2nd Experimental Painting

Experimental 2, 2017. Oil on canvas. Image credit: The Forge
Q1) What is the feeling or the content/ meaning of your painting?Q2) How does the composition/design & brush work support that feeling?

In both experimental paintings, I notice that my compositions are very intimate, almost confrontational. Although there are 2 figures in the setup, my paintings tend to zoom in and focus on one figure. The figure occupies the entire canvas, with their bodies extending beyond the borders of the painting. They are massive yet bounded by the edges. Painting the figures so up-close reduces the distance between subject and viewer and hopefully invites the viewer into the painting’s realm. I wanted to create very intimate and personal paintings where the subject’s form and gaze can be felt.

Following the previous week, I continued to explore the icon of the massive reclining female figure. I hope the painting’s monumentality manages to convey a woman’s strength, certainty and grace. I tried to create a vibrant colour world which employs contrasts and juxtaposition to heighten the different colours.

My first experimental painting had many strong horizontals and verticals. In this second painting, I wanted to explore diagonals and obliques. I emphasised the curves of the figure and made her form even more serpentine. The rest of the space flows and twists in dialogue with the figure. For example, the potted plant on the left was actually flat with a square pot. Instead, I chose to slant the pot towards the figure and round the rim. These intersecting diagonals created multiple ‘valleys’ and ‘peaks’ in the painting which further adds to the slightly off kilter colour world.

I wanted the viewer’s gaze to circulate around the painting fluidly. I tried to do this using both colour, line and form. For example, the figure’s orange scarf is very striking. I applied the same hue in accents in other parts of the painting such as beneath her dress, behind the potted plant and on her thigh. I also used the slanting directional lines and interconnected shapes to direct the viewer’s gaze around the painting.

Following Prof Kelly’s advice, I tried to be more aware of the edges and the ‘zones’ of the painting. During the painting process, I would ask myself what the painting needed to feel open yet resolved.

Close-up. Image credit: The Forge
Close-up. Image credit: The Forge

1st Experimental Painting

Experimental Painting 1, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. Image credit: The Forge
Close-up with details. Image credit: The Forge
Close-up with details. Image credit: The Forge

This first experimental painting responds to the setup in class. I closely cropped the composition to focus on the model and surrounding objects and forms. I feel that this method of composition was successful in creating a sense of intimacy and closeness. It reduces the distance between the subject and viewer.

While painting this, I thought of a massive reclining woman with a thick and hefty form. Her body blends seamlessly into the land, yet her pose remains close and personal.

Renewable Oil Conversion Machine | Semester Project Documentation

The Renewable Oil Conversion Machine is a speculative invention that harvests and converts human facial oil into biodiesel. It seeks to resolve future energy crises and shortages by producing alternative, renewable sources of energy. With energy consumption at a historical high, the time has come to explore untapped resources such as mankind’s infinite supply of sebum and facial oil.

The System

Renewable Oil Conversion Machine, 2017. Image credit: The Forge

This pseudoscientific system is plays on illusion and movement. It is essentially a chain reaction which mimics the chemical process of converting oils to biodiesel. I love how the machine goes through a very elaborate process just to secrete one teeny tiny drop of oil. It is highly-laborious and a poor use of resources, making it even more ludicrous!

The aesthetics and mechanisms were inspired by antiquity, steampunk and industrial machines. As much as possible, I wanted the machine to give off a fantastical, mad-scientist-wacky-invention vibe.

The interactive machine invites users to freshen up by wiping their faces with the provided oil blotters. A pressure sensor below the tray detects that an oil blotter has been taken, triggering the mouth of the machine to open automatically. This prompts users to place the used blotter into the custom-sized tray for processing.

Next, users push the lever, retracting the sliding tray back into the machine for processing. The blotters are made of highly absorbent bibulous paper. They turn transparent when it comes into contact with oil. Utilising this characteristic of oil blotters, the machine is able to detect the amount of oil on each blotting sheet using a light sensor and LED. The slider is made out of clear acrylic so the LED at the bottom can illuminate the blotter. The light sensor above detects how much light passes through (higher transparency = more oil detected).

This value is then reflected in an ‘oil detected’ meter on the front of the machine. The oil detected meter was a later addition and not in the initial plan. The light sensing was intended to discern between lightly-used and fully covered blotters, which would then affect the number of oil drops dispensed at the end. However, since I was already getting data, it could also be channeled into the meter as feedback to guide users through the machine.

Oil detection meter in microlitres

Taking a blotter and pushing the lever were programmed as mutually exclusive actions (i.e. the slider tray won’t open unless it is closed, vice versa). This is to filter out unexpected user behaviour such as taking blotters twice.

After getting a preliminary reading of their oil level, users are invited to follow the conversion process. This is done through:

  • A faux hydraulic press to squeeze oil out of the blotter
  • A furnace to heat and distill the oil
  • Mixer to shake and emulsify
  • Dropper which dispenses the converted biodiesel

Process  +  Construction

The machine is designed as separate modules to make adjustments and alterations easier. The external housings can also be removed.

Slider + Trap door + Bell

The slider was the most complicated module as there was a lot going on in a small space. This included 3 motors, sensors, lights, the slider mechanism, trap door mechanism to dispose of used blotters, a bin to collect used blotters, oil detection meter and bell.

There were hiccups along the way which I only discovered through making a smaller prototype. For example, due to static, the oil blotters would stick to the acrylic tray and not fall as intended. They wouldn’t slide down with gravity even if the tray was tilted steeply!

Tried drilling holes in the tray to reduce static

In the name of tinkering and experimentation, I sacrificed my desk USB fan to test whether blowing the blotter off was a possible solution to the static. It worked but only at certain angles and was not very repeatable.

In the end, I decided on a trap door mechanism to dispose of the used blotters. The speed at which the trap door opens pushes the used blotter down with enough force to overcome the static.

Baby and adult slider

In the process of building, the machine increased in size and complexity. Bringing the modules together, I could see what was lacking in terms of feedback and affordances. For example, the bell was a later addition to the system. It provides audio feedback about the completion of the ‘heating’ and ’emulsification’ process. Without the sound as signal, it would be harder for users to follow the machine’s process.

However, this made the slider module even more complicated as the support dimensions did not take into account a bell and another motor. Due to the lack of space, I decided to double up the function of the trap door to make it ring the bell. This proved to be very challenging as the small motors I used initially, while compact, were too weak. After a few runs, it could not repeat the motion consistently and even weakened the support structure by jamming it unintentionally.

Tiny motor which used to control trap door mechanism

I was tempted to switch the analogue bell out for a digital recording of the bell sound. However, after a lot more tinkering, I replaced the small motor with a stronger one and found the ideal limits for ringing the bell and controlling the trap door. This allowed the motion to be repeatable yay!


In line with the wacky-invention/mechanical vibe, instead of a button, I wanted users to push a lever to trigger the process. This interaction felt more fantastical and almost cartoon-like.

Building the lever

Sanding down the edges for a smooth hand feel!
Shortened the lever as the torque was too weak with such a long length

Hydraulic Press

While metal is strong, it is very hard to work with… sparks flying!

Pretty biscuit tin

Making a plastic ring to reduce metal friction
Used a cheap handheld balloon pump as the hydraulic press shaft

Fitting the tin into the base
Cutting the tin to length
Calibrating the 2 arm pivot positions to get the smoothest linear motion
Making a plastic ring to guide the shaft within the tin

Cutting a hole in the can to fit the thermometer snugly

The motor is attached to a metal coil which is attached to the meter needle.


The mixer followed the same design as the preliminary prototype. I added a wooden skirting around to conceal the motor and guides. With a couple of marbles in a tomato can, the mixer module uses simple harmonic motion to generate the flowing and oscillating noise.

Scavenging for materials

Bottle base made out of spare wood and a tin box cover

Calibrating the pressure and position of the jar to drop in the centre

The base on which the jar is placed is designed to fit an LED bulb. Once the mixer is done with the emulsification, the bell will ring and the LED will light up simultaneously to direct the viewers to the final step of the process. Behold, a drop of clean, green biodiesel is dispensed!

Pipes and Fittings

I used siphons, hand pumps, nylon fittings and flexible plastic conduits to mimic brass pipes used in industrial machines. They were easy to paint and flexible, without adding unnecessary weight to the machine. These elements made the machine more realistic and contributed to the wacky invention aesthetic. They also helped soften the cuboid form.

The magic of spray paint!
Spray paint saves the day

Moving Forward

Based on the feedback received, it would be great if I could include more lights, movement or even olfactory feedback to guide the viewer throughout the process. I would also like to add variation in the number of drops depending on the amount of oil each person contributes for harvesting. Such details would enhance the illusion and further blur the line between reality and the ridiculous!

2nd Night Painting

Street Divided (2017), Oil on wooden board. Image credit: The Forge

I really enjoyed the process of composing this painting. The ‘horizon’ of the street casts a strong horizontal at 1/3 of the painting. This contrasts and dialogues with the central vertical of the walking path and the many intersecting verticals made by the trees. The strong vertical of the path is softened with the intersecting shadows of the trees, adding rhythm and repetition to the composition.

The street lamp, tree and shadow form a U-shape in the central foreground, guiding and circulating the viewers gaze.

I amplified the light behind the trees in order to draw the viewers gaze between the foreground and background. The warm light is inviting, and makes the end of the walkway seem like a destination.

1st Night Painting

After the Rain (2017), Oil on wooden board. Image credit: The Forge.

We carried our easels to the grass slope above ADM in the hopes of catching a higher view. Fresh air and a lovely night! The biggest challenge for this night landscape was seeing in the dark. This location didn’t have lights so it was difficult to discern and mix colours in the darkness. Thank goodness for phone flashlights!

Human+ @ ArtScience Museum

Visiting the Human+ exhibit was very enjoyable and thought-provoking. Many of the works present possibilities for the way we may live and work in the future. My takeaway from the exhibition is that it invites viewers to ponder about the implications of rapid technological development, and how it alters our relationship with technology.

One of the works which caught my eye was Afterlife by design duo James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau. Afterlife is a speculative art installation which proposes an alternative life after death. It details how the remaining energy from dead bodies can be transformed into batteries, which can then be used by loved ones after one’s passing.

Bounded by medical privacy screens, the installation setup is sterile and clinical. We are presented with a white casket-shaped centre piece, presumably the device used to convert dead bodies into battery cells. Alongside this pristine machine are testimonials, surveys and several rather everyday objects in a display case.

Upon closer inspection, these objects (e.g. clocks, common batteries, vibrators, electronic toothbrush) are examples of vessels that people want to embody after their deaths. Their lives become repurposed as a functional object which serve a purpose even after their deaths.

The question of what happens after death is such an intrinsic human concern. Cultures and religions across the world have all come up with something in response to this weighty question. Intertwined with faith and religion, this subject of an afterlife is often surrounded by mystique and mythology. In contrast, Auger and Loizeau present an alternative option devoid of spiritual belief; their vision of life after death is based on scientific fact, certainty and utility. It also creates an opening for viewers to explore the potential of science and technology beyond the realm of the living.

It also makes us think about the extent to which a person is represented by their physical body. Although the idea of giving the physical body a second lease of life is very intriguing, I can’t help but question whether this scientific approach glosses over the importance of one’s mind, soul and thoughts.

The artworks at the Human+ exhibition present imagined realities that aren’t that far off. These advancements are exciting yet terrifying, and invite viewers to consider the trajectory of our relationship with technology. Would recommend all to visit if you get the chance! 🙂

where dumb ideas prosper