“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Artist Lucinda Law on the healing power of nature, compassion in the creative process, and the joy of ornamental chickens.
Watercolour painting is at times referred to as an amateur’s medium. However, a watercolourist operating at the highest form of practice races against the physics of water and time to anoint paper with paint. As is the nature of water, the colours run easily and can only be tamed by a professional.
Lucinda Law would know. The Singaporean mixed-media artist and founder of Within, a creative studio that runs nature-inspired arts and educational programmes, has led over 220 botanical art workshops and created inspired watercolour works for brands such as Chanel, Aesop, and Leica.
“I love how water behaves on paper,” says Lucinda, who has honed her craft for over five years. “You have to understand the behaviour of water, know its evaporation rate, and work with the element of time. When it dries up, you can’t remove it. It’s sealed and done. You have to be very present while working with it.”
For Lucinda, a painting calls for more than a painterly eye. It requires her to be fully present and mindful of each brushstroke. In some ways, the creative process is as healing for Lucinda as is the ability to commune with nature – the very subjects of her artwork. Below, she tells us more about her creative process, how nature bestows a sense of renewal, and the evolution of her yoga journey.
When I first discovered painting at 17 years old, I found a book at home titled “Magic and Medicine of Plants”, published by Reader’s Digest. After flipping through it, I thought about painting some of these plants and that brought me so much joy. So for three years, I hid in my room and painted most of the plants in the book. I didn’t tell my friends what I was doing. It was a private pleasure because I experienced so much healing.
I like the range of possibilities that watercolour provides. It can be loose, spontaneous, or dreamy. It can also be very precise and detailed. Watercolour and plants share a very long legacy because watercolour translates very delicate details that are needed for plant illustration.
Painting is a skill that teaches you how to work with an instrument. For that, your body has to react in a certain way. For example, in yoga, you have to remember to align your posture and flow with your breath. It’s the same thing with painting. You have to stabilise yourself and take a breath before you paint that line. In some ways, it’s also about asking yourself for permission: Am I going to be okay? Am I going to be in a safe space where I can learn without judgement?
It’s important for me to show students that you start where you are. Over the course of teaching over 200 workshops, I realise many come into the class with a certain anxiety and fear. The last time some of them picked up a brush might have been in secondary school and they’re unsure if they can do it again. To that, I say: “Remember that you are just starting out and you’re going to be okay”.
Often, I have to remind students to be mindful of the criticism or judgement that they carry before they practice. Many think that what they have created is ugly or terrible. Or they expect things to look a certain way. I think that’s quite harsh. Imagine going to your first yoga class and telling the teacher that you want to do a certain pose. It takes time to get there. So when students come with that sort of preconception about themselves or the process, it’s very useful to ease them into the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Only then can students enjoy their creative process.
I attended a course on the healing energy of nature and trees some 13 years ago. The course was held in Singapore though the teacher has since left the country. I learnt about the language of nature, how to connect with a tree, and how to feel the energy of trees and nature. The course was also about understanding your own energy systems and the sources of healing and energy that can optimise your wellbeing. This was the course that really opened me up to this idea that the wonderful energy of nature is healing, it’s everywhere, and that you can develop your own personal relationship with it. This healing is also free.
When I first had to go to the workshop, I was a little sceptical. But by and by, through the practice, I felt a lot calmer. I had a really pivotal experience where I had to pick a tree – one that was good for emotional healing – and I found a very strong connection with it. I’ve returned to it over the years. This ability to connect with nature has rejuvenated me, strengthened me, and helped me through difficult periods of my life. It’s an incremental, gradual process. It’s a lived experience. If you practise more, you start to attune yourself to it.
In every job, regardless of your profession, you’ll encounter frustrations. There was a period of time where I was so busy and just constantly reacting to situations. Then a commission came and it was to paint a giant orchid. I was given five days to do it and I painted 10 to 12 hours continuously for days. In my state of exhaustion, I remembered myself at 17, painting in the bedroom on my own, thinking about how happy I would be if I could paint orchids for a living. When this little gift of memory and drive came to me, I experienced a vibration of happiness and gratefulness. This taught me that I could tap into this energy to create work even in very busy times. So while I continued to get these sorts of projects with very tight timelines, I realised I needed to learn and trust that I could have the discipline, commitment, and dedication to tackle these things.
I started practising yoga about 13 years ago and did so quite consistently for about two to three years. Then I stopped for a while as I was travelling quite a lot for work. About five years ago, I started practising again, waking up to do stretches like simple Sun Salutations, and Yin yoga before I slept. It could be just a few minutes or half an hour. I started practising again because I missed that space where you could just be fully mindful and present. It’s a space where you are reminded to meditate and take things slow. There are of course the physical benefits as well.
I keep ornamental chickens – two Silkie Bantams and one Mini Cochin. I’ve had them for about six months and I’m still learning how to be a mama hen. We don’t normally associate chickens with warmth and connection, but it has been quite amazing to discover that side of them. It’s a really lovely connection. I can recognise when they are upset or want affection. They need a lot of assurance too as they get scared quite easily, so that’s perhaps where terms such as ‘chicken-hearted’ originate from.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. I love this quote from the author Annie Dillard. Time is energy. Time is money. If I spend my time talking, making art, anchoring in nature, and connecting with people – it’s a really worthwhile life and it’s really only my life to spend.