Ning was just 14 when she won her first arts award.

Artist Tung Yan Ning dreams of moulding a future generation of artists through her academy.

Teachers play a big role in our lives, some obviously more so than others. For artist Tung Yan Ning, a particular secondary school teacher had influenced her so much that not only did he give her the confidence to pursue an arts education, it also made her decide to found her own art academy so that she too could help mould a future generation of artists.

Like many young students who did well academically, Ning was encouraged by her parents and relatives to pursue a science stream education. This is generally what “smart” students are supposed to do. But by the time she had to make such a decision, Ning already knew that she wanted to pursue the arts. It’s a decision she hasn’t regretted.

Ning talks to Savvy about her passion for art, why she set up her own academy and her future plans.


A self portrait.

How did you first discover your talent for art?

I liked drawing for as long as I can remember. Even at a very young age, my exercise books were full of drawings that I’d done. And I couldn’t help but notice that I was better at it than my friend and classmates. I didn’t think of it as a talent at the time. It was just something I enjoyed doing.

At what point then did you realise this was your talent?

There were no proper art classes in my school as art was not a subject in primary school. So, I didn’t really have any sense of whether this was a talent I possessed until in secondary school when an art teacher encouraged me to pursue art.

How did that art teacher make a difference in your life?

I was 14 at the time when an art teacher told me I had a talent in art. He got me to join the art society and put me through a hard core art training programme. That’s when I first started to learn how to draw properly. I wouldn’t say that we were very close but he was the one who discovered my talent and guided me towards an arts path. If it wasn’t for him, I think I’d have ended up going into the science stream and I would have never realised my true potential.

What was your parents’ reaction to your interest in art?

They didn’t really think it was something that I could seriously pursue for my career until I started winning awards in national and international competitions. I still remember the very first award that I won. I was 14 at the time and it was my very first competition. I got second prize for an art competition in Perak.

How did your parents’ support for you manifest itself?

My parents were not very expressive vocally so they didn’t say much. But they showed their support through their actions. They attended all the art competitions I took part in and cheered for me when I won awards.

How did competing and winning make you feel?

At first it helped validate my confidence in myself as an artist. Then I treated each new competition as a challenge for me to further improve myself, to push harder, to achieve something greater. It wasn’t the trophies that excited me so much as the growth I could see happening in myself as an artist.

What were your ambitions when starting your own art academy?

After I graduated, I taught art in a local art college. After a few years of that I felt I could do better in providing an educational platform for today’s young artists. It wasn’t easy building up Claz’room Academy as neither I nor my business partner had any experience in business. But we both had a passion in art and wanted to help students develop a career out of it. We felt it wasn’t enough teaching them academic stuff. It was also important to teach them about life and soft skills that they’d need in order for them to shine in the work environment and ultimately to build a better life for themselves.

What is an ideal art student to you?

An ideal student is someone who has a positive attitude towards learning, and who’ll ask questions if they don’t understand something. It’s someone who realises that great work requires hard work.

What are your plans for Claz’room Academy?

I’m quite ambitious. I want Claz’room Academy to become a college that is the most impactful multimedia art institution in the country. Eventually I want it to become a regional player. I want to make a positive impact on students and on the industry.

Do you still have time to do art yourself?

I don’t have that much time as I’m running an art school but as my passion is art, there’s no way I can completely do without it. I try to slot in some time for artistic pursuits in my daily life, whether it’s doing an oil painting when I’m on a business trip or doodling while flying in a plane. My office is full of painting material so I can just paint whenever I can spare the time. I’d say about 30 per cent of my daily routine is spent doing some form of art. It’s not as much as I’d like but it’s better than nothing.

What’s your favourite medium for art?

I’ve done all kinds of paintings and drawings but currently I like thick colours such as oil painting and acrylic. I’ve also recently picked up sculpturing and pottery. I like all kinds of art, actually.

How do you keep up to date with the world of art?

I make a lot of business trips and wherever I am, I always make the time to pay a visit to the local art galleries there. I’m also quite well connected in the arts scene so that helps me know what’s new in the world of art.

What’s your personal life philosophy?

I think it’s important to continue to grow, gain new knowledge and undergo new experiences. It’s also important to share what you know. I think a lot of that comes from my late father who always encouraged me to be helpful to others. That’s why I started my academy ­— to help others.

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