The big in small

Against a back­drop of re­sis­tance, Lim Pui Wan re­alised her big dreams of mak­ing small things.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By JOSHUA LIM star2@thes­tar.com.my

HER workspace, a desk be­side her bed, is filled with an as­sort­ment of carv­ing, mould­ing and paint­ing tools. These brushes, paint tubes, tweez­ers and cut­ters are what minia­ture artist Lim Pui Wan uses to cre­ate tiny mas­ter­pieces.

Her lat­est project is a kitchen 12 times smaller than the orig­i­nal, com­plete with worn-out walls, a wooden cup­board, a coun­ter­top, “Per­anakan” tiles and an old rice cooker.

She dabs some glue on the edges of a metal canopy and at­taches it to one of the walls. It’s an art form she’s been per­fect­ing for the last 10 years: tak­ing real-life ob­jects, and turn­ing them into minia­tures. She makes a liv­ing by sell­ing some of her pieces on­line.

But this par­tic­u­lar cre­ation is not for sale, Lim says. The kitchen was in­spired by her grand­mother, a woman in her 90s liv­ing in Mantin, Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan. Lim says she doesn’t have a lot of mem­o­ries of her grand­mother, but the few that she has are of her cook­ing for the fam­ily. “That’s why, for me, the kitchen is the whole picture of her.”

While some peo­ple may take pictures and oth­ers write di­aries, Lim, 24, chooses to pre­serve life’s sentimental mo­ments in the form of minia­tures. Mem­o­ries make good minia­tures, she says, “be­cause minia­tures will never fade”.

It all started when Lim was 14, with a book on minia­tures that her el­der sis­ter had bought from Tai­wan. She would keep the book by her bed­side table so “she could read it ev­ery day”.

Then came the long hours at In­ter­net cafes, look­ing at tu­to­ri­als, mul­ti­ple part-time jobs to en­able her to buy ma­te­ri­als and late nights mould­ing clay, sort­ing out colours, chis­elling wood and bend­ing metal to cre­ate a piece.

Her first minia­ture was a lol­lipop. By the time she was in univer­sity, Lim had won first place in a lo­cal doll­house com­pe­ti­tion and fourth in a Tai­wanese con­test. She knew this was go­ing to be her ca­reer.

But there was one prob­lem. “No one would sup­port me when I wanted to drop out of my de­gree to make minia­tures,” Lim says as she wipes away tears. “Even my mother didn’t sup­port my de­ci­sion.”

One of five sib­lings, Lim was the only one to re­ceive a full schol­ar­ship to pur­sue a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing de­gree in Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man Univer­sity Col­lege.

And her mother, Wong Paw Ming, was not will­ing to see Lim give it up for a strange job that didn’t seem to hold much prom­ise. “She thought a de­gree would help me se­cure a job with a sta­ble salary,” says Lim.

Other fam­ily mem­bers and some of her friends also felt the same way. Against such op­po­si­tion, Lim de­cided to fin­ish her de­gree and ac­cept it as a back-up plan if a ca­reer as a minia­ture artist failed.

Af­ter three years, she was fi­nally free to choose her path. “I was re­ally happy when I grad­u­ated. I did not re­gret my de­ci­sion to fin­ish my de­gree,” Lim says. “Only when you’ve done some­thing that you dis­like do you re­alise what you’re truly pas­sion­ate about.”

Since her grad­u­a­tion in 2016, Lim has been ded­i­cat­ing all her time to mak­ing minia­tures. Some of her work — which in­clude a durian the size of a 20 sen coin, sushi pieces as small as rice grains and a zongzi (fes­tive dumpling) that can be bal­anced on the tip of a fin­ger — has helped amass more than 30,000 fol­low­ers on her In­sta­gram ac­count, “Pi­coWorm”.

She coined the name to play on the word “book­worm”, which is some­one who loves books and read­ing. She re­placed “book” with “pico”, which is a tremen­dously small unit in the met­ric sys­tem, to sug­gest a per­son de­voted to mak­ing small things.

What Lim loves about her art is the process it takes to make those tiny things. She ex­tracts way more sat­is­fac­tion in fig­ur­ing out how to make an item – which is of­ten through trial-and-er­ror – that com­plet­ing it be­comes a de­tail, and al­most an anti-cli­max, she says.

Lim’s fame has grown to an ex­tent that she now gets re­quests by for­eign clients, like the spe­cial or­der from a Sin­ga­porean re­cently. The per­son wanted a replica of her grand­fa­ther’s old pro­vi­sion shop, which had closed down af­ter a 35-year run.

And so, Lim, us­ing pho­to­graphs and de­scrip­tions given by the client, recre­ated the shop com­plete with posters, con­fec­tionery and even the pave­ment bricks, 35 times smaller than the orig­i­nal.

It was a very mean­ing­ful project for Lim be­cause she was able to build some­one’s mem­o­ries into some­thing solid and last­ing.

Now, she as­pires to tell sto­ries and evoke a sense of nos­tal­gia through her work. She hopes to hold a full ex­hi­bi­tion one day with her grandma-in­spired kitchen as one of the ex­hibits.

Her ded­i­ca­tion to her art has won over her mother, some­what. On some nights, Wong will walk into her daugh­ter’s room to look at her work, to ad­mire the de­tails of the minia­tures and take pictures to show her col­leagues. When asked if she was proud of her daugh­ter’s achieve­ments, she replies in Can­tonese; “Duo siu lo (more or less)”.

— IAN OH/ The Star

As small as her fin­ger­nail, no noo­dles are go­ing to be served in this bowl.

— Pho­tos: IAN OH/ The Star

Lim at­tach­ing a minia­ture canopy on her kitchen set, which is 12 times smaller than the orig­i­nal. The kitchen comes with a wooden cup­board, a coun­ter­top, per­anakan tiles and an old rice cooker.

Her workspace re­flects the scale of the things she cre­ates.

Ac­cord­ing to Lim, it takes nearly 20 hours to make this clay durian come to life.

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