Inspiration and Knowledge


What inspiration…?

People always ask me “What are you inspired by?”. My immediate gut answer has always been, and always will be, ‘Malaysia’. The beautiful natural environment & cultures of my country are always on my mind. I love it. It is what I have grown up with, always close to the jungle, outdoors, free to roam around the plantations in which I grew up, mixing with people of all races, watching festivals and ways of life in little towns.

Parents and knowledge….

Through the years, as an adult,  my inspirations are being drawn from a much wider range of countries visited through my travels. However, my strongest inspirations still come down to the world’s environment and cultures. As a child, my parents made us observe nature, make things, draw things we saw. They encouraged artwork, an interest in natural history, and they encouraged general knowledge. The volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica was always on hand and out on the big work table in my fathers study.

The inspiration of a teacher….

At school I developed an interest in art and pattern, anthropology, archaeology, natural history and art history. At boarding school in Dorset, UK doing my A levels, I took part in a new activity that was being offered, ‘Weaving’. It was there in the wonderful ‘weaving shack’ created by the totally inspiring textile artist Wendy Barber, I found the exact thing that allowed me to combine all my favorite interests; woven and printed textiles. I couldn’t get enough and there was never enough time in the day to keep working at creating and trying out ideas on the loom, block printing, dying natural colors, spinning wools, and learning about textiles from around the world. My short time living with Wendy Barber and her partner, the late artist John Hinchcliffe, after school before going to New York, has been fundamentally vital to my growth as an artist today.

On my own….

I carried all of this with me to New York and Parsons School of Design where I studied Print & Surface Design. Here I could mix up all the ideas I’d learnt from studying cultures around the world and found my own ‘hand’ and ‘colour sense’. It was here I was told “Stick with your own ideas and never be afraid of acting on them.” And so I managed to focus it all down to pattern, color, nature and culture. I took this back to Malaysia when I finished and set up Owen Rebecca Designs with my future husband specializing in prints that promoted the environment & culture of Malaysia.

Decide on a lifestyle….

That was 30 years ago and since then my ‘work’ has morphed into a ‘lifestyle choice’ of art, hospitality and activism highlighting Malaysia, nature, heritage and culture. Whilst living full time on Pangkor Island, I was all about the jungle. In George Town within the UNESCO heritage zone, I was all about what I saw on the street, intangible heritage, old trades and customs and a moral inkling to want to preserve some of that for the future. Still in Penang, as I watch the steady destruction of the islands fantastic natural environment & hills, my interest has swung again to nature: its patterns, colours and my own gut reaction to it.

Support a cause….

My participation in the recent ‘Save Our Hills’ campaign by the Penang Forum has pulled my focus out of the urban mess, into the hills of Penang and once again I’m fascinated by everything most people just simply dismiss as they go about their lives. The shapes of leaves, the colors of their veins, the patterns in bark, the types of birds that flit in and out of our view, the amazing blooms on our trees, the way the sunlight plays on the jungle canopy. Once you stop and start looking, you can find extraordinary things in the most ordinary places. I find this very uplifting and recently I have started to translate these daily ‘visual memories’ or ‘visual imprints’ into quick paintings.


These quite large paintings on paper have stemmed from an exercise I started some time ago to create what I call ‘A travelling artists diary’. There have always been certain images that have stayed with me through time and my travels, visual memories that I have taken in. Instead of just leaving them be in my head, I started to translate and draw them in a sketchbook, filling the whole page with an ink drawing and pattern. Once started, I made myself complete the page even if I felt that I’d made a mistake or ‘didn’t like it’ along the way. I wanted to create a routine for myself by starting and then making sure I completed the page whilst working through the mistakes in order to make the image ‘whole’. I didn’t want to give up on that particular ‘visual imprint’.

Work to create….

I use the same technique with my quick paintings. There is no sketching or thought. I just start painting and work through it all with layers of color and pattern until I feel its complete. I have really enjoyed this process and the amount of work I have been able to produce in this way has been so very satisfying. Part of this focus is also because I’ve reached a stage in life where the kids are all grown up and I suddenly have time to give myself. I’ve also inherited a certain ‘work ethic’ from my parents, my father in particular, that does not allow me to be idle for too long. I’m throughly enjoying my ability to spontaneously produce these ‘visual diaries’, a collection of pattern and colour. That is to me, the essence of my art, a visual record of things that I see on a daily basis, often ‘ordinary’ but absolutely not!

The essence of my work….

I am a ‘hoarder’ and I love producing a collection of work rather than individual pieces. My ideas and inspirations then have a ‘story’ and together I feel the works make more sense. The ‘collection’ relays my thoughts and emotions during the space of time in which I produced them.

Stop and look….the importance of Knowledge….

I always have my camera with me and I take many many photographs to use for ideas and to look at again for inspiration. However, most important, when I’m out, I take the time to look at things and inspect how they are formed. A flower for example is not just a four petaled thing. It has been designed specifically to be pollinated by its chosen creature or element. It may be designed to shake in the wind, float on a river, be rubbed by the back of a beetle, to be entered by the long tongue of a moth or be fluttered by the wings of little tiny bat. These shapes look disjointed and strange but as soon as you understand how nature has interconnected everything, ones ability to draw and put marks on paper becomes all the more easy and fluid. Ultimately, it is this ‘Knowledge’, that I find incredibly inspiring.

My Artwork:

Harking back to my childhood:

A Traveling Artists Diary: For you to colour in!

Hinchcliffe and Barber today:

Go for a walk in the Penang Botanic Gardens

Support this cause: