Mohammad Nixlan Kasah @ Johan, a Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) student, was about to take his last exam paper when he got a call from his teacher Yasmin Jaidin, asking if he was interested in a Progresif opening for commission work to design Chinese New Year red packets (Angpao).
He called the Progresif team and landed the opportunity to conduct the project.
Nixlan, along with his newly formed team – comprising Mohammad Abdul Azim bin Bahar, Nisa binti Hashim, Siti Raheemah binti Harun, Hanis Hashim and Amal Nadzirah binti Salehen sat down with the Progresif team to discuss the dos and don’ts for the project, since it touched on Chinese culture and traditions.
“We also shared ideas in a group chat. The artwork and design brainstorming phase had us turning to each other for feedback,” Nixlan said.
The team studied about Chinese background, colours and history as well as details about the Chinese zodiac signs.
Nixlan turned to his circle of Chinese friends to ensure he was aware of sensitive features for the artwork.
“It took one week for my field trip and two days of sketching the design and gathering information,” he said.
“Although each of us have different styles, we worked together,” added team member Azim, who said the designing took almost a month to complete.
This was not a first for Azim, who usually volunteers artwork commissions for national events. He added that he looks forward to being a part of other projects to expand his experience and knowledge.
Inspired by the New Year, Azim said understanding the Chinese zodiac sign helped him develop more ideas and concepts.
“The ideas and concepts came from the Rat, which is the first of the Chinese zodiac signs. It also symbolises the first year of one full rotation cycle. Being inspired with the year 2020, an idea sprang to mind to make a painting of a hopeful rat on a human’s hand,” he said.
Azim created an art piece depicting a rat sat on a right hand – in show of respect for the rat and to give it a higher rank in the zodiac sign. He designed the rat looking up to portray “hope.”
Meanwhile, Raheemah said, “I joined the team because I wanted to experience what it is like in the creative industry and to enhance my art skills. I researched on the background and history of Chinese New Year and what I needed to know about the year of the metal rat. I also learnt about lucky and unlucky symbols, colours and others.”
Speaking on brainstorming, Raheemah said it was a general discussion of their styles and designs, and helping each other with the design.
“It was a new experience as it was my first commissioned work with a big company. The experience and the result made it worth it,” she said.
Raheemah’s design leaned more towards flowers. While researching on the year of the metal rat, she came across the lucky and unlucky flowers and colours. Passionate about flowers, Raheemah was excited to implement them into her design, embedded with the meaning, and colours to brighten up her creation.
Team member Hanis said it was a learning experience, working with a company in designing a red packet.
“We used the rat as the key element in our individual designs. Since I primarily draw cartoons, I focussed on drawing cartoon versions of the rats and turned them into actual characters on my Chinese New Year packets. I focussed on making them adorable and welcoming instead of how rats are often perceived.”
“The Lily flower symbolises luck, which is why I decided to showcase it prominently in my design.”
Meanwhile, Amal Nadzirah said compared to previous experiences, this was a bit different, as the project was more time-sensitive. “I first looked into what art supplies I had. Then, I looked into what I am capable of and what I really wanted to do. I looked on the Internet for inspiration, for something to experiment with for this project.”
Nisa said she cycled through a lot of emotions when designing, and was overjoyed to design the angpao.
“I don’t remember much of the process other than the adrenaline, the reading, sketching, colouring, emailing, texting and meetings we had,” she said.
“My art style is influenced by Japanese animation and Western cartoons so I have a little kawaii element in mine. I wanted to draw a child so I looked up some children’swear during the festivities and looked into hamsters from Hamtaro as reference to draw rats.”
Nisa likes lantern decorations, so she added them into her design.
“For the back, I added a quote in yellow. It means something along the lines of ‘may every step take you higher’, which I think is very fitting as every new year is full of opportunities for success in studies, work, families and so on.”
“When I got the angpao, it felt surreal to have them in my hands. It felt even more surreal to see people overcome with joy when they realised it was you who designed them,” added Nisa.
Team leader Nixlan said it was good to have the opportunity to study another culture, adding they received positive feedback from friends, families and social media followers.
“I am glad that everyone was supportive and I ended up having awesome team members,” said Nixlan. “I built the bond from new friends into committed workmates who support each other. My team contributed fairly – it was an individual design and signature artwork. As a project leader, I am glad with my team and the outcome.”
This is the sixth time Progresif initiated the project to support local talents, arts and culture as one of its CSR pillars and job opportunities. The initiative started from the Year of Monkey and also involved making Hari Raya packets.