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Serene Mai - Heartstrings In Colours

Life has given many lemons to mama Serene Mai, as she suffered physical diseases since she was a child and experienced many ups and downs in life. Instead of drinking in the bitterness, her bright smile and resilience allow her to stand up against challenges again and again, and led her to create many beautiful artworks.

Her biggest motivation to start an art career is the desire to inspire and encourage the others who are in darkness to hold on to hope and faith. Let's hear her story.

Hi everyone, I am Serene Mai, a mother to a beautiful 7-year-old daughter. Being a healthcare marketing and communications professional, I took a year off from work as I was suffering from kidney failure while managing several major transitions with my family.

During this period, I started a small business Heartstrings In Colours, offering watercolour art and calligraphy gift options. As a lupus survivor and a kidney transplant recipient, I felt a desire to share my journey with others, in hope of inspiring and encouraging those who are in a dark season to hold on to hope and faith.

I lost touch with art for many years, but rediscovered it after becoming a mother

I have always loved art since I was a child, always doodling and experimenting with various art mediums through art classes and in school. As I was growing up, there were a few instances when the trajectory of my life almost steered towards pursuing art, but decided to pursue Biomedical Science with the goal of contributing to healthcare. So I became a Science graduate with a hidden love towards creative arts.

Although I’d lost touch with art for many years, I rediscovered my love for it in 2020 during Circuit Breaker, when I had a painting session with my daughter. Her interest in creative arts inspired me to look for various resources and classes to expose her to various artistic channels - drawing, painting, papercraft, writing song lyrics, dancing, storytelling, pottery, and even simple science and art experiments using household items.

Since then, I began to dig deep into learning pointed pen and brush pen calligraphy and watercolour. This timely hobby was very therapeutic and helped me to overcome anxiety during this difficult season.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was receiving custom orders and selling art collections from a temporary accommodation before we moved to our new home.

The sense of satisfaction I get when people experience a deep connection towards the artworks I created for them, or when the messages and the visuals speak right into their circumstances, is truly priceless.

Art allows me to better connect with my daughter

Parenthood is never a breeze.

A different set of challenges presents itself no matter what age our kids are at. Mum-guilt is very real. For me, the most challenging part came when I had a hard time understanding my child when she was younger. I did not understand her behaviour at that time - why she would shut down occasionally and refuse to budge in group settings nor communicate her thoughts. I tried both gentle and harsh ways, but to no avail. It worried me a lot and I wondered if we needed to bring her to a child psychologist to find out if she was experiencing some form of social phobia.

It took me a long time and a massive amount of patience to finally find the right strategy to get through to her and gently allow her to open up slowly. I learnt not to take negative outcomes personally or compare myself with others. I let my instincts guide me and learn to see things from her perspective. Now that she is seven, it is easier to communicate and reason with her, but parenthood is and will always be a learning journey!

Serene and her daughter at an art fair

My daughter loves to doodle since she was at a very young age. Whenever we set out to do any projects that involves innovation and creativity, these created bonding opportunities for us.

While I would guide her occasionally on the more technical aspects of drawing – for instance, getting the proportions of a human body right, or observing different colour shades and shadows – I try not to impose my ideas and instead allow her free reign to create her own works. As we discuss about the artworks, it also allows me to understand her thoughts and feelings better.

Having the talent and passion for art, calligraphy and dance, a constant desire to improve my skills, and letting her witness the hardwork behind running a creative business, also allowed me the opportunity to model a positive attitude for my daughter.

Art to me is more than just a business, but a platform to offer inspirations

My biggest source of motivation comes from the people who believe in my art and supported me right from the beginning.

This includes my family who provide emotional and physical support in running my small business from home, especially when my health was declining, as well as loyal followers and clients who eventually became my friends. These clients are the ones who trust me enough to draw anything that inspires me. It is extremely heartening for me, especially when the message that I deliver through my artwork speaks so timely and accurately into their unique situations.

To me, Heartstrings In Colours is more than just a business – it was a platform where I could use my talents to offer inspiration and encouragement to others who are fighting their own battles too.

The rewards go beyond monetary gains – through this journey, I have developed new friendships, a stronger faith, and discovered the joy of being an entrepreneur for once. It was a journey I never thought I would embark on, a journey I started as a means of survival, but which in turn helped me emerge from a dark season and become more joyful than ever.

The art pieces that inspired me to start my new journey...

“Birds of the Air” was the defining art piece that led me to start my art business journey with Heartstrings In Colours. The painting is derived from the bible verse Matthew 6:26, which says “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

I painted this when I was struggling with the decision to quit my job in order to prioritise my health. It was a reassurance that God will provide for me because I am worthy and loved, and all I needed to do was to trust Him. Miraculously, my business took off the moment I took the step of faith and through a series of events that happened over the past year, I realised that God has indeed provided for me every step of the way.

“Broken and Restored” spoke about healing, which is the journey I was going through.

The artwork, which features the Japanese art of “kintsugi”, shows a repaired broken jar pouring out perfume oil and flowers blooming from it.

The cracks, which symbolise brokenness, are restored, and instead of being concealed, they are highlighted in gold. The oil symbolises surrender and the flowers represent growth.

The message behind this artwork is that when we face troubles, know that we can cast all our cares and surrender our brokenness and worries to God. He will take these cracks, restore them, bring comfort to our hearts and this journey will not be in vain. We will learn to see the beauty and glory of His goodness in our lives.

Follow Serene on Instagram (@tugmyheartstring and @heartstringsincolours) to get closer to her art, life and parenthood. Join her and over 1000 mothers in Singapore and around the world to pursue a happier parenting life with art.

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