artists do you admire?

Probably too many to mention for your blog word count I expect! But let me tell you about my number one: Paul Taylor – my then-art-tutor during my Foundation year at art school. He is an artist/illustrator and has done fantastic things with The Big Draw and other community art projects! His creative energy is infectious, he says it how it is and he is still one of my biggest inspirations even to this day. I feel very thankful to have been one of his students. I learnt a lot from him and most notably, to follow your dreams and to make it happen!! Other favourite artists include Bill Viola, William Kentridge, Cornelia Parker, Quentin Blake, Sam Taylor-Wood, Ron Mueck, Gabriel Orozco to name but a few!

Sam Taylor-Wood

So, you’re often involved with the Big Draw…….tell me a bit more about the Big Draw from the artist perspective?

Yes – I love The Big Draw and work on it each year! From an artist’s perspective, the medium of drawing is the foundation to all creative practice and to see members of the public engaging in it is fantastic! Often, I find people can be a little bit unsure or nervous about it and it can be hard for them to take that first step in picking a pen/pencil up and making that very first mark on the paper because they feel like they are being judged or whatever. I think that’s a real shame because drawing has many functions but most of all, it’s just a lot of fun!

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Pui Lee

There’s also something really nice with The Big Draw in that they tend to be drop-in events, which eases the pressure a bit and people can hang around for a minute or stay the whole day. Importantly though, it does bring people together and whenever you do anything as a group, it creates an opportunity for dialogue to happen between strangers and peer support to be given etc.

What did you think of this year’s theme?

I probably preferred the themes from other years to be honest although they always tend to be very broad and inclusive anyway. Having said this, I completely appreciate the relevance of this year’s theme: STEAM especially in the context of education and politics in the UK today.

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Pui Lee

I do think it is important to see how creativity can be applied in other parts of the curriculum and that drawing can manifest itself in many different and sometimes unexpected ways. Drawing is especially useful in the context of learning – whether at school, work or in everyday life.

What activity were you involved in this year?

This year, I designed and delivered only one official Big Draw event, which was, “Somme Little Big Draw” at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life in Carlisle. At my event, participants were invited to explore the coinciding Somme exhibition and created portraits of soldiers using my special “drawing windows”. These were then transformed into giant hand-drawn medals, which could then be taken home as a keepsake so that the memory of the story lived on! Throughout the workshop, there was also opportunity for the participants to add to, edit and reconfigure a collaborative collage made up of line drawings of the soldiers, which was projected large-scale on a wall screen. It was great to see this evolve during the day.

I had a lot of different ideas for the Big Draw! this year and one called, “For Amusement Only”, took place under a different guise as part of another cultural art event in Gateshead.

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Unfortunately, with continued pressure on funds everywhere and higher registration costs for organisers, it has led to some organisations stepping away from the Big Draw altogether, which is completely understandable…

For Your Amusement Only – Pui Lee

Why are projects like The Big Draw important?

Big Draw projects are important because they create arts engagement opportunities and to have an annual presence on the calendar where the whole country gets drawing is just fantastic! The drawing festival is, of course, endorsed by Quentin Blake himself and this helps give the festival the publicity it needs to capture the imaginations of members of the public because his illustrations for Roald Dahl are so loved and well known.

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Pui Lee

What would you like next year’s theme to be?

I don’t mind really – I’m open to any creative challenge!!

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Pui Lee

What’s next for you? Any big plans for 2017?

Yes haha, -always! But for now …watch-this-space!

Thank you Pui; fantastically insightful to hear about the artist perspective of the Big Draw! I’m really glad that Pui followed her dreams into art and that is a real take away message; listen to your gut and pursue your passion.

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Pui Lee

I think it’s brilliant when people work out their purpose, their “why” and know what they want to do…….as a creative and entrepreneurial individual I made the horrific life choice of a law degree and going into a legal career because it kind of made sense and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. From law to culture and business…..almost laughable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Peace out. Get drawing, check out Pui’s work and listen to your gut always.

The Culture Vulture. x

 

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