Income tax tips for Malaysian artists

Income tax tips for Malaysian artists

We’ve done the homework and put together a guide to help local artists through this tax season.

By Tho Mun Yi

Artists, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “Do I have an annual income of RM34,000 and above (after EPF deduction)?”. If the answer is “yes”, then you are required to register a tax file with the LHDN so read on.

The information below was compiled from the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (LHDN) and other local financial online resources. We’ve also put in relevant links for your further reading.

Tax exemption

A certain portion of an artist’s income in the form of royalties from publications of artistic works, recording discs, tapes, and musical compositions are tax exempted.

A maximum exemption for royalties of up to RM10,000 for publications of artistic works (excluding paintings), recording discs, or tapes; and RM20,000 for publications of paintings or musical compositions are granted.

The income of a performing artist derived from cultural performances is tax exempt with approval by the Minister.

Any foreign income received from overseas is exempted from income tax as well. [1]

To start a business or not

So here is where artists need to pick a decision when filing tax. Artists can be grouped into two broad categories for tax purposes – artists who do not carry businesses thus filling the BE forms and artists who carry art businesses thus filling the B forms.

The artist who fills the BE Form

Good news is you are relieved from having to do any accounting. It is however mandatory to keep track of your income.

The bad news is you are not eligible to deduct any expenses from your income. Paper, paint, frames, brushes are all not deductible from your income. You are only entitled to the tax reliefs as listed here. Maybe some accounting does not sound too bad after all.

The artist who fills the B Form

The bad news is you are required to keep your books of accounts along with your supporting documents for seven years.

Good news is you can deduct your business expenses from your income in the form of allowable expenses. Even your accounting costs, if you decide to hire a tax accountant to manage your accounts, is tax deductible.

What are the allowable expenses

Allowable expenses are the business costs essential to running a business. These include all forms of costs incurred in running an art business like rent, utilities, loan interest, salaries and wages of staff, contracts and subcontracts, commissions, bad debts, travelling and transport, repairs and maintenance, promotion and advertisement. [2]

Do take note that personal expenses are not tax deductible. For instance, only travelling expenses to a client’s location are allowable expenses. So long as it is a justifiable business expense under a business name, it is tax deductible. If you are not sure, it is best to ask a tax accountant.

Separate bank and credit accounts for your art business

Open separate bank and credit accounts solely for your art business. This not only shows your professionalism but also helps you organize your earnings and expenses easily.

If it makes more sense for you to run an art business, a registration fee starting from RM30 will be charged by the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) upon registering your business.

With a looming April 30 deadline to submit the BE form and June 30 deadline to submit the B form for business tax, it is worthwhile to complete the e-filing ahead of time.

Note: This article should not be construed as tax advice. Whenever in doubt, please consult an income tax professional or the LHDN.

Additional resources:

For guidelines on tax deduction for sponsorship for arts, cultural and heritage activities and programmes, check out this simple process flow chart by CENDANA. For further information, download the guideline booklet by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

3 ways to make money as an artist in Malaysia

3 ways to make money as an artist in Malaysia

Thinking of going full-time as an artist? Painter Kay Lynn Chua offers some tips on how she diversifies her income to sustain her artistic career.

By Kay Lynn Chua

Making ends meet as an artist in Malaysia is not easy. As a practising artist, I support myself through various creative streams of income including working part-time at a gallery, teaching, and freelancing so that I can do what I ultimately love – Art!

Here are 3 ideas on how you too can earn that extra cash to help pay the bills.

1. Merchandsing

Turning your work into affordable merchandise is one of the easiest ways to increase your income. Just ask Howard Tan – Penang photographer and store owner. Howard spent 16 years in the computer engineering field before realising that photography was his true calling.

To fill his rice bowl during his early career as a photographer, Howard often sold prints of his work at the Penang Street Market. Through his belief of “testing the market out by trial and error” and “maximising on well-received responses”, he found that selling merchandise of his artwork was the best way for him to earn the cash he needed to sustain his art career.

Today, Howard runs two souvenir shops in the old quarter of George Town. Some of the products he sells are key chains, prints, and bags featuring his own photographs.

You as an artist can start today. Rent a booth at your weekend local art market like RIUH  or Hin Pop Up Market or consign your merchandise to lifestyle stores such as The Warung, Naiise KL, or even at Howard Tan’s shop!

2. Workshops or Teaching
Photo by Rae Hong

What better way to share your passion than to teach someone about it and at the same time get paid! Teaching allows you to share your skills and inspire people of all ages to learn something new.

There is a huge hype on art workshops going around in Malaysia at the moment and you should hop on the bandwagon. The National Art Gallery holds workshops every month and even major online magazines like Time Out Penang advertises art workshops as ‘Things to Do’ for their readers.

Another alternative is to check out places like Scoopoint, Hikayat Bookstore, or even Mano Plus. These venues are open to workshop ideas from creatives that match their brand’s audiences.

However, if you are the type of person who isn’t good with large groups, opt for teaching private lessons. Being an artist myself, I teach art to young children. In addition to being a fruitful source of side-income, private teaching is a rewarding experience as you watch your students blossom and grow over time.

A useful tip for creatives is to always keep business cards in your wallet. You never know when you might run into someone who is looking for an art teacher.

3. Commission Work
Image courtesy of Ahmad Rais Azmi

If you have a style or skill that people can’t seem to get enough of then you might consider commission work. This involves a client that hires an artist to create a piece of work based on a specific subject.

Ahmad Rais Azmi, a recent fine arts graduate of UiTM Shah Alam, branched out to accepting commission work as a form of earning extra cash. Rais landed the job through a recommendation from his colleague to the producer of Astro GO’s latest show Cinta Elevator. The producer then commissioned a painting to be featured in one of the show’s scenes. Rais signed the agreement and received RM900 for work. He says, “Let’s be realistic, if you are an artist and are financially struggling, any opportunity that comes your way, you grab it”.

Another way to find commission work beyond your own social network is through online platforms like Fivver.

Try these 3 useful ways to earn extra cash to help sustain your creative career. For more advice on how to start out as a freelance artist, check out Charis Loke’s article on her experience as a freelance illustrator.

Kay Lynn Chua studied Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts. As an artist, her work is a candid and constant exploration focusing on the emotions that are triggered by the constant changes in modern day that affect the social nature of our daily lives. Through her paintings, she deconstructs familiar characters, personas, and places to expose emotions such as alienation, isolation, and solitude.

Cover photo courtesy of Howard Tan

Month of April // Studio Howard

Month of April // Studio Howard


Get ready to experience a rush of colours at this gallery-cum-merchandise-store, tucked in between an array of tourist shops and eateries on Armenian Street in George Town. Studio Howard offers a collection of artworks and products, made by local artists, illustrating local narratives and flavours with a contemporary twist – all carefully selected by Howard Tan, a collage artist and self-taught photographer himself. Get to know the inspiration behind the studio and view some of Howard’s own collection of collage art and installations.​

Time: 8:00pm

Date: 17 April 2019 (Wednesday)

Venue : Studio Howard 13, Lebuh Armenian, George Town, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang

About Sesi Seni

Spare an hour on a weekday evening to meet an artist/art collective or explore a gallery/an art space. Join us for a little get-together – discover stories from Penang’s arts community and build meaningful connections.

Team of lecturers bring Malaysian and Rohingya kids together through the arts

Team of lecturers bring Malaysian and Rohingya kids together through the arts

University Sains Malaysia collaborates with Penang Art District to gift the arts and build values in Rohingya and local children.

By Lynette Low

Every child is born blind to differences, worthy of respect and entitled to an education. A brainchild of Dr. Pravina Manoharan from the Music Department of University Sains Malaysia (USM), Jungle Book The Musical aims to give Rohingya children the opportunity to learn and experience the arts in sync with their Malaysian peers.

Adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and with original songs composed by the USM team, the project comprises of two Holiday Art Workshops which precede the final production. Kipling’s story was chosen as both local and Rohingya children know it well, and it’s good news to kids when they get to jump and swing around with permission!

T-shirt silkscreen printing class
How it started

Dr. Pravina, the project director, was driven to design this project from the simple desire of doing an art-based project with children. She had the insight to choose the Rohingya kids living right behind USM, rather than work with local kids who have access to arts education. Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia lack the legal status for access to public education, resulting in the need for informal learning centres.

“Rohingya children do not have the same privileges as Malaysian children. In their school (Peace Learning Centre), they learn the Malay language, English, and Maths but they do not learn Arts or Music.”

“I want to give them the opportunity to experience the arts – to paint, sing, dance and act like every other Malaysian child.”

Dr. Pravina, Chairperson of the Music Department at USM School of Arts, facilitating the music class during the holiday art workshop
Bringing it all together

A fun-filled Holiday Art Workshop was held for five days from March 25 – 29 at School of the Arts, USM. Coached by highly skilled and dedicated lecturers from USM’s School of the Arts, 33 Rohingya and Malaysian kids aged 8-12 years old participated in Jungle Book The Musical’s script-reading, drama, art, craft, music, and dance sessions. On the workshop’s fifth day, the kids enthusiastically performed what they learned in a showcase exclusively for parents.

Dr. Pravina explains that the workshop teaches kids the performing arts and intensively trains the Rohingya kids who will perform in the final production. “Practicing to perform for a small audience gives them good exposure. This way, September’s final performance for an audience of approximately 500 people will not intimidate them. Also, we are training them to have muscle memory, to dance without having to think.”

What’s beautiful about the workshop is how well the Rohingya and local kids integrated with each other. A swish of the brush, little light leaps on soft ABC mats, singing in unison and swinging on artificial vines did magic from the workshop’s very first day.

The teachers observed that in the morning, the kids stuck to their own cliques but soon adapted to each other through the activities.

“By lunch, the Rohingya kids were saving seats and braiding the hair of their newfound Malaysian friends!”

One of the workshop’s goals was to encourage kids to embrace another race or community. Clearly, discrimination is only an adult’s concern. “Kids get close to each other very fast, they do not see colour. ‘Come let’s play’ is what they think of,” emphasises Lay Chin, an assistant dance teacher.

Nur Hilyati Ramli, Drama & Theater lecturer at USM School of Arts and Penang-based theatre practitioner in acting, directing and dance.
Dr. Mohd Kamal Sabran, New Media Design & Technology lecturer at USM School of Arts and artist-researcher in interdisciplinary art practices which includes sound art, experimental music, theatre and electronic installations.

The workshop is not just a five-day affair as the kids walked away from the workshop with an armful of skills and values. Puan Hilyati, a lecturer from USM’s Drama and Theatre department who is the workshop’s dance trainer asserts that the kids “learn how to communicate with each other in order to complete a task…and to endure, focus and listen.” While Dr. Pravina expresses that kids “learn how to respect people regardless of who they are…to foster love and friendship.”

The testimonies of the teachers are reflected by the children. Anisa, 11, says that she has learned how to dance, sing, draw, and act like an elephant. While Ong Yu Her, 11, shares that he learns how to be helpful by sharing his script with those who forget to bring it.

How you can support

The project, initially designed to introduce arts and music to the Rohingya children, has grown to incorporate a fundraising element. The tickets for the final performance on 5, 6 and 7 September 2019 will help raise funds for the Rohingya school in terms of buying school books and paying the teachers.

In the meantime, do look out for the second Holiday Art Workshop in July 2019 for your child to experience the performing arts in a fun, safe and loving environment. Come on board for a good cause as RM50 from your child’s RM200 registration will sponsor one Rohingya child to experience the arts.

Contact Dr. Pravina (016 377 3308) or Puan Hilyati (017 3191674) for more information.

Facebook: junglebookthemusical

Images by Rae Hong

Why graffiti artist The Sliz chose spray cans over skyscrapers

Why graffiti artist The Sliz chose spray cans over skyscrapers

While ‘bombing’ one of George Town’s alleys, The Sliz gets candid about how he is constantly adapting in the fast-changing art world.

By Emilia Ismail

Kneeling next to a drain, his hand carefully manipulating a can of spray paint, The Sliz and two fellow artists, FBR and Taz were ‘bombing’ an alley by Barfly George Town along Jalan Gurdwara.

‘Bombing’, in the graffiti subculture, is an act of painting many different walls inside one city area within a very short timeframe, for obvious reasons. It can also mean – to go out writing. “This piece is a permissible graffiti piece, but we still bomb at night because old habits die hard,” he laughs, a reference to his past where he would be out bombing at 3 am to evade authorities.

Bandung, Indonesia

Given his background as an architecture student, The Sliz has an eye for detail. His strokes are precise. Each imperfection in every drip, smudge and splatter is intentional and deliberate.

“For me, when I approach a graffiti project from my architectural background, I will use a wall as a massive drawing board, with detailed sections, axonometrics, and perspectives.”

“From an artist point of view, a graffiti can add a new dimension to the common building elements – doors, windows, walls, shutters.”

“In a lot of ways, whatever applies in architecture, applies in arts as well,” he says.

When asked about a transferable skill he learned as an architecture student, he answers, “Coming up with a formula to charge a client. There could never be a perfect fee. There is always a trade-off. Sometimes, if a wall has high foot traffic and the owner allow you to tag the wall, then I can be more flexible with my rate.”

He says that with his experience working in architecture firms, he has learned to treat a graffiti project just like a construction project. “The charges per square feet usually get lower as the piece gets bigger. However, the intricacy of the piece will also affect the rate,” he says.

A collaborative piece in support of nuclear disarmament.

With his long hair, T-shirt, and ripped jeans, The Sliz does not fit into the architecture-student stereotype of dockers, polo shirts and the ever-present sketch pencils. He resisted it so much he threw his sketch pencils in his final year as an architecture student and picked up spray cans instead.

“I never looked back ever since. My freedom of expression is far more valuable than chasing the dream of designing a skyscraper.”

Since becoming a full-time artist, he has worked on several notable projects for Celcom, iM4U, Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, and various local brands such as Mutha Puaka & Gajah Lama. He even founded The Secret Hideout collective in Subang in 2011.

This 32-year-old graffiti artist first came to Penang when Ernest Zacharevic was on the verge of putting Penang in the global spotlight. In 2012, the London-trained Lithuanian artist was commissioned to paint a series of murals in George Town in conjunction with the George Town Festival. Zacharevic’s murals went on to receive worldwide recognition, with the BBC calling him Malaysia’s answer to Banksy.

 “I think no one expected street art to have such a massive impact on Penang’s economic growth, especially in tourism,” The Sliz says. 

Hin Bus Depot, Penang.

Moving to Penang came naturally for this Subang Jaya native as street art continues to thrive in George Town. “I think that was my way of adapting to the changing art scene. You have to change with it. You have to go with the hype. Otherwise, you’d fade into obscurity.”

“I have evolved as an artist. I don’t think we can only have one model. At one point I was into fine art, and I was targeting galleries. Today, I’m more comfortable finding a balance between galleries and the
street,” he says.

While graffiti art is typically viewed by most Malaysians as a less celebrated artform compared to its more prim-and-proper cousin – street art – both actually hold the same purpose and importance: to beautify a space. “It’s just two different terms to define the exact same thing. The problem here is, the idea that street art is usually painted with permission and is done by a formally-trained artist while graffiti art is often painted without permission and can be done by anyone,” he says.

Manila, The Philippines

Additionally, according to The Sliz, modern graffiti art became associated with gangsterism in the 70s, where subways and streets in the United States were used by gangs to mark their territories. “The art movement then became a borrowed culture in Malaysia and often associated with vandalism,” he adds.

However, there has been an increased appreciation of graffiti as an art form in recent times. “Melbourne has embraced graffiti for its commercial and touristic appeal. The art form has become respectable,” he says.

The Sliz left his mark on the wall of Hosier Lane in Melbourne in 2018. The bluestone cobbled laneway is deemed by many as a mecca for graffiti artists the world over since the city council declared Hosier Lane as a graffiti tolerance zone.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne.

“My trip to Melbourne has made me think that adaptability applies not only to individuals but to cities, too.”

Having his thoughts brought back to Penang, The Silz expresses his frustration at the pace at which the state accommodates new ideas and art. “Ernest is a friend of mine, but Penang has been riding on his murals for a very long time now. It’s about time for a new thing, don’t you think?” he asks.

“If you noticed, all the big walls and projects are commissioned to non-Malaysians. It may give Penang the exposure globally, but there must be some sort of balance. We need local representation too.”

Trying to be the change he wants to see, The Sliz spoke with the shop owners along Carnarvon Street and arranged for local artists to spray paint graffiti on their store shutters. He saw this as a way to expose people to the work of local artists.

Carnarvon Street, Penang.

He said he wants the public to question why local artists only get to paint on shutters and not on George Town’s walls. “I want the people to ask themselves that question, rather than us asking them ‘why not because we have been asking for years. “

Although this project has been on pause for some time, The Sliz wishes that upon completion, it will change the mindsets of people.

“I hope we can help Penang discover the commercial and touristic value in graffiti art as well.” 

The Sliz’s collaborative pieces with Ajim Juxta are exhibited at the latter’s TUGU|UGUT show at Hin Bus Depot until 7th April 2019.


Instagram: @thesliz

All images courtesy of The Sliz. Cover photo by Firdausghaz