When Mike graduated with a degree in Fine Arts one and a half years ago, he wanted to take a break from art, and turned to being a barista. Little did he know, this path would lead him to discover a different art form in coffee. “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he says. “I wanted to take my mind off art after graduating as it was both mentally and physically draining. I guess it was actually a blessing in disguise!” Today, Mike works as a full time barista, while pursuing his artistic endeavours. One of the toughest things he faces, he says, is the need to constantly remain inspired. “Although it’s not the biggest struggle for anyone to experience but for an artist to lose his or her instinct of artistry is almost equivalent to losing the inspiration to dream.” If he wasn’t creating art or coffee art, Mike says he might have become a tattoo artist instead, because his obsession with body art was what led him to pursue art in the first place. If he had to do something non- art-related, however, Mike says he would definitely like to become a zookeeper. “I remember once, right before taking my degree, I almost volunteered myself for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF),” he says. “It’s something I will always keep at the back of my mind. Perhaps one day, when the time is right.” For now, we speak to Mike to find out more about his inspirations and dreams.
1. Could you tell us about what you’re working on right now, or a project that you would have love to undertake?
Currently, I am still in the midst of exploring my coffee powder series. It was basically inspired by my daily collection of thrown-away coffee powder. The everyday disposal from the calibration of the coffee grinder became my way of creating latte art. I decided, one day, to deconstruct the actual recipe of making coffee and reconstruct it in a way for me to achieve my own perfect latte art without wasting any coffee powder.
2. What is the best and worst part of being an artist/barista?
When I first started working full time, I was constantly struggling with my time management. I felt that I was living a double life, making coffee in the day and creating art at night. I often had to stay awake late into the night to draw, and always had the need to remain inspired. I guess being a part- time artist and juggling a full time job is a first-world dilemma. But I didn’t realise that it could co-exist, both coffee and art making. The best part would definitely be discovering coffee powder as a medium for my art. I have met interesting artists and people from different professions while working — I suppose that’s a perk of working in the F&B industry. Human interaction is important to me and I hope I can keep that everywhere I go even though I get awkward at times.
3. What does individualism mean to you?
Personally, I feel that it is important to be ourselves, which is something that I always struggle with. Most of us, even myself, always find the need to be that someone we look up to and because of that, we lose the idea of being original. I don’t know whether originality exists now as all of us are inspired by an inspiration that comes from another inspiration. But there’s nothing wrong with that, it makes the world go round. I guess that’s the beauty of it.
4. What is your working/creating style like? Are you neat and organised, or more free-flow and messy? Do you have a system/routine in place when you get down to work?
I’m messy when I’m creating; I’m neat when I’m not. It is a contradictory feeling towards myself. During my days in art college, I spent most of my time cleaning up the mess that I made while in the midst of creating my artwork. As my boss always says, “Clean as you go!”
5. What are the three things/tools you use most often at work? Or, what are three items in your workspace that you can’t live without?
My materials are the most important and crucial factor in art-making. As funny as it may sound, the brand of my materials plays a pivotal role. For example, if my set of pencils runs out, I would get the exact one. I believe that each and every artist should have his or her own personal set of tools. I also consciously believe that I can only write with my own pen, draw with my own pencils, and paint with my own set of paintbrushes. Therefore, the three tools that I can’t live without would be my set of pens, pencils and paintbrushes.
6. Who is one person you dream of working with, and why?
I can’t think of anyone that I would want to work with yet but if National Geographic were human, I would love to work with him or her. I occasionally spend my time reading the magazine and recently purchased one from Yosemite, when I visited the States a few months ago. I even bought my own Nat Geo bag as my traveling buddy just so I know how it feels like to be working with them. I’ve always been a fan and will keep on supporting what they do.
7. What would your ideal workplace be like, in terms of the actual physical space and working environment?
It would be a dream come true to have a workplace/studio on top of a mountain. In terms of the interior — very spacious (I can get claustrophobic sometimes), and minimal with a wooden feel to it. I’ll wake up in the morning with the sun rising or setting (both are equally beautiful) right on my face, in between two snowcapped mountains. That’s how I imagine myself waking up every morning.
8. You spend a lot of time in your workspace. What’s the one piece of furniture that you really love, and why? And what is one piece of furniture that you wish you had?
I’m always intrigued by the details of a wooden table, and how each table is different. The details of the wood remind me of mark-making, which it is something that I have always been wanting to explore. To be specific, I don’t have a preferred piece of furniture but I would love to own a typewriter. Does that count?
9. Who is an icon you look up to?
10. If you could wear a uniform of sorts for the rest of your life, what items would the outfit consist of, and why?
A personal apron that is durable for both coffee and art-making. I realize that every time when I work — both with coffee and art — I tend to leave stains all over my clothes. Oh, it should also perhaps have a few compartments and pockets that can store all of my important tools, even my camera. Sounds like Inspector Gadget, but maybe less futuristic!
11. What do you think are some wardrobe staples that everyone should own?
A pair of suspenders.
12. What/who are you listening to right now? What kind of music do you listen to when you work?
I’m currently listening to ‘The Head And The Heart’. Every once in a while, I’ll get obsessed over a band or song, and will keep on playing it on repeat. I am an avid listener of Angus & Julia Stone, Of Monsters & Men, Mumford & Sons, The Kooks and Kodaline. I think the list just keeps going on and on!
13. If you could summarise your life in a line, what would it be?
“I shower myself in caffeine and devour coffee powder & beans.”
14. If you were asked to curate a music festival, which three musicians/bands would you headline?
If this were the 70’s, I would put together a music festival which consists of Sex Pistols, Joy Division, and Nirvana, for a touch of the 90’s. I’ve always wanted to know how it feels like to be living in that era. Sometimes I feel that I was born too late!
15. What’s the one thing you think you should be doing more of, or that you wish you had more time to be doing?
I wish I had more time to explore the different techniques of printmaking. It is something I’m interested in and will always be curious about, in terms of mark-making. I’m still in the midst of exploring my art; printmaking is something I wouldn’t mind incorporating in my future artwork.
16. Any personal mottos, quotes, or philosophies that you’re living by right now?
“I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know who holds my future.” I keep that close to my heart no matter how difficult the obstacles can get.
This is a Shentonista project for Fred Perry Singapore.