Brewtiful art

Lee uses traditional black coffee beans. – Sunpix by Zulfadhli Zaki
She said it is easy to be an artist in Malaysia. – Sunpix by Zulfadhli Zaki

ESPRESSO, cappuccino, latte – whichever you pick, coffee is no stranger whether you enjoy it or not. Today, coffee is more than a drink and Lee Sin Yee alleviates this popular brew into a medium to paint.

"Coffee creates a vintage, old school feel. The sepia and brown colours are natural and pleasant to the eyes. In colour study, brown heals and allows people to relax which is good for art," Lee said.

Better known as VivianLees Art, her artist name, Lee was influenced by her mother who taught her to draw. She began with Chinese ink painting where she learned how to control the brush and the strokes. She said with that type of painting, you need to get the shapes to be accurate and hence, practice makes perfect.

Lee went on to study multimedia design and illustration, and after graduating, she became a full-time designer and illustrator. But she quit two years ago to pursue coffee art full time.

"My grandmother used to love coffee and I use traditional black coffee beans from a coffee factory in Jinjang behind her house. I grind the beans and boil it a couple of times to get a thick pigment. I don't have an accurate measurement to get the right pigment; I just follow my instinct," she said.

Lee uses common tools such as a palette, brushes, markers and chooses professional watercolour paper to avoid smears. She uses the marker to draw outlines for live caricatures and portraits. If she needs the piece to be accurate, she will sketch with a pencil fi rst. To achieve various gradients, she mixes the coffee with different levels of water.

"I don't strain the coffee hence on some pieces you can see the coffee beans. I wish to maintain its smell and many have requested for it, but the coffee aroma goes away after a few days," Lee said.

An interesting fact about coffee art is it does not attract ants because Lee uses pure black coffee with no sugar added to it.

Originating from an Italian word, caricatura, meaning exaggerate, Lee's caricatures are inspired by her point of view. She enjoys drawing caricatures as it is something cameras cannot capture, and it creates a good memory for the individual. She said she didn't learn any techniques for this, only using references online.

She also draws buildings, portraits, pets' portraits and also does letterings. She said some people find caricatures cute and funny, while others cannot accept the exaggeration of their looks.

"I believe everyone can create art. There are so many different styles and mediums. Sometimes, it is not about it being nice or not; it is a way to express yourself. I am lucky my mum taught me to draw and it has now turned into a passion," Lee said.

She added that it is easy to be an artist in Malaysia. There are many art markets you can join and most importantly, there is internet. There is also a community of artists and crafters to share information.

"I joined the International Society of Caricaturist Artists and went to one of their mini conventions in Singapore. There I met many artists from Korea, Japan and US who are passionate about caricature," Lee said.

Lee hopes to have her own gallery where she can conduct her coffee art classes and invite people to come over.

She is already looking for a good place to have it. She also wishes to have a world tour; to travel and introduce her art.