Maureen, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
Hello everyone, and thank you Aaron for this opportunity to share a little bit of myself. I'm originally from Penang, Malaysia. It is an island North of Peninsular Malaysia and close to the borders of Thailand. I spent my early years there before moving to my mother's home town where we eventually settled down and I finished the remainder of my schooling years. I move to Brunei about 18 years ago where I live now. I am the eldest of three siblings and, as I was growing up, I had to help my mother look after my brothers. I had to learn to be independent from a very young age.
I studied engineering, but had to give it up before I could earn my degree. My brother was also starting his tertiary education and – being the eldest (very typical Asian Chinese) – I had to make way for him as we did not have the financial means to support two at one time. I started work early and helped to support both my brothers to university. I never finished my degree and worked in several fields before ending up in the banking and finance industry. My final assignment lasted 13 years before I was made redundant due to corporate restructuring. I then made a career change and after spending many years taking care of others, I'm now building something for myself with my own skills.
2020 has been such a dismal year due to Covid. How have you managed to stay positive during this pandemic? Has the tension affected your creativity in any way?
I've never been much of an outgoing person since I was young. I prefer to spend my time alone with my hobbies and interest. Aside from the severity of the situation, this period has provided me with a feeling of peace. I am stress free as I do not have to deal with the rush hour crowd. I've also been able to spend more time with my hobbies. This year has also got me looking at some of my life goals and getting around to fine tuning them. Financially, it has been worrisome to me as I have been severely affected, just like anyone else.
Being a single parent, this is not an easy thing to manage or sleep on. There is not a time that passes when I don't worry about it. I do the best I can to make things work and hope that all will turn out well. This year has seen a lot of personal emotions being illustrated on to my artblock. Every post has words behind them. They tell a story of how I'm feeling and thinking, only that I did not make it obvious. I generalized it to suit my audience. I think this year has seen an improvement in my growth and skills, but to answer the question of whether the tension has affected me – yes it did, but in a positive way.
Besides Covid, 2020 has also been a breakthrough year for you as an artist. You've won some awards and were featured in various interviews along the way. How are you feeling about all this positive traction and attention?
I never expected to achieve what I had this year. When I first started out, I just wanted to make myself known and to share myself. I did it in a cautious manner as I was not sure if people will be receptive of who I am or what I had to offer. The reason I am saying this is from past experience. I had to 'close' parts of myself as it was not really accepted to the group and I had to blend in. That made me really miserable on the inside. This went on for as long as I've worked in the corporate world. I'm very much elated and surprised with what I've achieved and this certainly gave me the confidence to share more of my work. I've even recently taken a much bolder step in creating my own YouTube channel where I share more of myself as a person. I wasn't sure of it initially, but after some encouragement from a dear friend, I finally gave it a go. It is certainly a confidence booster.
After leaving the corporate world behind, have you noticed a difference in your spirits, your energy level or otherwise now that you can focus exclusively on your passion?
I certainly do. I am much happier and calmer doing the things that I love. I'm spending more time with my spiritual part and practicing Yoga daily, which helps keep my Zen in balance. My corporate journey had not been a smooth ride, nor am I saying that I was an exemplary employee, but I did my best given the situation presented at that time. Most of my assignments were spent working alone and reporting to the regional office. I liked the freedom of working away from groups, but I was not able to fully exercise my creativity as I needed to conform to organizational culture and structural hierarchy. I did get along well with my colleagues from our regional and global offices, they were all very kind and friendly.
Describe your process. How do you approach a blank canvas or sheet of paper? What supplies or brand names are your favorites?
It always starts with either an idea that springs from a lyric or just an image that I see somewhere. I will then sketch it in various thumbnails. Once I've decided on the one that I like, I will do a bigger sketch and fine-tune it before transferring the final image to paper. I try to avoid directly sketching on to the paper so as to not ruin the fibers with any possible eraser marks. This will affect how the paint absorbs and stays later on. I usually start with the face when I'm doing portraits. I find it to be really relaxing and it gets me in the mood for the rest of the piece. I have a set of colors that I often use, so if I am going to introduce anything new, I'll do a color swatch first. I use scrap paper to test the hue and consistency before painting them on to the block. This helps me see that I'm using the saturation that I want and to gauge just how and what approach to use for my next layer. I currently use watercolors and ink with occasional colored pencils and digital. I've yet to experiment with other wet mediums, but it's something I'd like to try in the future.
Provide an outline of a typical day in the life of Maureen Fletcher.
Hmmm… It depends if it is a school-weekend-school holiday schedule. My day starts at 4.30 a.m. on school days. I spend the first 1.5 hours to myself and do morning Yoga before preparing breakfasts and meals for the day. I prefer doing all of them in the morning in one go so that I don't spend my entire day in the kitchen. Cooking takes up a lot of time despite the recipes saying easy xxx minute meal. If my children are scheduled with their father, then he will do all of their school and tuition runs. That helps free up my day or else I will have to do them, which leaves me with less time for myself. Housework is done daily depending on what needs to be done, that way things don't pile up and I'll have Sundays free of things to do.
Our weekend is Fridays and Sundays, so Fridays will usually be my grocery and weekly meal prep day. When there are school holidays, my day starts later around 6 a.m. I get more time to myself to do my art and hobbies. My day usually ends around 9 p.m. on school nights and around midnight during school holidays. I do have a schedule that I follow when it comes to my art and home duties. Structure helps to keep my days/weeks/months organized and I get to keep my state of Zen. My children know to give me advanced notice if they need me to run errands or get things for them. I am really not a fan of last-minute changes or things to do. Multi-tasking is not something I enjoy, although it does seem to be a desirable asset for some organizations and people.
Name three of your favorite artists, past or present. Explain what their work mean to you as a creative being.
I do not have any in particular. I'm not really a fan of traditional art, nor have I any interest in the art of the old masters. I know this is very different as people tend to study from the works of the masters, while I on the other hand, study much differently. I admire the works of Yuko Shimizu, Lioba Brückner, Benjamin LaCombe, Nikolas Tower, and Zeen Chin. Each has their own unique style and I fuse them to compliment mine. Over time, I've developed my own style and infuse more of my mixed-parentage and culture into my work. Seeing their work makes me feel that it is acceptable to be different and to stand out even if it means you stand alone.
When I paint or draw, I can be myself and the feelings that I'm unable to put into words or prefer not to say – I paint them all in my art block. There is no one to tell me that what I'm saying is wrong or how I'm painting is not aligned with the standard (what is acceptable in the eyes of society). Is there even a standard artwork? Is it even likeable or acceptable if the piece we create is far from realistic? I enjoy stylizing my pieces because I sometimes feel being too human is like a 'standard skin' that we wear to conform. When I venture away from anything that is the norm, I feel a sense of freedom and fulfillment. It is not easy to be different and I know this first-hand since childhood.
You have a special way of expressing yourself, both in art and words. Do you ever pen short stories to accompany your work?
Writing is a field that I had considered venturing into, but somehow I have this thing where my thoughts, hands and speech do not synchronise. I have to sit down and have long stretches of uninterrupted time to fully explore. With the time I have now, I am able to come up with short posts and stories, mostly about my life and again, I style it in a generalize manner so that it speaks to my audience. I really like writing and express myself better compared to speaking. I have to think twice and rehearse whenever I have something to say, especially in a foreign situation. It is different when I am speaking to someone I know or a close friend.
When it comes to my videos, I script it first before narrating. When I'm in the mood, it is usually free flowing and I'll be able to add in much more with a relaxed and natural flair. This has always been the case for me since childhood. It was very hard for me to express things verbally. Over the years, people got impatient or disinterested because I didn't speak well. This wasn't a desirable trait when I was working in the corporate world, but when it comes to expressing in words, I can write the most thoughtful replies as I'm able to arrange my words properly. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone who is patient with you to hear you speak without interrupting or being overly assertive.
From a creative standpoint, name three additional places you would love to visit or even possibly live in the world.
I've always been drawn to Europe. I made my first trip there a few years ago, just after the dissolution of my marriage. It was a wonderful gift to myself after so many years of having to support and look after others. I got to do something really nice for myself and did it all on my own. It was the most expensive purchase that I had ever made for myself. I did two solo trips with each lasting about three weeks. It was something I had previously imagined, but never thought I had the ability or financial means to do it. Had I the opportunity to complete my degree, I would have been studying in Europe, as it was the final year that I chose to complete it. I love the countryside. It is quiet and peaceful. When I travel, I always make a point to stay away from the touristic and party-fancy-shopping area. They do not interest me aside from being overly stimulating and noisy.
I'd very much like to own my home one day, and when I do, it will be a place that is quiet and peaceful – far from the bustling city. A place I can call my own where no one will tell me that I have to leave when they no longer have any interest in me. Perhaps I'll get to settle down somewhere in Europe. I've visited both Germany and Switzerland and like it very much 😊 Maybe at that time, I'll be able to afford to give my children a much more diverse, rich and inspirational education/life. There is so much more than just burying yourself in countless hours of memorizing for test and exams. I'd like them to see the world how I see it, full of opportunities and experiences. I hope that they can find something true for themselves just like I did. Sometimes the most valuable thing is not in the material things we chase after, but the simple things that don't cost money. It would make me really happy as a mother if they are able to do the things they love for a living.
How has your experience been on social media? Do you find it difficult to keep up with a website as well as multiple social media accounts? Do you find it is a competitive market online?
One of the most important things that I learned when I started my illustration journey was to put myself out there for as many people to know me and to be brave about it. Initially, I had a hard time promoting myself as I hated to be in the spotlight, preferring instead to be the wallflower as that is how I've always been. Over time, I realized that in order for me attract opportunities, I would need to put myself out there. Myself solely depends on me alone to make it work. With that, I mustered the courage to familiarize myself with how social media works and get myself out there. The payoff is something slow and steady and it is a compounding reward. My latest venture is my YouTube channel. My dear friend encouraged me to try it as she herself is a YouTuber with two channels in two languages. Through hard work, dedication and consistency, she's grown her audience from 0 to 5 figures in less than two years.
This has helped contribute to her income as well. I owe this friend of mine for pretty much what and where I am now. It was for her guidance and shoulder to cry on that I was able to navigate some of the most challenging and dark years of my life. The funny thing is that I've never even met her as she lives in Indonesia. We've only communicated virtually and through emails. Sometimes your online friends are much more supportive than your real-life friends. As for keeping up with all my social media platforms, I have a schedule that I stick to where I distribute my attention so that I don't get burned out. Once in a while I take a break from it – we all need that social media break sometimes. I see it as a form of 'networking from a safe distance' as I am able to do it behind a screen and I can network whenever I am ready. There is nothing screaming for my immediate attention and I like that.
Let's discuss your introverted nature. You seem to be a very kind, gentle and articulate person… Are you better at expressing yourself creatively versus an in-person exchange of dialog?
I am a HSP introvert. HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person and a majority of introverts are HSPs. Discovered and researched by Dr. Elaine Aron in 1991, HSP is a personality trait found in 15 to 20 percent of the population. HSPs exhibit a high measure of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), which is a personality trait described as having hypersensitivity to external stimuli, high emotional reactivity, and greater depth of cognitive processing. Being a HSP, I am extra sensitive to all internal and external stimuli. These traits are also seen in my father's side of the family and both of my children have them too. It is not something that I can turn on and off when I please, but to learn to live with it. It wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered this trait. I was going through some Psychology material that prompted me to take a questionnaire test. It was a discovery that helped me understand myself better and establish boundaries on what works for me or not. It brought much stabilization in my own thoughts and feelings and I've also found some online resources and groups that I can connect with.
While I prefer to spend a lot of time alone, it doesn't mean that I don't like people. On the contrary, I find people very interesting, but I cannot stand small talk or just talk for the sake of talking. If I am very comfortable with the person, I am able to spend my time with that person in the same room without having to say a single word. My personal space is very important to me and I guard it well. I do not allow parties or gatherings in my home nor sleepovers for my children. If they want, they can have only one friend over and they must keep the noise down. To me, my home is my private space where I am able to enjoy and unwind. If I need to socialize, it will be at a place outside of my home. As mentioned earlier, I prefer to communicate through writing when I have ample time to gather my thoughts and words. In-person communication has never been my thing unless it is a one-on-one setting. I have to be really comfortable with that person or have known him or her for an extended period of time.
What is your ultimate goal as an artist? What would you like to achieve as a professional? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
As with any vocation, I see what I do as a means to support myself aside from creating and sharing part of me and what I love to do. Ultimately, I want to be sustainable and financially independent doing what I love as a professional. I'd love to inspire others to take that leap of faith, to go after their dreams and trust in the universe and themselves that they are good enough to achieve their dreams, that they are capable enough to go after what they want and start again with the life they had always wanted. It is my way of giving back for all of the people who had believed, supported and cheered me on when I was a newbie artist. Ten years? Hmmm... I think I'll still be in the creative industry as I thrive well here, but perhaps with a more diverse approach to art.
I might go into teaching online full-time or maybe I'll venture into another art medium and create a new path for me. I see animation and digital art as a market with big potential. I believe in reinventing and combining things as a method to move forward and keep up with the times. For example, social media... I cannot be ignorant to the trend and its algorithms and mechanics. Despite feeling so 'old' and outdated in keeping up with it, I have to beat myself up to learn it in order to push my work forward. I could do an estimate projection and forecast of the goals I want to achieve in ten years, but I also have to be flexible and receptive enough to divert my plan when things don't go as expected. The key is to move like water. Water is strong enough to cleanse, flexible enough to move, and powerful enough to create paths. In small amounts, water is humble. In large amounts, water is a formidable force. That is how I feel we should approach our goals and just about anything.
What advice would you give to a struggling artist?
I do not think any artist is a struggling artist and I do not think that it is appropriate to call it as such. It is like an unfavorable or pitiful label given just because art does not command an income like other jobs. I'd prefer undiscovered artist instead as every new artist is waiting for a chance to be discovered, be it by their own effort or by someone else giving them their lucky ticket. The most valuable advice I received when I first started is to be brave and believe in yourself even when there are days when you don't feel it. Put yourself out there and share your work to as many people and groups as you can. Network as you go and do not be afraid to ask questions. People are always happy to help as they were once budding artists too. It makes them feel good to help a fellow artist since someone once gave them a chance as well. As an artist you are also a business person, admin, marketing, finance, CEO, R&D – practically the whole company.
There will be two mindsets to adopt. One will be your creator mindset and the other is your business mindset – how to think of ways to generate revenue from what you do. It is something all artists have to adopt, something I learned from reading Lisa Congdon's book Find Your Artistic Voice. I recommend this book to any artist who is starting out. Lisa started her art career at the age of 40 and now, at 53, she is one of the most respected illustrators, fine artists and authors in the industry. Finally, be humble and receptive to learning new things from people even if they are much more younger than you. Age does not define how much you should know. The artist whom inspired me to give my creative skills a chance is about two decades younger than me and yet, he's thought me so much about believing in my ability to paint. Have a childlike heart. A child does not think too much beyond having fun and trying new things with an inquisitive and open mind. When you aren't restricted or stubborn, you will find that opportunities and ideas come easily.
Any other fascinating tidbits you'd like to share about the artist known as Maureen Fletcher?
I have a thing for cute stationaries and vintage items. I can spend a lot of time looking at them provided no sales people approach and start talking to me, ha-ha. I don't like makeup, nor am I a fan of jewelry. It's just something about having a layer of cream or things on your skin that makes me very uncomfortable. The most I would wear is lipstick/gloss or costume jewelry that I'm able to remove at the end of the day. Also, almost once every year, I lose my voice to tonsilitis. I've had this problem since I was young and learned to live with it. My voice gets raspy like a man and eventually I go mute for a few days. I like it in some ways as I don't have to talk to anyone, ha-ha-ha. Those are just some of the silly things that about me...