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Interview with artist Dawn Tan: The heart behind the art

Trinity College Foundation Studies

Thu Aug 10 2017

Dawn Tan

Born and raised in Singapore, Dawn was always surrounded and exposed to creativity. It wasn’t the “norm”, in a country where education – especially the maths and sciences – were the traditional emphasis. But for Dawn, the choice was obvious.

She continued to pursue her interest in  art – and her love for art and to share the love for art, soon translated into a career teaching the subject.

As an artist, Dawn says the task of creating was (and is) never an easy one. While she knew from an early age she wanted to be an artist, the process of finding her own style took some time.

Dawn remembers waking up as a teenager in the mornings and putting so much pressure on herself to come up with ideas – only for it to backfire.

“When you try to force an idea too much, it just doesn’t help,” she says.

“So, over the years… the older you become, the more experience on life you gain, you’ll start to realise that it will all happen naturally. Just go for a walk, don’t tell yourself that you need to make it happen. Just let it come to you, and it will come to you.”

In her thirties, Dawn describes her style as relaxed, loose and happy. Her artwork focuses mainly around the themes of food and houses – and there aren’t really any “rules”. Her illustrations are, in her own words, very relaxed.

She got into soap-making as a way of making art more accessible.

“As an artist you need to make art accessible to people… not everyone can afford [art galleries or exhibitions].”

She creates her soaps by hand and also designs the packaging.

She also continues to share her love for art as a teacher – running classes and workshops for children and adults from the cosy yurt she built in her backyard.

For Dawn, teaching art goes beyond imparting technical skills. There are life lessons to impart as well.

She makes sure she always tells her students that, “even if you make a mistake, you can turn that mistake into something beautiful”.

“To me, you can teach them how to paint, draw, but if their mentality of everything must be perfect, then it’s not art. You’re forced into doing something you don’t want to do.

“So, I always tell the children I am teaching: it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about you discovering what you can do.”

Through her art and teaching, Dawn hopes people can learn how to have fun, enjoy life, and not sweat the small stuff.

“I find that in this day and age, a lot of people tend to be very uptight about things. They don’t like sharing… And I feel like the world needs more art. It’s nice when I share and when you share. Sharing is caring!” she says.

She has also developed a more collaborative approach to creating over the years.

“I feel that art should invite people to want to take photos, to want to actually look at it more,” she says.

This involves asking for people’s opinions and feedback, and being open to criticism. The one principle she lives by is the ability to let go.

“If you do something and it’s really terrible, just let it go. Don’t keep thinking about why people don’t like your work, why it doesn’t sell. Just let it go, don’t think about it, and start again.”

She also sees herself as a student as much a teacher.

“I find that as a teacher you don’t just teach, you’re also learning from the people you teach,” she says.  

If she were able to talk to her 18-year-old self, she would say, “Just do it. I think you just got to wake up and don’t think too much, don’t stress too much. It will come to you.

“My new motto for this year is to wake up and fight. Every single day, just wake up and fight for it.”

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via