Self-taught full-time artist Ethen Ng may not have been inspired by Japanese comedian Pikotaro but, for both men, the pen seems to be associated to their career success. Pikotaro shot to fame for his single Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen while Ng is proud that his mighty ballpens allow him to produce artworks of wildlife and pets.

Ng, 37, a Penangite, draws with ballpoint pens of different colours. His friends and fans on Facebook and Instagram are amazed by his skill to depict the animals so realistically. “Pens give me so much freedom when I draw. They help convey my thoughts on paper,” said Ng, who relocated from Penang to KL in 2015.

Intrigued at how coloured pencils can be used to produce beautiful drawings, he began experimenting with them in 2014. Amazed with the results, he then tried drawing with ballpens on acrylic paper. His artworks of dogs are so realistic that they look like photographs.

He would stop his car and take photographs of stray or homeless dogs. The photographs would later be used as reference for his animal portraitures.

Ng chose to draw dogs mainly because he loves pets. At the age of six, he had two Rottweilers at home that his father kept. Nowadays, he is not able to keep any dogs because he lives in a condominium.

Creativity With The Pen

Drawing with ballpens is very painstaking. Every single line or stroke is executed carefully. There is no room for any mistake.

“I spend two to four hours on a single artwork,” he said, adding that beyond this length of time, he cannot control his shading properly. “The strokes may turn out lighter or darker than desired. Besides, I also have to stop due to eye strain.”

Ng is participating in the 2018, Year Of The Dog group exhibition featuring 14 artists at The Art Gallery Penang. Prior to this, he had taken part in 20 local art exhibitions and one in Thailand.

Financial Constraints

After he had completed Form Five, Ng took a fashion design course but stopped after six months due to financial constraints. Over the next five years, he changed jobs frequently – pasar malam DVD seller, store keeper and salesman for garden fertilisers.

In 2004, a friend recommended him a job as a textile designer. Even though the job provided a stable income, he quit after nine years – to follow his heart. “I wanted to pursue fine art,” he said.

Life was difficult when he chose to rely on art to earn a living. In 2014, he produced artworks for sale and gave part-time art classes.

Over time, his persistence paid off. He is gaining confidence as his artworks are being snapped up. Other than art exhibitions, he has also put his artworks up for sale in a gallery in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Ng has also been commissioned by dog owners to do artworks of their pets.

Aside from drawing for a living, Ng wants to use art to create awareness of animal protection and the importance of standing up against animal cruelty. For example, he depicted the rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo in a different light. Each is “alive” with its quirky “carved” horns.

His message is that people can still appreciate the horns of these animals through artworks and not have to kill them. “Really, I hope poachers would stop killing these animals, and people would stop buying animal horns,” he said.

The group exhibition 2018, Year Of The Dog is held at The Art Gallery Penang, 368-4-8 Burma Road, Bellisa Row, Pulau Tikus, Penang, until Feb 25 (closed from Feb 15-20). Viewing hours from Monday to Thursday are by appointment only, while it is open from 2pm-5pm from Friday to Sunday. Admission is free.