KUALA LUMPUR: Despite being an artist with multiple international awards to her name, Nell-Lynn Perera started off her adult life thinking painting was nothing more than something fun to do in school.
But her creativity would soon come to prove a useful lifelong skill.
The first time Perera sold her paintings for money, it was not for commercial reasons, but for a charitable cause.
At the time, she was living in Bali, and Japan had been struck by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
Deciding that she was not suited for the usual routine of collecting used clothes to send to victims, she instead chose to put her artistic abilities to good use.
With six watercolour paintings coming off her easel, she put them up on auction and before long, she was able to donate the proceeds from the four paintings sold.
Her kind deed was all the noble considering Perera is afflicted with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a hereditary connective tissue disorder where there is a collagen defect.
A multi-system disorder, there is no cure for EDS at the moment and it is under-diagnosed globally.
With weak joints and fatigued muscles, everyday life can be very painful for her.
For Perera, the intensity of pain can become unbearable at times, breaking her momentum when she paints, and resulting in her having to take regular breaks.
Speaking to FMT, she said, “Pain determines when I paint and when I don’t paint. Sometimes I push it, but obviously I pay the price for it.”
Still, in spite of the physical difficulties, she does not let her paint-stained hands stay idle for too long for she has still much to say through the colours of her canvas.
“I just like not being in the rat race,” she explains when asked the benefits of being an independent artist.
Having worked a desk job before, Perera had an epiphany one day that made her decide to take the leap of faith into the world of art.
Instead of relying on people to offer her menial nine-to-five jobs, she decided to look within and rely on her own skills to support herself.
Her knowledge of art was minimal at first as she lacked a proper education in the field. She even had to seek advice about setting the right price for her own works.
However, time and experience eventually made up for these weakness and today, she loves what she does.
Asked why she makes art, she replied simply, “It gives me joy.”
She explained how art, with no restrictions imposed, gives her a sense of freedom to do with her work as she pleases.
Her art is for the most part abstract, and it is likely to stay that way.
“It’s your imagination and it takes you somewhere else. It’s escaping to somewhere else, it’s taking you somewhere else, letting your imagination just, you know, go with it.”
Asked about her sources of inspiration, Perera revealed that she is synaesthetic, and the streaks of colour that make their way onto her canvas are based on the trance music she listens to.
Neither pencil lines nor sketches are needed when she begins work on a new painting. The colours come to her mind with each musical note she hears.
Experience has taught her when to decide when a painting is finally finished.
She recounts a rather absurdly frustrating moment when a half-finished painting got better reception on social media than the final product.
For aspiring artists, she said, the only message she has for them is that they need to believe in themselves.
She says this out of experience, for in the early years of her art career, discouraging comments from people who did not think highly of her dreams were not uncommon.
But she now knows better than to let the negativity get to her.
“I stayed true to myself, instead of believing what people said, you know. They don’t see what you see for yourself.”