Cover art for podcast So This Is My Why

So This Is My Why

157 EpisodesProduced by Ling YahWebsite

A podcast featuring inspiring people about their journey to discovering and living their "WHY" or purpose in life. With your host & producer, Ling Yah, we deep dive into everything from finances to dealing with doubts and setbacks, and how to forge an unconventional career from ground zero! Expect t… read more


Ep 2: Red Hong Yi - A Malaysian Artist Who Paints Without A Paintbrush

Today’s guest is Red Hong Yi – a Malaysian architect turned full-time artist known for painting without a paintbrush! One of the sweetest, friendliest and most talented people I know and am privileged to call a friend. 🙂 

You might have heard of her or seen her work displayed somewhere, whether in publications like the South China Morning PostStraits TimePrestige, artventures with Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia, or more recently on Mashable about her “I Am Not A Virus” 2020 series. 

Who is Red Hong Yi?

Hong Yi grew up in Sabah, which is located on the East coast of Malaysia (yay, East Malaysians!). We discuss what her childhood was like, her influences, and the kind of art she did.

Fun fact: In her pre-teen years, Red Hong Yi used to draw comics with her friends and “rent” them to her classmates for RM 0.10 until their teacher called them out for it because it was distracting everyone from UPSR exam preparations (a pivotal national exam in Malaysia that students take before entering secondary school)!

Working as an Architect

While she had a desire to go into art, and even once dreamt of working for PIXAR, she decided, in the end, to study architecture at the University of Melbourne. 

Upon graduation, she moved over to Shanghai and we talked about what that was like. The people, the culture, and again, the entrepreneurial spirit that was so prevalent among the youth of Shanghai! And how those influences, including an important trip to Yiwu International Trade Market, resulted in her friend filming a timelapse video of her Yao Ming portrait. 

Quite unexpectedly, her portrait of the famous Chinese NBA player went viral and was picked up by the likes of NBA and!

Pivoting into Art

While this craziness was happening, Hong Yi was still working at her architecture firm, HASSELL. 

Soon after, she received a call from Michael Hawley who invited her to the EG Conference (who wrote the commencement speeches for Larry Page & Steve Jobs amongst others!). This conference proved to be a huge turning point for her as she became exposed to people doing incredible things, including other artists, musicians, astronauts, and chefs. 

Her parents also attend the EG Conference and as Hong Yi put it:

"So they (Hong Yi's parents) came with me and that was when they realized that, Oh, my daughter is not that crazy after all. There is a room filled with crazy, you see?"

The Artist Who Paints without a Paintbrush

Soon after, Hong Yi decided to quit her job as an architect to give art a shot. And we discuss what those initial days were like, the financial considerations and how she decided on the kind of “brand” she wanted to be. 

Her trademark approach to art is painting without a paintbrush and she achieves this by creating mixed-media installations by reinterpreting everyday materials through the accumulation of objects. By combining traditional craftsmanship and digital technology, she creates work that considers perceptual habits and preconceptions on the chosen objects and subjects, expressing the themes of women and race.

Achievements to Date

Needless to say, she has achieved extraordinary success! 

And her work has been exhibited at H Queens in Hong Kong, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, World Economic Forum in Davos (the Teh Tarik Man!), and Anchorage Museum in Alaska. Collectors of her work include JP Morgan Chase Bank and actor Jackie Chan.

Her art has also been featured in publications including Wall Street Journal, TIME, and New York Times, as well as in JP Morgan Chase’s commercial campaign, “Gift for Baba”, in 2018 where she performed the leading and critical role of artist. She created an artwork made of tea leaves and that commercial was aired throughout North America during some of the biggest sporting events of the year including Super Bowl LII, which was viewed by 103.4 million viewers, and the 2018 World Cup, which was seen by an average of 1.98 million viewers per game.

Hong Yi has spoken in conferences around the world, including EG Conference in California, the ASEAN Young Entrepreneur’s Conference in Beijing, TEDx in Kuala Lumpur, and in institutions such as Domus Academy in Italy, Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai, and the MIT Media Lab in Boston. She has been offered art residencies at 18th Street Art Centre in Los Angeles and the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai in 2020.

Sotheby’s Institute has named her one of the “11 art world entrepreneurs you should know”. Tatler Magazine has named her one of Asia’s most influential voices in 2020.

How did she do it? What’s next?

Hong Yi’s journey has been anything but conventional and I loved how we went deep into the behind-the-scenes of what it took to get to where she is, including: 

  • How she put together some of her most popular work including the Teh Tarik Man and the Jackie Chan bamboo stick collaboration;
  • Where she gets her inspiration from;
  • Who “gave” her name “Red”;
  • The role of social media in her work;
  • How she charges clients for her work;
  • The realities of being your own boss & why that might not be for everyone (and that’s ok!);
  • Striking a balance behind taking on work for financial reasons versus artistic inclinations;
  • Creating impact behind her work;
  • How COVID-19 has affected her & how she stays connected with other creatives like Von Wong (another guest on the STIMY podcast); 
  • Collaborating with other local artists back in her hometown of Sabah; 
  • What it takes for someone to succeed as she has; and
  • What the future holds for her.

External Links

For the show notes for this episode, visit

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