US-based Singaporean Artist Speaks to JOOW


After MidnightOil on Canvas, 40 by 30 inches, 2013

Back in April, caught up with US-based Singaporean Fine Artist Jolene Lai to talk about her early beginnings and dreams. Here is her story.

Hi Jolene, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I was born and raised in Singapore and currently reside in Los Angeles. I spent most part of my life exploring and figuring out what I really am meant to be doing, and am now a Fine Artist who plays with oils and acrylics from day to night.

I have always thought of myself as a dog person, but in the recent years I discovered that I am more of a cat lover. My everyday work life involves my feline companions chilling in my studio while I paint. Sometimes I think they are silently critiquing my work in progresses. It would be interesting to learn what they think about my paintings.

How did you get into painting? Was it by chance or was it something that you have always wanted to do since young?

I am a single child whose playtime consisted of a lot of drawing on large pieces of paper laid on the floor. I remember wanting to be a comic illustrator when I was a kid. I guess my shy and introverted personality hindered me from joining the other neighborhood children who were playing outdoors. I was often at home sketching with my dad or by myself. The act of drawing transports me to another plane where imagination and fantasy come to life. I think it is this specific nostalgia that I could not attain from non art related work, that would later creep back into my mind and get me to re-explore, eventually guiding me back to where I am presently.

“Make your dream into a set of goals before you take the leap and experience an unnecessary fall.”

– Jolene Lai

How did you make the leap forward from being an art school graduate to becoming an artist who paints for a living?

I worked as a gallery assistant after graduating from Fine Art (Painting). I value the curatorial skills I learned during that process and enjoyed seeing the various artworks from the artists that the gallery was representing. I think seeing all that creativity spurred me to want to come up with something stirring that could inspire others as well.

I rerouted back to school and took up Communication Design, and worked as a production artist at an advertising firm. If I could summarize what I learned from the entire experience, it would be the importance of composition and editing of your work to enable instantaneous engagement with the audience. I took these constructive traits from both disciplines and applied it to what I do, and have to say that that has helped me tremendously in my creative process.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced from external factors, if any?

Society’s banal stereotype of artists. From “artists paint what they like, whenever they want”, to “artists becoming rich and famous only after they have deceased”. Or the act of comparing artists to hobbyists. I am going to refrain from further emphasis because it is such a cliché. Culture and trends are constantly evolving and improving, so people need to keep up with more reading and understanding about the art industry so that they don’t seem backward.

What about internally? Did you have any self doubts? What made you decide to pursue art for a career as compared to a regular office bound job?

I didn’t set out to pursue a goal that involves being bound anywhere, let alone in an office. Life should be about discovering and learning your potentials, and how you may cultivate your abilities to the fullest so that at the end of the day, what you eventually choose to do, can benefit others. Doubts intrude in a ruder format when I choose to simply follow and conform.

What are the daily challenges you face?

Being disciplined and focused.

I tend to get lost in what I am doing from time to time — such as overcompensating on an area of a painting. I guess it just happens to me when I work on a particular piece for too long. To counter that, I work on multiple paintings at the same time. The regular switch provides a fresh perspective and helps to ensure that the focal point and essence of each work is always of utmost priority.

I track the time on each project while I work. The hours I put in a day help me to understand my pace, and figure out if there is additional room to stretch my capabilities.

The most common problem I have is figuring out what program to listen to at the start of a work day. I have a preference for something informative while I paint. You will be amazed by the amount of knowledge you can absorb just from listening. I would love to find an artist forum where creative people share their program playlists (send me a link if you know of one!).

If you’re given a choice again, would you choose a career in the office? Why?

I like to look forward rather than back and make the best out of the choices that come ahead. I don’t do hypotheticals.

If there is one piece of advice to anyone chasing their dreams, what would you say to him?

Make your dream into a set of goals before you take the leap and experience an unnecessary fall. Lay out a strategic plan and a timeline towards what you want to achieve. Take the first step and honestly evaluate your progress on a regular basis.

Editor’s notes: Thank you Jolene for taking the time out for the interview! (Sorry for the delay in having this out as well!)

Some of the paintings by Jolene Lai. Alternatively, you can view Jolene’s works on Instagram or


Charlie, Oil and Acrylic on Wood Panel, 18 by 24 inches, 2015


Flight, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 24 by 30 inches, 2014