Living Clay: A pottery workshop with Studio Asobi

Last weekend, we joined a clay workshop with Studio Asobi, a local pottery studio run by ceramic artists, Huiwen and Kenneth.

I had been wanting to attend one of their clay workshops for a very long time, ever since some of my friends showed me some cups and bowls that their kids had made under the couple’s tutelage last year. Each piece was entirely unique to the child who made it, and with the process of glazing and firing, had been turned into beautiful and useful works of art. To me, this meant that Huiwen and Kenneth were able to engage each student individually, and guide them in bringing their imagination to life.

This is why when my own extended family expressed an interest in attending a holiday workshop together, I was very quick to volunteer to recommend and organise a session with Studio Asobi!

We were a little late arriving that home studio in Hougang, but we were just in time to hear about how Huiwen – who had no artistic training – had taken a sabbatical from her corporate job to explore Japanese ceramics at a year-long stay-in programme in the old pottery town of Taijimi. After her return, she decided to pursue pottery-making full-time, and eventually, her husband Kenneth, gave up his career in architecture to devote his time to ceramic sculpture. Together, their works are seen all over the world, from local ceramic installations to Belgian pottery expos to Australian restaurants. They also use their art to benefit social causes that work with poor and needy, as well as pledging 20% of all their profits to support the Mercy Centre’s Trolley Ministry, which works with the homeless in Singapore.

Afterwards, Kenneth and Huiwen showed us the electric kilns in the house, and demonstrated how we start off shaping and moulding the clay using our hands. We were then each given equally sized clay balls, as well as some tools and sat down to start working.

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Beginning to shape each ball of clay

As each of us slowly worked our clay, Huiwen went round and checked our work, advising us on how to smooth out cracks and even out surfaces, showing us how to use the different tools available to make patterns and create textures.

We also had a chance to have a quick tutorial on the pottery wheel. Kenneth gave us a quick demonstration and some pointers on how to use the wheel, and then he guided each of us as we tried our hand at throwing a simple ceramic cup.

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Kenneth of Studio Asobi showing us how to use the pottery wheel

Both J and Little E seemed to really enjoy using the wheel, but it was much more difficult that Kenneth made it seem.

When it was my turn, I could feel the clay moving under my hands as if it were alive. Slowly, I shaped the clay into a little saucer.

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Debs G attempts to throw a ceramic cup on the pottery wheel

It all seemed to be going very well, until a sound from inside the house broke my concentration and I looked up for a split second, losing control of the clay and turning it back into a formless lump!

Oh well!

The Barn Owl was able to manage the clay quite well and with his delicate touch, was even able to get the walls of the little cup to be thin and even. It was amazing to watch him, as I could see on the Barn Owl’s face that a serene peacefulness settled on him whilst he was shaping the clay. It is unsurprising that working with pottery is can be very therapeutic!

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The Barn Owl reaching a meditative state and making a tiny dish

After giving the potters wheel a go, all of us went back to put the final touches on our little clay creations. Huiwen and Kenneth showed us how to add little decorations, handles or feet to the outside of our handiwork. We then etched a symbol or initial on the bottom of our pieces so that they could be easily identified.

Then it was time to decide on the glaze or glaze combination would look the best on our works – Huiwen would apply the glazes for us once the clay dried fully.

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With Huiwen of Studio Asobi

In the end, Little E made a mug, J fashioned a soup bowl, the Barn Owl moulded a bud vase and I made a dish. It is so amazing the number of different objects that we each made out of the same lumps of clay!

I can hardly wait to see how our little clay pots and cups will turn out in three week’s time!

For more information about Studio Asobi click here

For more information about family, group or corporate workshops with Studio Asobi click here

Contemporary Art for Kids – National Gallery Singapore

Last year, when J was attending a holiday creative writing camp at the Arts House, I decided to take Little E to visit the nearby National Gallery Singapore.

The National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall, and is home to the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a special interest in showcasing local and Southeast Asian artists.

Within the National Gallery is the Keppel Centre for Art Education, which is a dedicated art facility designed to inspire children and encourage creativity. Within each room are art pieces which the children can interact with or observe in detail, as well as related activities to fuel their imagination.

In one of the Project Galleries is a massive, highly detailed cityscape created from clay and acrylic, painstakingly built in great detail by teen artist Xandyr Quek when he was 13 years old.

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Little E is inspired by City In The Works (2015), Xandyr Quek

Xandyr, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is fascinated by maps and street directories, and would ask his parents to take him to certain roads and streets so that he could spend time memorising the buildings and other public infrastructure. At home, he built many clay sculptures based on his observations. He conceptualised and created this tiny city modelled on northern Singapore which is now housed in a protective glass case (as he doesn’t like his work being handled or touched).

After spending a few moments looking at the tiny city, Little E then spent a happy half hour drawing and populating her own small city. Whilst she was doing this, I noticed that there were other activity sheets available in the room which would suit a variety of learning levels and interests, so there would be something to inspire every child.

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Home-a-Sapiens by Tan Wee Lit

In another project gallery, the ceiling and walls are covered in fantastical future dwelling spaces. A nomadic bus with laundry on bamboo poles floats alongside a series of airy blimps, while the walls have models of underground houses built beneath the roots of trees, even some of the shelves and cupboards were disguised to look like houses.

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Designing her underground living space

Little E was inspired by the underground homes and she decided to make her own cone-shaped house to add to the installation. There were also some very nice pre-fabricated craft kits available (for a suggested donation of SGD$4) which would make a great take-home souvenir.

Little E also liked the Who’s In The Woods interactive area, where she could create and customise her own forest creature using digital painting, then see it come alive on the wall and play with other animals in the forest! That was pretty cool!

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Little E’s found a new friend in the woods

By far the most exciting area was the Art Playscape, which is a labyrinth and playhouse that is literally covered from floor to ceiling in elaborate, intricate drawings, so that you really feel like you have entered a painting into a magical realm.

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The Enchanted Tree House by Sandra Lee

In this room, Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks and his forest friends wander the world in search of adventure, encountering all sorts of familiar creatures from fairy-tales and nursery rhymes. Little E had fun running all over the room trying to find Fynn, and identifying all the storybook characters (and finding familiar mystical creatures like our Merlion hiding in plain sight).

Mummy tip #1: The floor in the Art Playscape has a very smooth finish, so bring along non-slip socks if you have a wobbly toddler or a clumsy child!

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Taking a break with Fynn the Fish-On-Sticks

I liked the Keppel Centre for Art Education so much, that we returned during the mid-year holidays this year, as soon as Thumper was able to walk around on his own.

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Building together

I was very pleased to see that some of the interactive activities had changed!

There was room filled with different types of building blocks for making giant fortresses and tabletop sculptures. There was also a wall filled with magnetic shapes which Thumper enjoyed messing around with.

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Playing with the walls

Within the National Gallery itself were huge wall murals and freestanding art pieces which visitors could pose with and become part of the artwork as well.

We also had the opportunity to go on a free guided tour which took us through the gallery, giving us some insight into the design and architecture of the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings as well as some of its the history and hidden secrets!

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On the Building Highlights Tour – held at 11am and 3pm daily

The docent who took us around was very knowledgeable and was able to engage both children and adults during the tour. The docent even thoughtfully changed her route to accommodate our stroller so that we could use lifts instead of stairs and escalators – although we felt really bad slowing the whole group down!

Mummy Tip #2: If you’re planning to take your kids on the guided tour, park your stroller at the visitor’s desk and bring out your baby carrier instead.

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore 178957

Opening Hours: 
Sun–Thu and Public Holidays: 10am–7pm
Fri–Sat, Eve of Public Holidays: 10am–10pm

Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs, as well as for students, teachers, children under 6 years old, persons with disabilities and their carers.

For more information about the National Gallery Singapore click here

For more information about the free guided tours click here

For more information about Keppel Centre for Art Education click here

Contemporary Art for Kids – Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea

Over the weekend, the kids and I were invited to attend the opening of the Singapore Art Museum’s annual contemporary art exhibition for children, Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea. This is the sixth edition of the children’s season over at SAM at 8Q, and we always look forward to the many beautiful, thought-provoking and inventive art installations on display each year.

During our exploration of Imaginarium, we were very privileged to have the opportunity to meet with the artists (you can see some of them in the picture below) and find out more about their creative process.

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The exhibition is very thoughtfully curated this time to provide a fully immersive experience. As we were moving from one level to the next, it actually felt as if we were deep sea divers swimming from the bottom of the ocean to the surface!

We started out in a room full of kooky and colourful sea creatures knitted out of yarn, floating over a crocheted seascape. This was definitely Thumper’s favourite room as he was free to crawl around and over all the soft sculptures and play with the hanging mobile fish and octopi.

The installation, entitled Dimana Mogus? or Where is Mogus? is created by the Indonesian artist Mulyana. Mogus, according to the description of the artwork, is an imaginary octopus who is exploring the underwater dreamscape with his friends. When I asked Mulyana which of the sea creatures present in the room was actually Mogus, he cheekily replied that ‘Mogus’ is represented by anyone playing inside the room and experiencing the different textures and colours. “Mogus is me, Mogus is you, Mogus is everybody in the room playing together,” Mulyana said quietly, with a soft smile.

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Dimana Mogus? by Mulyana, and ADA by Karina Smigla-Bobinski

J’s favourite piece was definitely ADA by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, who designed and built what she lovingly referred to as an ‘Art Making Machine’ inspired by bioluminescent deep sea creatures. Karina also told me that the phosphorescent flickering reminded her of the LEDs on electronic devices turning on and off in a darkened room which is how she sees ADA, a giant glowing helium balloon studded with charcoal spikes, bobbing about, leaving long black lines on the walls, floor and ceiling in her wake.

The children loved chasing ADA around the room – although it was sometimes hard to tell if ADA was actually the one chasing them – and at the end of it they emerged from ADA’s lair with charcoal smudged hands and faces like little chimneysweeps!

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Damien, I’m Famished (After Damien Hirst), Bryde’s Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), and Surrealism Spiced (After Salvador Dali) by Krit Ngamson

The next room we visited had these cheeky kinetic sculptures by Kris Ngamson, a Thai artist who combines elements from iconic surrealist artworks into his work to demonstrate the juxtaposition between the rural and urban societies in Thailand.

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Plastic Ocean by Tan Zi Xi

Our favourite installation is definitely the Plastic Ocean by homegrown artist, Tan Zi Xi. This was an amazing maze of tunnels made entirely of over 14000 pieces of non-biodegrable waste products suspended in a room dimly lit from above. Zi Xi explained to me that this was a recreation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island made entirely out of nearly 300000 tons of plastic debris adrift in the Pacific Ocean, and it only took her a month to amass this quantity of items from her circle of friends and interns. Yikes!

Underneath the sea of plastic garbage are a few wooden blocks for undersea explorers to rest upon and contemplate the impact of all this trash upon marine life.

J and Little E were most impressed by this installation, as well as by the accompanying series of art prints that show our puny efforts to try to clean up the ocean.

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An Effort Most Futile by Tan Zi Yi

Afterwards, Little E remarked upon the importance of recycling plastic and reducing waste whilst J was appalled by how much light was blocked by just a few layers of plastic.

Suara Muara (The Sounds of the Estuary) by Papermoon Puppet Theatre from Indonesia was definitely a room that provoked a visceral reaction in me. The installation tells the story of Lasem, a tiny town that used to be an important port, where old secrets hide beneath the everyday surface.

I was both intrigued and repulsed by the completely immersive experience that the room provided, with each sculpture accompanied by gentle tinkling music and the quiet roar of the waves. Watching the cloth sea billowing and listening to the recorded sounds through the headphones made me feel as if there was a whole secret history that I was somehow missing.

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Suara Muara (The Sounds of the Estuary) by Papermoon Puppet Theatre

In one piece, an elderly man and a woman sit quietly in their house surrounded by old photographs, whilst behind them, a small man peers out at them from the inside of a porcelain vase. I asked one of the Papermoon artists who the creepy vase man was, and he replied, ‘Oh, that’s their neighbour.’

I had a cold shiver up my spine.

To round off our visit, we spent some time in the Submaroom, which features periscope stations and origami folding consoles as well as some beautiful paper origami sea creatures on display in shadow boxes.Submaroom-origami-Imaginarium

We weren’t able to visit every one of the installations in one morning, but we will definitely be back for another visit. We might try to see if we can take part in the artist-led workshops, storytelling sessions, or perhaps join Imaginarium Curator, Andrea Fam, on a special family night museum tour! See you there!

Mummy Tip: There are no covered walkways from the busstops, MRT stations or carparks surrounding SAM at 8Q, so bring your umbrella with you! We learned this the hard (and soaking wet) way.

Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea is open at SAM at 8Q (8 Queen Street, Singapore 188535) from 14 May 2016 – 28 August 2016. 

Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday 10am – 7pm, Fridays from 10am – 9pm. Admission is free for children under 6 as well as for Singaporean Citizens and PRs.

  • Family Night at the Museum with Andrea Fam: Wed, 1 June, 7-8pm
  • Edible Art Workshop with Janice Wong: Sat, 11 June, 2-4pm
  • Storytelling with Rosemarie Somaiah: Fri and Sat, 17-18 June, 11-11:45am
  • Knots Workshop for Junior Explorers: Sat 23 July 1-3pm
  • Illustration Workshop with Zi Xi: Sat 30 July from 2-3:30pm, Tues 9 August from 10.30am -12pm

June Holiday Excursions: Masak-Masak 2015 Children’s Season at the National Museum of Singapore

Visiting the National Museum is always a real treat for our family, and I am continually impressed with the ever-increasing focus of our local museums on coming up with ways to reach out to kids. Every time we visit the museum, there is always something new and interesting going on!

Masak Masak 2015 at the national Museum of Singapore

Masak Masak 2015 at the National Museum of Singapore

Last week, we were invited to attend a special preview of Masak Masak 2015, part of the annual Children’s Season at the National Museum of Singapore, featuring 10 new installations from local and international artists. We spent the better part of the day exploring the various interactive exhibits, following the ‘Baby Block’s Day Out’ storybook guide that is specially designed to engage the children and get them to record their thoughts and observations about each exhibit.

We were also very privileged to be able to meet two of the artists, Mademoiselle Maurice (from France) and Crystal Wagner (from the USA) whose works are part of the Masak Masak 2015 showcase.

I was particularly fascinated by Mademoiselle Maurice’s explanation of the inspiration behind her work, “Spectrum of Paper” (2015) which is currently hanging from the ceiling of the museum’s front atrium. This colourful origami suspension is inspired by the Japanese legend that promises to grant the wish of anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes, and the various colours and paper creatures represent the multicultural nature of Singaporeans all blending together to form a harmonious rainbow.

Spectrum of Paper by Mademoiselle Maurice

J and Little E peruse their activity book whilst Mademoiselle Maurice talks about “Spectrum of Paper (2015)”

Mademoiselle Maurice also collaborated with our local TV star, Jeanette Aw, to produce another “Spectrum of Paper” origami wall installation based on Jeanette Aw’s book, “Sol’s World: Somebody to Love” (available for purchase (S$19) at the Museum shop). This installation is interactive in nature and visitors are encouraged to add their own origami creation to the wall.

Following 'Sol's Journey'

Following ‘Sol’s Journey’

Jeanette Aw also created two large wall murals, both of which are meant for children to scribble or etch on! Naturally, J and Little E took to this invitation with great gusto, scribbling and colouring to their hearts delight. You can see J in the picture above drawing butterflies to add to “Life’s Best Journey is with The One You Love” (Jeannette Aw, 2015), and below, Little E is colouring in some flowers on “Simple Pleasures in Life” (Jeanette Aw, 2015).

J and Little E were also completely mesmerised by the field of “Dancing Solar Flowers” (2004 – 2015), created by Alexandre Dang from France, and they enjoyed playing hide-and-seek in the huge crepe paper playscape, “Wanderlust” (2015) by Crystal Wagner from the USA, popping in and out of the various tunnels and holes like little meerkats.

Our favourite installations at Masak Masak 2015

Our favourite installations at Masak Masak 2015

My favourite exhibit by far has to be “Luma-City” (2015) by local industrial designers, Lim Kim and Alfred Lim. This is a playspace set up in a darkened room which has a special phosphorus coated flooring. Kids push giant toy vehicles around the floor which leave luminescent trails behind them, glowing vividly in their wake for a few moments before fading away. What I found particularly exciting was that each trail had a particular shape that is related to the type of vehicle being pushed around – for example, the train left behind train tracks, whilst the boat left behind waves of water. Very cool!

There are also special workshops and performances going on every weekend throughout the month of June (dates and details at the end of this post 1). We were very fortunate to be able to bag a space in an art therapy workshop run by The Red Pencil, a charity that uses art therapy to help children and families stricken by long term illness, disability or trauma.

Joint Picture Joins Hearts

Joint Picture Joins Hearts: An Art Therapy Workshop by The Red Pencil

During the workshop, we were encouraged to talk to each other about our playtime experiences and paint a picture together as a family whilst using positive feedback to show how we value and respect each other as individuals.

Afterwards, the kids and I headed outside to play on the inflatable bouncy playgrounds on the front lawn of the museum, but these were unfortunately closed for the afternoon (the playgrounds are only open from 10am-12pm and 4-6pm on weekends), so we contented ourselves with gelato from Momolato (10-6pm every weekend until 28th June) in a special blue vanilla flavour topped with honeyed popcorn! Delicious!

Sitting on MÙTÓU (Little Ong, fFurious) with the inflatable playground based on the iconic Dragon Playground of Toa Payoh in the background

Enjoying gelato whilst sitting on MÙTÓU (by Little Ong, fFurious) with the inflatable playground based on the iconic Dragon Playground of Toa Payoh in the background

By the way, I’ve put together a little video guide on how to maximise your visit to the museum featuring some of our favourite exhibits and activities! Enjoy!

Masak Masak 2015 runs from 30 May 2015 to 10 August 2015 from 10am – 6pm at the National Museum of Singapore. Admission is free!


1. Wayang Kulit Puppetry Performance by Jeremy Hiah: 13 & 14 June, 20 & 21 June, 8 & 9 August at 2:30pm (Admission is free)

Shadow Puppetry Workshop: 13, 20, 27th June from 1030 – 1200h (Tickets are $20 for one parent-child pair and are available from SISTIC)

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (and a SUPER giveaway!)

One of the very first books that I ever bought for J and Little E was ‘How to Catch a Star’ by Oliver Jeffers.

Oliver Jeffers is an artist, raised in Ireland, who makes picture books (amongst other things) – and these pictures books are favourites here at Owls Well. We love his books for their deceptively simple illustrations, quirky humour and underlying themes of curiosity and discovery.

Oliver Jeffers actually recently documented his trip to Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where he celebrated the 10th Anniversary of ‘How to Catch a Star’ with the release of a new edition which has some previously unpublished drawings in it! I am not surprised that the book has already become a classic.

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Picture Credit: Oliver Jeffers

The story itself is simple and sweet, about a boy searching for a star of his very own and finding a friend. He tries several different methods to obtain his goal, and just when he is about to give up, he finds out that special treasures can be found in unexpected places.

When J and Little E found out that their favourite book had been adapted into a stage play by Blunderbus Children’s Theatre UK, they were both really very excited! The flyer for the play, which has been brought to Singapore by ABA productions (who also organised KidsFest 2014), is still lying underneath J’s pillow, along with all his special treasures.

I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with the lead actor, Benjamin Sbuttoni, and Simon Sanchez, the Blunderbus Outreach Co-ordinator.

1. What inspired you to choose this particular book to adapt into a play?

 ‘How to Catch a Star’, jumped out at us straight away. The story is funny, beautiful, and the little boy is a wonderful character who is determined to achieve his goal…to catch his star.

The story gave us lots of ideas for what we could put on the stage. There are epic moments like travelling through space in his space rocket, and there are intimate moments like when the little boy is all alone with just his teddy bear for company.

We look for a story which will engage children (and adults) on different levels and ‘Star’ does that and so much more.

2. What were the major challenges that you faced in translating ‘How to Catch a Star’ from page to stage, and how did you work around them? 

We see challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to be more imaginative, more creative, and push ourselves to create the best story we can. For example, in our show we use puppets, and if there is any a point that an actor can’t do something, then we get the puppet to do it.

We find that by seeing every struggle as a possibility to excel, then we end up with a show that the children will love.

3. What message would you like children to take away at the end of the show?
To never stop dreaming and one day you’ll reach the stars!
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Picture Credit: Blunderbus Theatre

The play opens next week, on the 24 April 2014 at SOTA’s Drama Theatre, and my whole family is going to be there!

I cannot wait to see it!

A Special Surprise for Owl’s Well Readers: ABA Productions is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of a Family Set of 4 top tier Category 1 tickets (worth SGD$248) to the Opening Performance of How to Catch a Star on Thursday April 24th at 5pm, right here on Owls Well! Huzzah!

To take part in the Giveaway just:

  1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook page
  2. Share this post on your Facebook page and tag a friend – make sure your post is set to public
  3. Leave a comment below telling me your favourite kid’s book and the name of your Facebook account that you used to like the page. Don’t forget to include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)

(Giveaway is open to readers in Singapore and will end at midnight on 20th April 2014. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete all 3 easy steps!)

Good luck!

Update: Evelyn is our winner – thanks for playing!