Penang Art District’s Spotlight finalist Ryan Ng shares his experiences about using social media to find community and promote his artwork.
By David Chin
Like many artists before him, Ryan Ng first came to practice art as a form of therapy. He describes 2016 as being a bad year for him but also when he first took to drawing as way to cope with his difficulties. He posted ballpoint pen drawings on a Facebook Group and from the positive responses he got, Ryan realised that art could be something he could get into seriously.
This journey led him to the Penang chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global community of artists who draw outdoors. There, he was introduced to other artists including Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, a local artist who works with Chinese ink and sharpened twig, a technique that Ryan was inspired to use for Spotlight submission.
Being part of a community also led Ryan to realise that art was one way to bring people together. “I have been Urban Sketching in Kuching, KL, Taiwan and the US, and wherever I am on the street, just sitting on the sidewalk, there’s bound to be people who stop and start a conversation with me.”
This experience of community and connection was so enriching that he intends to seek it out as he plans to pursue his studies in Perth. “The first thing I’ll do when I start university is research the art opportunities in that area and get to know the community better. I’ll keep posting on social media, hopefully that will bring me a following and get more people to know my art and be involved in the local community.”
His latest series in charcoal, which is intended as part of his upcoming exhibition at G Hotel in August 2019, also explores themes of connections and relationships. “I chose charcoal, even though it was unfamiliar to me, because it’s messy, unrestrained. I apply it with my whole hands so I get my hands dirty and make quick swishes. That’s the medium and it suits my character as of now, when everything is very uncertain.”
His works depict a hen and her chicks, a mother orangutan and her babies, a man and his dog, among others, which was a joy to work on for this self-professed animal lover. “At this point in my life, I value the connections I have forged with people in school and my family. As I’m about to leave Penang soon, I’m starting to value the things I have more and I’m trying to translate that into my art.”
For a young artist like Ryan, social media platforms have been very helpful in promoting his work. He describes using Instagram as an online portfolio where he can interact with the people who like his artwork. Conversely, it also helps expose more young people to the arts and Ryan cites his friends who follow his Instagram account as examples of this happening.
Ryan also believes that social media and art can help move public conversation forward about certain issues having worked on raising awareness through projects with Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the SPCA.
“Youth today are active on social media but they follow things that they like or find aesthetically pleasing. I think this is where art comes in. Through art and stories that people post on Instagram, I think that we become more aware of certain issues.”
Given its accessibility and low entry cost, it’s not surprising that young artists like Ryan have turned to social media platforms to promote their work to a wider audience. An artist could potentially have a truly global reach given the staggering user base of these social media platforms, however, this requires a well-thought-out strategy that takes into account their audience’s profile and preferences.
In his experience, Ryan believes visual simplicity is key to getting people to share an artwork.
“I follow some artists who use their work to argue for social change and it’s extremely powerful in communicating complex issues with a very simple drawing.”
Like any digital native, Ryan has a natural understanding of what holds someone’s attention and what does not. “If the text is too wordy, people aren’t drawn to it immediately, but with art, vibrant colours and very distinct message, people will be drawn to it and share it.”