This former art student now helps children discover their passion through artmaking
Inspiring young lives a day at a time.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
This age-old question plagues many, including those who seem like they have a path laid out for them.
One such individual is Charlene Chew, who from an early age, displayed a talent for the arts.
As a child, Charlene was constantly exposed to hands-on experiences. Much thanks to her parents, she was able to try different kinds of sensory play and even had the freedom to draw on her walls. This creative inclination persisted as she progressed through primary and secondary school.
While others were proficient at the usual subjects like mathematics and science, Charlene found herself excelling in art. Even with classes like Design & Technology, she was surpassing her peers, with many of her works constantly chosen to be up for display.
With each accomplishment, it felt natural for her to continue developing her art skills. As such, upon graduating from secondary school, she entered LASALLE, where she pursued a diploma in Fine Arts.
“After I graduated, I knew I wanted to do something different,” she shares.
However, upon making this decision, her confidence began to waver.
“When I first applied to LASALLE, I did receive a lot of criticism because I would say the arts community in Singapore is very small so for anyone to pursue the arts, people will be like, ‘Huh? Why? There’s so many other things you can do like become a nurse or doctor.’
“The most common question I got was, ‘So what are you going to be next time?’ And I think just that question itself was quite demoralising because I, myself also, wasn’t sure what I was going to be in the future.”
Fortunately for Charlene, her time in LASALLE helped her regain faith as well as find a clearer direction for her future.
As she was introduced to a lot more mediums such as photography and printmaking, she fell deeper in love with art making and it gave her the push she needed to apply for an internship with an art studio.
“A lot of my friends started working at F&B places to gain experience but for me, after I graduated from LASALLE, I went straight into an arts studio for an internship because I knew I wanted to do this.”
She embarked on her first internship with company Art Wonderland, where she had a hand in teaching young kids about textures, lines, shapes and colour – the basics of art making.
Her job scope included making lesson plans for the children to enable them to think creatively so as to prepare them for exhibitions and projects.
Working with kids boosted her confidence in her skills and this internship experience helped to ease her doubts.
She eventually became more certain of her ambitions to pursue a career in the creative industry and continued working as a full-time art educator after graduating from LASALLE.
“I started to have more confidence. I started to grow a bit more. And also just having the conversations with the kids, I think that was one of the starting points for me to be sure that this is what I want to do in the long run.”
2022 marks Charlene’s 10th year of being an art educator and she continues spending her days impacting the lives of young children.
“I think the conversation part and journeying with children is something that is very dear to me.
“Sometimes the kids can come in and they are reserved and we don’t really know them. Through the artmaking process, they actually start to open up and share and over time when they’re very comfortable with me, they’re more personal with me.
“They start to share more things about their lives like what goes on at home or what they do at home during their free time. I think that is very precious. I feel like I have unlocked something.”
Recently, Charlene has also widened her expertise and is now working as a freelance illustrator on the sidelines.
In the beginning, she helped her boss design bimonthly newsletters for the students and their parents. Under her boss’ guidance, she learnt more about the importance of design flow and how to make the graphics readable for the kids as well.
She has since taken on other projects like illustrating placemats and card games for toddlers.
To all aspiring creatives, here’s some advice from Charlene:
“Take it step by step. As long as you continue to believe in yourself and have confidence, I think ambition is something that will develop over time and you can be very sure of it in the future.”