Colour my world

Ms Lee Jia Zhen (centre) with her parents Lee Chun Keng and Chew Pek Goh, and her oil painting (above), which won her the Most Promising Artist of the Year Award at the UOB competition last month.

Student Lee Jia Zhen's father noticed her fondness for colouring books as a preschooler.

Mr Lee Chun Keng, a manager at a trading firm, recalls how she "used to like experimenting with different colour combinations". He adds: "Sometimes I'd draw pictures and let her colour them."

She no longer needs her father's help in this respect.

Jia Zhen, 17, an art elective student at Nanyang Junior College, won the Most Promising Artist of the Year Award last month at the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year competition. Her winning oil painting on school life, titled Let's Have A Burger, is on display with the other prize-winning artworks at the lobby of UOB Plaza 1 until Feb 28.

Mr Lee, 50, who took art as an A-level subject at pre-university, enrolled Jia Zhen, the elder of his two children, for art classes at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when she was seven. She has won three other art competition prizes since Primary 4.

Both father and daughter are also good at crafts and have been using objects in the family's condominium in Thomson for projects since she was five. Mr Lee says: "Every year, before Chinese New Year, we would clean the home, throw out some items and add colour to some of the furniture to give it a new lease of life."

A table top becomes a collage work, a kitchen cabinet is decorated with marker pens and the rubbish chute is painted over with animals in a forest.

Jia Zhen's brother, 14-year-old Mao Feng, eventually joined in these projects though they became increasingly rare once the children became busy in secondary school. Their mother, housewife Chew Pek Goh, 49, mixed paint colours and cleaned up.

Mr Lee denies that he overtly influenced his daughter in taking up art. "I just let her choose what she wants and encourage her to do what she enjoys."

One of the judges in the 2014 UOB Painting of the Year competition said there is "no burger" in your winning painting, Let's Have A Burger. Could you tell us more about your piece?

Jia Zhen: The person in the middle is imagining she's eating a burger, seeking comfort in food when feeling stressed. It's like a parody of The Last Supper (Leonardo da Vinci's iconic painting about Jesus Christ's last meal with his disciples). It's a different idea but using the composition. I like to draw and paint food. Food has more colours than other subjects and the textures are richer. When I'm stressed, I'll think about food.

Ms Chew: During examination time, she will study with tidbits, including crackers, within reach.

Mr Lee: She can always relate the topic for an artwork to food. Given the theme Dreamland for a Secondary 3 project, she painted a cupcake wall.

What is your parenting style?

Mr Lee: As long as the children have interests and they enjoy themselves and don't develop habits such as staying out late, and as long as they're safe, I'm okay with it. They are free to choose whatever they want to study or do in their career.

Ms Chew: As long as they sleep, eat and do their homework, it's enough.

Jia Zhen: I can do things that I like and want, for example, art, and choose subjects in my course: chemistry, H2 maths, or higher maths, art and economics.

What are some of your favourite childhood memories?

Jia Zhen: Going to the zoo during the holidays, playing Barbie dolls and Lego with my brother.

Mr Lee: We wanted to let them have a free and easy learning experience. Although she had tuition for some subjects for the Primary School Leaving Examination and at Secondary 4, examination results are not really important to me. They do not indicate actual knowledge. But if, for example, she's weak in a particular subject and wants to get into a certain stream, she might need to score the required points.

Which parent are you closer to?

Jia Zhen: My mum - she's home all day.

Ms Lee: We talk about anything.

Which parent was more strict?

Jia Zhen: Both of them are not strict. They let me do things that I want. No rules.

Mr Lee: We taught them by example. We believe that they see what you do and they will follow, such as being punctual and being responsible.

Ms Chew: I'm easy-going, as long as she can manage, I'm okay.

What are your views about caning?

Mr Lee: Caning was a last resort, used very rarely, when she was five or six, for being disrespectful. After they reached Primary 3, we didn't cane them. We prefer encouraging them to do the right thing.

Ms Chew: I've never caned her because she listens to me, but I'd scold my kids for fighting with each other.

Jia Zhen: I don't remember being caned.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Jia Zhen: Nothing. I'm satisfied with how they raised me.

Ms Chew: Nothing. I'm quite happy with my children.

Mr Lee: I don't think I would do anything differently. When I was young, I was free to choose my subjects at school. I took up art as a private candidate at my pre-university centre and also took business and Chinese literature. My mum supported me and now I support my daughter.

This article was first published on Dec 28, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.