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Stepping outside the watercolor box… and Singapore

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From the fast paced urban metropolis shores of Singapore to the laid back ‘she’ll be right’ kiwi lifestyle, international student Gwee Poh Hee has stepped out of everyday life and across vast oceans. She is now drawing and painting a brand-new one whilst studying creativity & art at The Learning Connexion.

A qualified secondary school art teacher from Singapore, Poh Hee stopped drawing and painting twenty years ago. The reason? Due to Singapore’s shortage of Chinese language teachers she had switched from teaching art & crafts to students, to teaching Chinese language and literature. 

Work mandates and home priorities had taken over.

Poh Hee felt like she had almost lost some of her painting skills after such a long break away from art making. Now retired and with a grown up family at home, she was ready, free and able to put herself and her artistic ambitions first. 

“My job now is to do my drawing, my painting and my art classes”.


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Watercolour artwork by Poh Hee twenty years ago.


After much consideration and looking at options within Australia and the United States, Poh Hee selected The Learning Connexion School of Creativity & Art in New Zealand as her preferred place to study. Travelling to New Zealand would gave her the chance to refresh her creative skillset without being distracted by life’s other commitments. The Learning Connexion was a place where she could fully focus on her training, and pick up where she had left her art twenty years ago.

Already a capable watercolor artist, painting landscapes and drawing portraits are her current themes of choice. Poh Hee especially likes to paint rocks and water. “I love using images with water and rock elements.”

During her art education at The Learning Connexion, Poh Hee has been challenged to move into new areas with her painting. She is currently experimenting and painting with oils, and is also trying out acrylics – paint types completely new to her and very different mediums in comparison to the watercolour painting she used to do back home.

When working on a landscape piece, Poh Hee likes to visit the location, takes lots of photos and then sketches and paints. New Zealand offers landscape artists plenty of inspirational vistas to choose from.

She finds that the emotional connection is easier and more obvious within her work if she has actually visited a place as opposed to simply rendering if from a picture in a magazine. It is about sensing and seeing the natural physicality of the subject, the roundness of the rocks, the swelling of the ocean.


Gwee 3 

Gwee 4

Wellington seascapes by Poh Hee created in acrylics.


The flexibility of our programmes and the ability for students to also attend evening and weekend classes were highlights of Poh Hee’s studies at The Learning Connexion (aside from New Zealand’s beautiful scenery). “There is so much opportunity and so much for you to choose from”.

This is a big contrast to Singapore, where as a traditional Asian country, there is state censorship in most of the arts: art, music, television, Internet, film and video. Life drawing is not as popular over there, and Poh Hee mentioned that there was not as much opportunity to take a class in 3D or learn stone setting in jewellery making. “Here [in New Zealand] there is a lot more freedom and it is more open.”

Having completed TLC’s certificate programme, Poh Hee is now on track to complete her NZQA Level 5 diploma by July 2016. Originally planning to only come over for half a year to do the certificate, she has been studying at The Learning Connexion for one and a half years! 

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A long time to be away from family, but a strong testament to the hypnotic pull of New Zealand as a visually stunning destination for international travel and TLC as a great place to learn.

After completing her diploma here, Poh Hee plans to go back to Singapore to teach part time. She wants to take and share what she has learned back to her home country, and students. To show them how the practice of creativity & art can be applied within their own lives. She has also recommended TLC to another Singapore teacher who is coming over to do a term for his professional development leave*.

Poh Hee says that while here she will strive to learn as much as possible and continue on her artistic journey. Her parting words were that when she finishes this programme, she’ll definitely be back for more.

To find out how to study at TLC as an international student or onsite or from home at The Learning Connexion get a copy of our latest prospectus.

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* Singapore’s teacher training is said to be amongst the best in the world. Singaporean teachers are encouraged to do professional development overseas and return with new ideas. They are given 10 weeks paid leave to take a course locally or overseas with a pre-requisite that it must relate in some way to the subjects they teach.


  • Elissa Smith
    06/04/2016 9:56am (8 years ago)

    I remember painting with Poh Hee last year in Roger Key's class and in Catherine Hayes' Watercolour block week class. I'm pleased to see that she is still going strong and developing her skills so well. I wish her well for her future studies.

  • jacqueline mccluggage
    06/04/2016 4:21am (8 years ago)

    Very interesting article. Love the cliffs/water.

  • John
    29/03/2016 7:03am (8 years ago)

    A really interesting article, loved hearing about Poh Hee's reconnection with her art. I'm at a similar stage in my life so I could relate. Like the Wellington seascape painting, the light and colours were very fresh.