Feature Friday

Interview with Marshalle Shirleen

Follow your dreams: an interview with local artist, Marshalle Shirleen

I knew Marshalle from way back when. We met a couple of times over the years through mutual friends and the last I heard from her, she was studying to become a lawyer. Imagine my surprise when I found out that she was one of the many exhibitors at a local art gallery last year. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I found her on Facebook and sent her a message (people still do that, right?) complimenting her on her wonderful achievements and that I wanted to feature her on Designplusgood. So when I requested for an interview, she graciously welcomed me to her little office-space-turned-art-studio. We sat down and had a nice conversation as I admired both her finished and unfinished artwork..

Tell me about yourself and what did you like growing up?

Even from a young age I’ve enjoyed art and painting but I never thought of pursuing it as a career, only as a hobby. When I was young I liked colourful and creative stuff, things that are quirky and different. My favourite era was the ’70s, where everything was funky and colourful. From the trend of clothes and the selection of things, I was always towards the creative side.

After high school, I furthered my studies in Law and practiced Law as a career right after my studies in February 2014. I wouldn’t say that I did not enjoy my job as a lawyer; I find working in law much more interesting than other office jobs. As you get different cases from time to time, there is still room to apply my ‘creative’ side to my legal job.

When did you start painting?

I started painting since I was a kid. However, other priorities like school took up most of my time while I was growing up. While I was doing law in Uni, I had more time during the weekends to do a little bit of painting for leisure. I started posting up some of my artwork on Facebook and Instagram at first, but they were never up for sale. Eventually, due to the encouragement of friends, I started up a website displaying and selling my art pieces. This is where it all started! My art career all started from an online website selling my small collection of art pieces. I thought to myself that if I could do this full-time I could focus and build it into a full-time career. So I decided to resign from my job and pursue art.

From my little experience in law, I did enjoy my days in practice, but I felt that if I wanted to change my career and pursue art then this would be the time to do it. At first I felt that I couldn’t just get my law degree and my licence to practice and not even try it out. If I had quit immediately, then I wouldn’t have felt what it was like to practice as a lawyer. As I am pursuing my passion right now, I have absolutely no regrets on the chances I took and the changes in career I’ve made.


Oberon Moon – Currently on display at Sabah Art Gallery (From Artist’s II Moon Phase collection – to be launched on her website soon)

Your art career is still relatively new, when did you get your breakthrough?

My breakthrough is the current project I am working on right now which is supplying art pieces to the upcoming Mercure Hotel, Kota Kinabalu. After I resigned from my job, I struggled slightly in getting my art career to kick-off. One day, I went on site to the Mercure KK office with my portfolio enquiring if they needed some art pieces for their hotel. Honestly, I was just trying my luck, as I was only a local artist who just started out my art career. After several months of hard work with the Hotel and their designing team, I was awarded the project to supply all artwork for the hotel rooms and also the hotel lobby.

The rest is history. At that time being unemployed, I really needed this. I needed some help financially to start out my art career and I am very humbled with this opportunity as it helped jump-start my career. This was definitely my breakthrough! It is not only a great experience to my art business but also an experience I’ve learnt a lot from.

This project also led to more recognition and opportunities. I now get buyers from Kuala Lumpur who purchase my personal art collection from my website. www.marshalle-art.com


Stars and stares

How did your family and friends react?

My family were supportive – in a way that they didn’t stop me for resigning and trying out my art career. It took a bit of convincing to show that I was really serious in my change of career. However, as things are picking up for me now I am receiving ample support from my family and friends.

I always remember my partner being the person who constantly encouraged me to pursue my passion and to give it a go as an Artist. He always appreciated my talent in art and on weekends I would use his office space to paint and build my personal collection. My older sister told me that I should’ve quit a long time ago, while my younger sister always reminded me never to care about what people would say, just quit my job and do follow your dreams.


Artist’s first exhibition in Sabah Art Gallery (2015)

I must say that I don’t have much knowledge in art, nor do I know many famous artists..

Neither do I! I never studied art at all. I’ve never been to art school and was home taught.

.. so why did you choose abstract art?

For me as an artist, I find abstract art a bit more personal. I can relate to every piece I’ve created. When I look at my pieces it takes me back to a time and place. Besides, other viewers can relate to abstract art in their own different way. That’s why abstract art is special to me – it’s a secret for the artist to keep and a secret for the viewers to interpret.

Abstract art allows me to pick up different variation of things every time I stare at it. Almost always when I work on a piece, I don’t have an exact plan, I will listen to the piece in progress and let it guide me to my next step.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Mostly I get my inspiration from my own personal emotions guided with a twist of colours – I enjoy observing my surroundings and applying different emotions into my work. With that being said, colours are my medium of expression through my art. Even my palette choice is based on how I feel. I also get lots of inspiration from other artists.



What is the main challenge you face when you paint?

One of the challenges in my work progress is when I make a mistake. For instance, accidentally pouring paint or pouring paint and getting a different outcome to my art piece. Trying to save my painting is my biggest challenge. So far I have not thrown away any of my pieces, even old incomplete pieces I still keep in the hopes of fixing it in the future.

What do you do when you get stuck?

When I get stuck I normally stop painting and come back to it another time. I realise walking away from the piece and taking a small break helps me revaluate my work and get new inspiration to continue.


Artist with her only kept piece from her 1st collection sold (A Dream Within A Dream)

What do you think of the art scene in Malaysia?

So far personally being in it for not even a year, I haven’t met many local artists. I try to participate in the events hosted by the Sabah Art Gallery – that’s where you can meet local artists. The art scene in KK is still not as big as many other places but I’m proud to say that the art culture is definitely picking up here in KK just like the growing coffee culture.

Being in the creative field, you have to stay in it long enough to create a name for yourself. If I decided to quit now and go back to law, no one is going to remember that I was an artist before. Some people get their breakthrough very early, some later but if you hang in there long enough and not give up I’m pretty sure you’ll get somewhere. With that being said, you also have to take some time to understand our culture and the market you intend to enter.

One last piece of advice for local artists?

Follow your dreams!!! Follow where your heart takes you. I didn’t quit my legal job due to emotions, but my paintings are emotion-led. So give it a go! No harm trying it out. It’s not always going to be easy and smooth sailing, but trust me you’ll get some satisfaction in just trying. I’m not saying to give up everything in life – and that life is over if you don’t get it. Just take that little leap of faith.

It’s never too late to follow your dreams – or maybe even just try out your dreams. Go where your emotions take you, your gut feelings are mostly always right – it’s true.


Artist with her first collection – first collection sold out

Visit her Facebook page and her website www.marshalle-art.com to support her and see more of her amazing work!

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