Artist Spotlight : Aaron Chew 周为利

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

When artist Pablo Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”, Aaron Chew 周为利 (@aaroncwl) saw that in Zentangle. The first session he participated in 2015 really shaped his interest and the kind of art he does outside his 9-5 job. Although Aaron never saw himself as a full-time artist, we sure think his works reflect his amazing talent as much!

Artist : Aaron Chew 周为利 (@aaroncwl)

The Sarawakian artist has his own distinctive Mandala style artwork followed by lines and doodles. Aaron wanted to put emphasis to his drawing skills as an architect when he stumbled upon a page in an airplane magazine about Zentangle. Aaron, who at that time lived in KL, took interest and immediately went through online research to find out more about it.


After coming to term with the fact that he needs to improve his drawing as an architect, Aaron practices hard. His lunch hour in the office would be filled with countless drawings. It has become an alternative world for him to de-stress and came to realization that he would be able to come up with something new.

“it was drawing after drawing, tangle after tangle each day and the mind started spinning and the thought of, hey….”I saw this thing called a Mandala before. Can I combine these two?”

Upon returning to Sarawak, his dedication would then land him to his first local exhibition in 2016.


Being raised in Sibu means art supplies are hard to come by so he often needs to resort to stockpiling or buying on the go (when travelling or staying in KL). The small creative demographic in his hometown means the lack of art appreciation is very much rampant.

The prospect of living off of a full-time artist wage is close to impossible. According to Aaron, the local support isn’t that wide to begin with. Aaron was lucky to have his family as his main support system. His colleague introduced him to Doodle Malaysia Facebook page and he has never looked back since.

“The lack of local support here in Sibu was compensated by the huge support by the art societies on social media.”

Serenity Borneo by Aaron Chew


In his pursuit of finding like-minded people, Aaron crossed paths with a mural artist Aries Kong (@jagung1991), also known as Jagung in the industry. They met at Doodle Malaysia Facebook page before collaborating for Aaron’s first mural at Sibu Street Art Festival in 2017. Before the community was big, Aaron made his first breakthrough in the 2016 Contenglah exhibition.

“As I started to explore and research more about the Native Sarawakian motifs and arts, the more it appears in my artworks and murals.”

Part of his Zendala inspiration came from Sape, the native Sarawakian traditional music and the pattern used in the traditional tattoos. He saw the potential of fusing them together to reflect Borneo identity. The variety of media he uses to draw make his art very accessible - despite the prosperous design.

Artwork by Aaron Chew


Aaron highlights some of the important things he learned in his creative endeavour.

1. Art is never meant to be perfect

In a very encouraging tone, Aaron shared that through learning how to deal with mistakes and fix them, he was able to understand that “even mistakes can be something beautiful.”

2. Be patient with yourself.

Art takes time to be created. So does talent take time to perfect. The saying “Practice makes Perfect” rings through especially in creating line art like mandalas. Like the mantra of Zentangle, “One stroke at a time”.

3. Be happy to be yourself.

“Art is subjective” they say. He finds that to be true. The journey to getting a wider audience is never a straight line. Sometimes people will like your art and some won’t. He said to just focus on doing what you love and do what makes you happy. The art journey is yours and yours alone.

More on Aaron Chew's work can be found on Instagram (@aaroncwl)

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