Growing Up an Artist – IACT’s Pan Sin Yi on her learning journey.

In coping with being indoors for our safety, we find ways to entertain ourselves especially looking at beautiful art posted and shared by artists on social media. One of these artists is Pan Sinyi, @pancakees on Instagram. She is a young local illustrator and graphic designer with 13.9k followers and even recently caught the attention of local fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blog, BURO, crowning her ‘artist of the month’ in January.

And guess what? This homegrown artist is one of our own alumni! Sin Yi has completed her Diploma in Graphic Design at IACT. We decided to catch up with her to learn more about her experience in IACT and her artistic journey.

(You can also check out this interview on the #BACkOnTrack podcast here!)

Get to know Pan Sinyi!


Q: Apple or Android?
A: Definitely Apple. I appreciate the design and the user interface of the product, and it just looks very clean, which I appreciate. Once you get into it, it’s very hard to get out of the ecosystem.


Q: Was it expensive for you though?

A: It was! Actually, for me it’s very expensive. But because I got to save on my tuition fees because of scholarships, so I guess from there I was able to convince my dad to get me the MacBook.

Sinyi drawing on her iPad.


Q: Would you say that MacBook is a good investment for those taking up design? Is it so that Apple Macs have been created to cater more towards designers for their work and stuff?

A: Back then, why I switched from Android to Apple is because – before I started using MacBook, I was using another brand of computer and the screen colour was very off. So, when I printed my designs, the colour was totally different and it was very hard to actually do my design assignments there. So that’s why I changed to Apple, because of the colour accuracy of the screen.


Q: After school, you went on to pursue a Diploma in Graphic Design at IACT College. Why Graphic Design at IACT and not a course in illustration in some other college? Also, how was your experience studying with IACT and how has that sharpened your skills as an artist and designer?

A: Okay, so at first before I decided on doing a Diploma in Graphic Design at IACT, I wanted to study something like Illustration. However, after thinking about it for very long, I thought that I can gain some useful knowledge from Graphic Design because I kind of already knew how to draw, but I don’t know anything at all on how Graphic Design works. I figured that I can learn so much more going into a course that I don’t really know how to do. I figured I can learn a lot of things from there.

IACT is a communication college, so I would say it’s a decent college for Graphic Design. It has got a lot of other courses like Advertising, Mass Communication, and Broadcasting (kind of like Videography). Because it’s a communication college, I get to kind of study a bit of everything during my Graphic Design course as well.


Q: Even in your Diploma in Graphic Design course, you were able to take up subjects from other fields as well?

A: Yeah, so I thought it’s quite good. In the end I found out that I quite like (the subject of) Advertising. So, it’s cool. You also get to meet so many people who are in a similar field as you.


Q: When you decided to pursue arts-related studies, did you face any objections from parents and/or other family members due to stereotypes against the arts?

A: Surprisingly, no. Actually my parents have been quite supportive since I was young, because I guess art was the only thing I could do and excel at since young. So yes, they’ve been very supportive, which is nice.


Sinyi with her hand-painted piece, “Jonah and The Whale” c. 2017 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Q: A common remark among most Asian families – “Art as a career is not sustainable”. What are your thoughts on this?

A: For me, I actually – not surprisingly, I guess – agree. The path will be a bit harder and you have to sometimes find unconventional means to achieve your goals. Like, it can be sustainable but you have to think out of the box to find that stability and financial security in what you like doing.


Q: Do you feel it’s also because the arts scene in Malaysia is not as strong in terms of its, say, finances or its support in the community here? As in the support of Malaysians in general, how they view art, as well as their support for the local arts scene. Do you feel it’s because of the climate here that it’s not sustainable for artists to start a whole art career here in Malaysia?

A: I’m not really sure but my opinion is – I think people appreciate looking at beauty but they wouldn’t be so open to paying for it, I think. Maybe to them art is not really a legitimate career, hence why they wouldn’t be as happy to pay for it.


Q: Do you ever feel pressured to live up to the expectations people have of you and your art?

A: I feel that people don’t really have any expectations for my art but rather I have high expectations for myself. I think it’s quite the same for some people also, right? Like you have too much or too high expectation of yourself and then, maybe you get disappointed. It’s something I have to manage on my own also. Actually I have had expectations of others, but not many. So, it’s okay, but as for my studies, yes (from my parents).


Q: What kind of criticism have you faced as an artist and how do you handle it?

A: I don’t think I have faced as much criticism as I did in college. Because you kind of have to have your assignment criticized – evaluated actually – by your lecturer which is a good thing right now when I see it. Back then, when my work gets evaluated by my lecturers in IACT College, I tend to take things quite personally so it’s not a good thing. When you get too attached to what you have created, it’s hard for you to grow fast, I feel. Then you get hurt, and then it’s just not good.

It’s good to receive constructive critisism. You have so much room for growth. My art does not really have a storyline or concept behind it. Maybe it’s just that I paint this thing because it’s pretty. So, you don’t really get criticised for things like that. If it’s  something more meaningful that you believe in, but people might not agree with, then you may get criticised for it.


Q: Have you faced criticism in your recent artworks?

A: No, because I haven’t been creating meaningful artworks. I realise that, every artwork I make has to have a reason, a story, or a concept behind it for it to be good art – because every art is an idea expressed.


Q: How do you overcome creative/mental block and how do you get inspiration?

A: Honestly, if it’s not something that I have to rush – if it’s a personal project that doesn’t have a deadline, I would just let my mind rest. Hopefully, I then get inspired. But, it doesn’t really work like that sometimes. If I have a project to be finished fast, I would force myself to brainstorm. So, I have to actively seek out for ideas and you know, like, go on Pinterest or just research a lot and hopefully find something – like, keep thinking about ideas.


Q: Are there any artists/painters that you are inspired by (in terms of style)?

A: There are many Instagram artists I like. Instagram is filled with artists. I like Holly Warburton, Erin Vest, Cam Estela, and Mabel Ye.

Holly Warburton’s portfolio.


Erin Vest’s portfolio.


Cam Estela’s Instagram page @cam.estela


Mabel Ye’s website.


Q: So those are the more modern up-and-coming popular artists on social media, but do you research on more classical painters like Michelangelo?

A: I don’t research but I actually have one book here at home. My friend gave it to me. I didn’t know this painter until I found this book again from a dump of books I just discovered I received a long time ago. I like Joseph Mallord William Turner. His art is very nice. He mainly used watercolour, and was from a very long time ago – 1800s. I also like (Claude) Monet.


 Joseph Mallord Willliam Turner, 1799.
“Cologne – the arrival of a packet boat in the evening” by JMW Turner.


Claude Monet, 1899.


“Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet.


Q: Are there any messages you intend to convey through your art?

A: I’m still trying to figure out what I want to communicate through my art. But for now, I’ve been quite inspired by biblical messages or Bible verses. It’s just something that’s really meaningful to me and has been very useful for me when I went through hard times. It’s like very encouraging words that I’d like to share with people as well. So, for now, it’s just that. Sometimes, I get inspired by my own personal experiences and strong emotions.


Hills and Valleys (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Psalm 43:5 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Restless Heart (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Slumbering in The Woods (credits: Pan Sinyi)


The Lake (credits: Pan Sinyi)

Q: Has the recent pandemic affected your plans? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

A: I think it has affected everyone’s plans. I was supposed to continue my Degree last year. But I had  to re-plan the whole of last year, and also this year as well. Everyone is going through the same thing. Everyone’s plans got wrecked, I guess. So, we’re all just trying to figure a way to put our lives into order.


Q: How about in terms of creating content, art, expanding your portfolio – I’m pretty sure you have a lot of time for that being at home and all?

A: Yeah, definitely. I feel like everyone has more time to do things now. I definitely have more time to create art but at the same time, I feel like I’m not doing anything career-wise, you know? This is completely out of my plan. I was supposed to go study, come back, and then have a job. Since now I cannot continue my studies, I don’t know how long I should wait, or if I should just jump into working straight away. I’m still figuring things out and just trying to make this year work. I think in the meantime instead of waiting, we should all do something with our time, self-reflect and really think through what’s most important in your life, and what you really want to do in life.


(credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Q: What are your future plans or aspirations as an artist?

A: Actually, I don’t know! To be honest, I really don’t know. I have been wrestling with this question recently for quite some time because I also don’t know if I should continue working as a graphic designer or instead, start to build my career as an illustrator – and it’s a hard decision for me to make. I feel Graphic Designer generally has more job opportunities and a more stable income, but then illustration is what I love doing. So, it takes faith for me to start my career as an illustrator if I wanted to. I’ve been thinking if this is what I really want to do. If I want to be a graphic designer for the stability and security it brings, but then not enjoy it for the rest of my life, always wishing I could have done something else instead, then I’m not sure if it’s worth it. In short, I’m still figuring it out.

 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


 (credits: Pan Sinyi)


Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to young painters/artists out there who deal with societal demotivation?

A: If you ever face societal demotivation, if people say some discouraging words to you, maybe think about whether what they say is valid or not. Know if they actually care about you, and know if they actually have your best interests at heart. Also, you have to do research yourself – yeah, do a lot of research. Know what you want, and know how to make things work. Know your goal and know how to reach your goal. Ask yourself if this is really what you want to pursue and why do you think it’s worth pursuing. Why do you want to do it? If that thing that you want to do and pursue is meaningful and you also love doing it then it should be able to drive you with enough passion and endurance for you to be able to run in the long run.


Kudos, Sinyi for the awesome work you have been doing up until now! There you have it. Very honest and inspiring words and thoughts from a young, talented, skilful, and growing local artist. We hope this inspires you and all our local creatives to pursue the reason to create meaningful art that will inspire change. Do follow her on Instagram and check out her work @pancakees.