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Accent on design
ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL
HOW do you resist eating off dessert plates with the cutest faces on them? And who can resist pots and vases embellished with sleeping cherubs? It looks like the kind of kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) ceramics you would find in a Tokyo department store except that they aren't designed by a Japanese. Polkaros is a true blue Singaporean brand created by local artist Ros Lee.
Based in Japan, the designer started the label in 2011 following a life-long fascination with art and design. Her family ran a now-defunct clay art business, but grew up playing with clay and the potter's wheel.
"I like how you can create anything you can think of with your bare hands," says Ms Lee about her love for clay. "There are some technical boundaries but you can create almost anything with clay. I also like the fact that once it's fired, it takes on a new form and becomes functional. It feels like the most primitive art form and comes very naturally to me."
While formally trained in Graphic Design, Ms Lee pursued her love of pottery by setting up a clay art studio-cum-concept shop right after graduation from Temasek Polytechnic.
In 2002, she exhibited her ceramic artworks at an event called Design Festa in Tokyo about 13 years ago, and was inspired by how enterprising and passionate young artists in Japan were. "I thought it was great that they had a platform to showcase their works," she says.
During the exhibition, everyone was very supportive and most of her works were sold at a decent price. "It was clear that they appreciated the craft and were willing to pay for handmade products. I felt that Japan was a place where I could learn and grow as an artist," says Ms Lee.
Two years later, she was awarded a three-year National Arts Council scholarship to study art and design in Japan. At Joshibi Women's University of Art and Design, she majored in textile design, learning traditional Japanese dyeing techniques, large-scale silkscreen and weaving.
"Since a lot of the lifestyle products are made of textiles, I felt like I needed to gain a hands-on experience and knowledge of the medium," she says.
She continued to live in Japan after graduation, and worked as a lifestyle product designer. In 2011, she decided to go solo with her own brand. Polkaros is a combination of 'polka' and her name. "The name was derived from the word 'polkadot', an all-time favourite pattern. I wanted my brand and products to have the same characteristics as the unique, cute and timeless pattern," says Ms Lee.
In Polkaros, Ms Lee combines influences from Japanese traditional crafts with modern zakka goods. (Zakka - a Japanese term encompassing anything that improves one's home, life and appearance). These range from ceramics, textiles in the form of traditional Japanese towels known as tenugui and paper products such as wrapping paper.
While the ceramics are based on Ms Lee's designs, they are made by a Japanese pottery master.
What makes each item that Ms Lee designs a Polkaros product is naturally the presence of polka dots in the pieces. "I like to incorporate polka dots in my designs as the dots bring out the happy vibe that I like my products to exude," says Ms Lee.
When she was younger, Ms Lee used to make personalised presents for her sister and friends. "Making something that they will like, and seeing their smile when they receive the presents was my motivation," she says. "Right up until now, I still have all my friends in mind when I design my products. I decide what to create based on what I think my friends or like-minded people would like or need."
She says that the Japanese have responded positively to Polkaros. "They find it interesting to see a foreigner's interpretation of Japanese influence. They also appreciate us taking time to learn their culture," she says.
Polkaros is sold at Uguisu The Little Shoppe in Roppongi; Sugar Town Tokyo, in Omotesando; Daikanyama T-site, and Takara Galley in Gifu. In Singapore, her pieces are available for sale at her first solo exhibition at K+ curatorial space at Scotts Square. Prices range from S$98 for a plate to S$2,500 for a giant ceramic pot.
K+ POLKAROS is on now till Jan 17, at Scotts Square, #03-03, from 12pm to 8pm daily
SOME families bond over a meal, a trip to the amusement parks or to the zoo. The Lim family bond too but in a different way. Pann Lim, his wife Claire, and their two kids, Renn and Aira come together to work on their own family magazines and art exhibitions.
Renn, 11, and Aira, nine, are the artists for their art exhibitions, and the photographers and illustrators for their family magazine, titled Rubbish Famzine. Their parents - Mr Lim heads advertising and design firm Kinetic, while Mrs Lim is a homemaker - are the curators and facilitators, educators, designers of the catalogue and interior designers for the exhibition.
Mrs Lim is also the editor and writer for Rubbish Famzine, while Mr Lim is its creative director, designer, photographer and production manager. "Our roles are very clear but everyone has an equal say. I will print out the designs and everyone will critique and all will agree with the chosen design," says Mr Lim.
The parents choose to use art and design as a form of education because they feel there are other important aspects lacking in the school curriculum - and they try to augment that with curation.
"Although Claire and I do not really want them to be artists, doing what we do now is our way of collaborating with them, it is our way to educate them in a fun and more tactile way where commitment and discipline become more important than just academic results," says Mr Lim.
Together, the family make up Holycrap, which is partly made up of the initials of their names. "Pann and I both love art, design, ideas, movies, music, so we know no other way to raise our kids than through these disciplines," says Mrs Lim. "We also enjoy the whole process of working together, sharing ridiculous ideas, talking rubbish, feeling happy and sometimes frustrated, while trying to meet the deadlines of our projects. No words can describe this immense feeling of us working together as a family, as Holycrap."
Since 2011, the family has put up annual art exhibitions, and for the past two years, they have been working on the bi-annual Rubbish Famzine. The latest exhibition, WHEN RENNDOM MET AIRANY A Visual Duologue by Renn and Aira Lim begins on Nov 24 at Gallery and Co at National Gallery Singapore. WHEN RENNDOM MET AIRANY is about the kids growing up together, never a day separated and how they inspire one another in their art and lives.
The launch of Rubbish Famzine Issue No 1 came about in 2013, when they were preparing for their third exhibition, which was an art and photo exhibition of their family holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto. Everyone in the family was given a point-and-shoot camera, and they were to document their journey together. The exhibition was titled Google Translating Tokyoto, because they used the Google translation app to mingle with the locals.
"We had so much content that we collected and we thought it will be a 'waste' if we didn't document our lives," says Mr Lim. All the material that wasn't used in the exhibition, became content for the magazine - photos of sushi, masked riders and Studio Ghibli.
The family have subsequently published another three editions of Rubbish Famzine, filled with illustrations and paintings. For one issue, the Famzine even came in an old recycled biscuit tin.
Despite the title, there is nothing rubbish about these publications. The famzines have gone to win major international and local design awards, including New York One Show, British D&AD, Cannes Design Lions, Tokyo Type Directors Club and Singapore Creative circle awards.
The family has a ritual of sitting together with a pot of hot green tea and snacks and chit-chatting away. From these sessions, strange ideas, jokes and things that are important to them will be shortlisted and they are then translated into art and stories. "Claire and I truly value the input from the kids because they are the reason we started this. Once their ideas are finalised, they will proceed with the paintings," says Mr Lim.
On their part, the kids do seem to enjoy it. Aira says she loves brainstorming with her family and coming up with ideas because it can be fun and relaxing. "But, of course, there are times when I can't think of anything and then it becomes slightly stressful," she says. "Dad and mum have always explained to us that we must have passion and determination. So even though sometimes I feel like giving up, I know I must still continue."
For Renn, doing these projects with his family means they get to "spend a lot of time together and we get to know one another even better." He admits that "sometimes I do feel stressed or when Dad rejects my work or say it is not good enough. But he will explain why. It can be very tiring but very rewarding too."
Their father concludes: "To be honest, we have no idea where the finishing line is, but we know as long as we walk this path together, it does not matter when this journey ends."
WHEN RENNDOM MET AIRANY A Visual Duologue by Renn and Aira Lim is on from Nov 24 to Jan 24, at Gallery and Co,1 St Andrew's Road, National Gallery Singapore, #01-05
STUCK ON CREATIVITY
DESPITE the name, design firm Stuck has never been stumped for ideas.
"In our team, the multiple minds - each with our own perspective and experiences - help us to have a broader perspective and the ability to question and inspire one another to break out of any mental blocks. In that way we never run out of ideas," says Donn Koh, one of the three principal designers at Stuck. "In fact, coming up with ideas is the easiest part for Stuck, and we believe our most valuable attribute is the intuition to choose the right ideas to pursue."
Formed in 2010, Stuck was founded by principal designers Mr Koh, Lee Tze Ming, Yong Jieyu, as well as strategic adviser Hans Tan and Edwin Low, who calls himself the Guru of Business.
Since their founding, Stuck has produced a variety of items, from electronics to health products, and even cutesy knick knacks.
If you were one of those who had bought the Air+ Smart Mask and Micro Ventilators a few months ago during the haze, you would have used a product designed by Stuck. Then there is the Merlion ChouChou, the souvenir-plushie reincarnation of Singapore's renowned national icon, that has been a hit with both Singaporeans and tourists. They have also designed our quirky Singapore-related souvenirs such as the Kopi Bag Mug, the Dragon Playground Doorstop and the Void Deck Chess Dish.
On the tech front, they designed the Lukup, a home Internet media device for the TV that serves the India market. Unlike conventional set-up boxes that tend to be black and bulky, Lukup wins on the aesthetic front with its colourful blocks, and touch remote capability.
They also designed SecretKIY, a digital key for confidential files. The moment one unplugs it from the USB port of his computer, all his important confidential data is instantly protected by encryption and disappears from view.
SecretKIY works like a regular key. Plug it into a computer and all the confidential stuff are where they should be, and unplug it and it feels like these files never existed. "We've basically taken military-grade security and made it very simple for the everyday, non-technically inclined user, to use it," says Mr Koh.
There's a story on why they decided to call themselves Stuck. "Stuck is a word that quickly takes on a negative connotation in people's minds - it's not common that a company is willing to brand itself like that," says Mr Koh. "However, we like this unexpected approach, especially because when one gets past the initial impression, Stuck can be used very positively as well - from 'Ideas that stick', to 'Stuck on you'."
Stuck is currently working on an extensive list of projects involving robots, aircraft seats, vehicles, tech wearables, military gear and software, IOT products, mobile applications for consumers and enterprise productivity. They're also developing a new collection of products to enhance HDB living, and also new products for the Souvenirs from Singapore collection.
"Our name has also become a filter - if a client is open-minded enough to hire a company with a name like ours, they'll probably make a good client for truly creative work and have an appetite for the witty and out-of-box approach that Stuck provides in our work," says Mr Koh.
FINE ART OF MAPS
URBAN X MAPS
WITH Google Maps at your fingertips, who still fumbles with a fiddly folded map? Nobody, but a group of Singaporean-based designers hopes to change that by bringing back the charm of old-school maps.
Richard Xu, Megan Phua and Klo'e Ng are the brains behind URBAN X MAPS, a collection of maps of Singapore that are produced as art pieces. "Maps are representations of spaces. URBAN X MAPS celebrates the urban fabric of our built environment.
"Our maps capture our fine-grained city grid and scaled building blocks," says Ms Ng. "The level of details encapsulated in our maps is a microcosm of our city-state."
The range of maps they have include an entire map of Singapore, and one of the downtown area, but done in different colours.
The trio are camera shy and would rather their works speak for them.
They met during their postgraduate programmes in the National University of Singapore (NUS). The concrete idea for URBAN X MAPS came after graduation and before embarking on their professional careers in architecture and urban planning.
On their decision to design maps, Ms Ng says that "maps of places such as New York and Paris are often celebrated, mapped out and highly sought after. We felt that there was a lack of something similar for the Singapore market".
The maps the trio create are drawn from scratch, using Autocad software and editing it in Photoshop. "Drawing maps and mapping out the details of Singapore is what we did a lot in school, hence part of that experience rubbed off on us, so much that we turned the process into a passion project," says Ms Ng.
They conceived the 25km x 48km axial aerial map of Singapore to capture the island's peculiar coastline as a start. Then they proceeded to zoom in on the downtown district, which exhibits the Singapore River and showcases the interesting juxtaposition of old versus newfangled developments in the Marina Bay area.
"In the grand scheme of things, we will look at mapping selected districts to feature elements that are peculiar to Singaporeans," says Ms Ng.
Each A3-sized map costs S$35 and $60 if it's framed. The maps are printed on special paper, but can also be printed on canvas upon request. The trio can also do customised maps. Response to URBAN X MAPS has been encouraging. Their clientele ranges from both locals and expatriates. "We had one customer from the United States who shared that most of her childhood was spent in Singapore and she wanted a memento of the city she grew up in," says Ms Ng.
She adds that the maps are conceived as centrepieces. "We think that map aficionados and city-dwellers would be interested in investing in our designed pieces to decorate their workspaces and homes," she says. "Going forward, we hope to collaborate with local joints and offices to adorn their spaces with a distinctive touch."