Episode 58: Recognizing and Seizing the Right Opportunities with Ceres Lau
Listen to the world-renowned paper artist, Ceres Lau, about finding the confidence and perseverance to get your paper flowers featured in fine art spaces.
Does the idea of submitting your paper flowers to a gallery strike fear in your heart? Or maybe you’ve tried in the past with little success and have become disheartened. We have heard so many paper florists express apprehension about exhibiting their paper flowers as fine art. There’s a lot of unknowns: Where do you begin? How do you deal with rejection? Is your creation really worth it?
We’ve all felt those doubts. But what if we told you that we know the secret behind finding success as an exhibiting artist? The best news is, it’s totally something you can do.
In this Episode of Paper Talk, we chatted with Ceres Lau, a paper artist in Malaysia, whose incredible work has been exhibited around the world and extensively online. She literally cuts, carves, sculpts, and creates elegant works of art from paper. Needless to say, she understands the way a blank sheet of paper can make the heart sing with possibilities.
Listen to our conversation, and here’s what you’ll learn about:
Dealing with negative feedback, especially when it comes from loved ones—which it will!
Balancing art and making a living. It’s a difficult needle to thread, staying true to your artistic side and still being able to eat.
Staying true to the value of your artwork when people complain about the price tag.
Most importantly, persevering until you find the right opportunities. (Spoiler alert: this is the crucial bit.)
Ceres was a joy to talk with, and hearing her story about becoming a paper artist and the emotion and inspiration behind much of her work was captivating. We’re sure by the end of the episode you’ll be full of inspiration of your own, as well as the confidence and know-how you need to submit your paper flower art to exhibitions.
As Ceres said, “When you get one acceptance, it’s totally worth it.”
Read what Ceres has to say about her journey!
1. Introduce yourself to us! Who is Ceres Lau?
I am a paper artist who draws inspiration from nature as the source of her artistic expression. My fascination with paper stems from the possibilities found within it – beautiful, complicated forms arise from the transformation of this humble, almost-mundane material, a process limited only by the breadth of creativity.
I cut, carve, sculpt, create works of art out of paper. I do not paint on it, but rather I learn to focus on the material itself, and try to uncover the hidden beauty of paper without any interference.
I was born in Kuching, Sarawak, the eastern part of Malaysia. It is a small city where we would often joke that everyone knows everyone (that shows just how small it is, it applies most of the time!). It is situated on an island which is also known as Borneo, a place famous for having one of the richest cultures and rainforests in the world, which also explains why my work is often inspired by that of nature.
I graduated in graphic design, and before that, I was actually studying in the science stream, going into the medical field would have been the initial goal but I was not doing well at it, most importantly, my heart was elsewhere. I was secretly an art nerd.
Graphic design is the only course available that is closest to the arts at that time, in this small town. I took it up not knowing what lies ahead of me and thus, begins the life-changing journey, getting to where I am now.
2. Were you a creative when you werea child?
Thinking back, I have always been drawing, on any surface, I can find, for as long as I can remember. My ultimate childhood dream was actually to become a comic artist!
3. What is the art community like in Malaysia? Growing up, was there any opportunity to live as an artist?
The art community here is flourishing. There are more and more opportunities coming up for the arts in recent years. Paper art, however, is still not quite known here in Malaysia, and people are confused when they see what I do. It is not a norm, which is also one of the reasons why the art community here is, until this day, still remains foreign to me.
Instead of craving for a change of environment and situation, throughout the years I learnt to depend on myself rather than on ‘things’ and situations. I learnt to make use of limited resources, embrace what’s available in front of me, and at the same time, also seek opportunities away from my comfort zone.
I have kept close with a very small circle of artists in Malaysia, to which each of them specialise in different mediums. They are invaluable to me but something was still missing.
At some point, I turned to Instagram and found myself a wonderful community of paper artists who have had similar experiences. It can be intimidating at times, however more than that, it has been extremely comforting knowing that there are a group of artists and people who support you, unconditionally. I soon realised that finding the right community really helps to better oneself, it really has so much to do with that.
Then I was introduced to a paper art organisation by chance and got offered to be a part of it. The organization helped me find my voice and confidence in what I do. I was able to meet and connect with like-minded artists, not only that I get to have conversations on the medium we shared, but also exchange experiences, knowledge, and honest criticisms.
More opportunities became available to me, in ways that I could never think of if I have not stepped forward. Finding this has had a major impact on my life and growth as an artist. Having a community that supports one another, no matter how small of an amount or far in the distance, truly makes a difference.
4. You talk a bit about using what limited resources you have. Is that why you chose paper as your medium?
I was thoroughly amused by this medium. You can transform it anyhow you want and the possibilities are endless. I am until this day, still fascinated by the versatility of this everyday object that we tend to take granted for. I see it as a beautiful medium on its own, even more so when it’s being explored and experimented with.
It's been roughly 8 years of using this medium, on and off. Funny enough, looking back there were subtle hints here and there that it was the right one for me.
The first memory I had with paper, was when I was still in elementary school. I remember it so well, cutting strips of paper and coiling them together, I made a not-so-practical bookmark and gave it to my friends. I didn’t know that it was known as quilling back then.
When I started college, I began using paper again for my assignments. It was not encouraged because I was majoring in graphic design and doing hands-on work was not a ‘thing’. Paper as an art form was far less known than it is today. I stopped after that, focusing on digital works instead.
During my final year in college, I manage to transfer to a university in London. I stepped out for the first time in my life, and through one of the downfalls, I rediscovered paper with the help and advice of my then lecturer. From then onwards, I responded to all assignments given throughout the year using only paper.
Upon returning to Malaysia after my studies, where paper art is not known at all, coming from a small city it was even harder, I gave in to peer pressure and did not engage with paper for a year or two. I was given small opportunities and slowly started to pick it up again while managing 3 different jobs at a time, working my way through without a solid aim. Just 3 years ago, I decided to dedicate myself fully to this paper world and have not regretted my choice since.
5. You explained that you "focus on the material itself, and try to uncover the hidden beauty of paper without any interference." How do you do this? What tools and supplies do you use to create your masterpieces?
It really depends on what kind of work I am doing! I use tools that I find comfortable using, both unconventional and conventional ones. While I have proper tools to suit and function in a certain way, different kinds of craft knives, I also have several curvy wooden massaging tools, which I use in some of my work! I vividly remember using a toothpick to curl the paper strips, too.
But the tools I absolutely must have and can't live without would be surgery scalpel and bone folder. These two are the ones I juggle back and forth with.
I use archival-quality papers and adhesives. I often use G.F Smith Colorplan papers for my work, mix and match with other brands such as Daler Rowney, Arches, Takeo, and many more. Sometimes I use unbranded papers in my work (I have a collection of them from my trips!) if the colour and texture appeal to me.
6. Let's talk about the evolution of your artwork. You've created so many different series of artwork that are distinctively different from each other. Where do you find your inspiration?
I am constantly trying to explore different dynamics, however human relationships, and nature is both my inspiration.
When I just started doing paper art, I like many others, was completely lost at some point, because like you mentioned, I have a variety of works that is contrastingly different.
I used to stress about it so much. Everyone works differently, often I would admire artists who seem to know what they want and has a very unique sense of style of their own.
Along the way, I realised that while it is important to have a style, it is also not essential. Eventually, I started letting go of how I perceive things, and from there onwards, I started not to bother so much about having a specific style. I realised that it is actually okay to have a few different approaches as long as I am able to express what I want, get my feelings across and build a connection with the audience. I believe that, being able to capture a moment, a feeling and emotion, is also a form of art and something I hold close to.
7. There are many artists who work with paper. What do you think makes your artwork unique from other paper artists?
Tough question, I truly have no idea!
However, through the words of my artist friends and lovely followers, I was told that my art has a raw approach and feel to it.
I have always found it hard to express myself, and it is through what I do and make, that helps me put my feelings out there. Every piece of work has a story behind it, they not only serve as a reminder but also a memory to me, capturing my feelings and the very moment in life. And it is perhaps through this way, that I get to connect to an audience that I never thought I could.
8. What do you remember about your first art exhibition?
I had one of my first collaborative art exhibitions in my hometown, 6 years ago. I created a piece of art through quilling, very much different from what I do this day. It was sort of, as an amateur debut? It was memorable because it was held in a rundown space. The art piece I spent 3 to 4 weeks in full swing to make, was priced at an amount that did not reflect all the hard work put into it at all.
I was told that it was extremely expensive, with people telling me that they should rob the bank if they were to buy my work. I had mixed feelings, happy but overwhelmed, completely clueless on what to do, or which direction I am heading towards. I had no plans, no expectations, no ambitions nor goals.
But through that one small exhibition, I have learnt a great deal and found a way to do what I love. To be very honest, I never knew I could take part in exhibitions until I was offered the chance to, it never occurs to me that I can do this and that there are other ways of doing something.
On a side note, I didn't manage to sell anything during the exhibit, while others sold their pieces. However years after the event, I sold that particular piece for 5 times the price back then!
9. Where can your paper art be currently seen? When's your next exhibition?
Unfortunately, for now, it’s mainly on my social media. There has been a huge change of plans after what is happening to the world right now. While it is saddening that things have to be cancelled or postponed until further notice, it is inevitable but I learnt to be thankful and appreciative of my situation, finding gratitude in the slightest thing.
I took time off from preparing for exhibitions and chose to focus on my well-being instead. It can be challenging at times like this, however, it is also important to know that in the midst of chaos, strength means something different to all of us, too.
10. How do you decide which art exhibit and/or art gallery to submit your work or opportunities to seize?
An artist friend once said to me, that I should keep creating, go out there and grab hold of any chances offered to me, regardless of what is being put on the plate. I held onto that advice since then. I think I was really lucky to be approached by curators and organisers of art exhibits back then, from my early years when I was still struggling and trying to find a balance in this art world. Those experiences helped shape me; my ideals, my visions, and what I want to do in my life.
After all these years, I manage to narrow down the chances given to me but I have too, seek out new opportunities by sending in my work, submitting applications, and such every now and then. It is not something I can explain in detail, but simply know what you want and grab on every chance provided which feels right to you, it differs from one another and will definitely give you an invaluable experience one way or another.
As for the process, the artwork, of course, is the most important component. High-quality shots of the artwork(s) are necessary. A strong and concise statement of the art piece is just as important. Providing a CV outlining your past exhibits, experiences and achievements are also crucial. Depending on the requirements (every gallery and exhibition submission differs) you may be required to pay a small fee to be considered, put together a proposal of the exhibition, and/or all of the above.
You might get considered or shortlisted, but that does not solidify your chances. Following the rules, as simple as naming the files correctly, in a certain format and size, getting all the fundamentals done properly also plays a huge part.
There is a high probability of getting rejected and ending up with disappointments, even until this day I still face rejections despite all the experiences I had. It is completely normal and I hope one does not dwell on it too much, simply push yourself and repeat the process until you get it!
11. What advice would you have for an aspiring paper artist?
I don’t think that I am in the position to give any professional advice, because like everyone else, I still have so much to learn about.
One of the things I’d always tell myself is, do not let anyone tell you how things should be done, yet take as many criticisms and advices as you can. Listen and try, but stay true to your core identity at the same time. Do not be afraid of failing, take it as a notion to learn about yourself, failures contribute to your successes and it will go a long way.
Be loose, be you. Sometimes you don’t shine the most when you show your truest self or have your work reflect who you are as a person, but you will definitely attract the right crowd for you.
12. What are your favourite flowers to play with?
Wildflowers. It holds such a profound meaning to me personally. When I look at it, it makes me reflect on the events in my life.
Sometimes people call wildflowers weeds and are always described as plants growing out of places that do not fit in, often not being celebrated by many. However, for me, they represented more. They may seem out of place, but they are free-spirited, diverse and fascinating, intricate yet bold. As uninvited as they may be, these darlings mysteriously add a unique touch, complementing the surroundings. They aren’t controlled, they exist for their own sake and that is why it is amazing.
I see it as a reminder to oneself. Allow yourself to grow in places that people thought you never would, or could. Know that it is okay to stray away from the carefully curated garden beds, know that you are blooming in your own way even on the sideway, or the open fields. You are uniquely you, beautifully free and strong, just like a wildflower.