Back to black

Back to black

IN MY “Fear and Hope in Covid Times”, when I was sliding towards negativity again, I felt a desperate need to check myself. Two ways of breaking a trend, I thought, was to go blank or go black. I decided on the latter.

I had painted in black before with some success. More importantly, I enjoyed doing it. It allowed me to experiment with shapes and forms without getting bogged down with the colouring part of the “execution”. In August 2021, about a month after “Fear and Hope” was completed, I decided to take a week off to do some black “doodles” — a collection of old shapes and new ones. In that week, I managed to do 17 pieces (and I added two more in September).

Four of the 17 black pieces I did in August 2021: A much-needed respite

True enough, it gave me a bit of time to reflect on what I ought to do and resumed in earnest again in December, when I started with two larger pieces, 23in H x 16.25in W. Still dissatisfied with my progress and quite impatient, I reluctantly went back to cards — I painted 12 cards over two days just before Christmas. Later I dug up 10 pieces of canvas that were sketched for “Restart 2020” but not executed. These brought my “Back to Black 2021” series to 32 pieces. See snippets below.

The respite from August 2021 to January 2022 did me a lot of good. In the months that followed, I made three decisions, i.e. to (1) Explore the use of my production experience to work with others in the area of art (2) Create another colourful “Adventures with Acrylics” series based on durian (click here) and (3) Use the “Exaggerated Stills” style to paint a series on my alma mater, Penang Free School. These projects will take me into 2023 and beyond.

B&W cards: Experiments in form

Four of the 10 cards produced in two days,

My main aim in returning to black was to find new forms, perhaps new directions. Despite completing 21 pieces over a couple of months, I was dissatisfied with my progress so I reverted reluctantly to producing cards to help re-boot my search. These 12, completed in two days (December 22 and 23), are 6in x 4in in size, and were done with drawing ink and pencil on paper.

Rescues from a misstart 2020

When I returned to art in May-June 2020, I did a series called “Restart 2020: Continuation and Change”. The process to regain a footing was far from smooth. After all, it was a hobby that I had, by and large, neglected for 30 years. After an initial 12 cards, I thought I ought to have a strong series of bigger pieces to give my confidence a needed boost.

These paintings, three out of 10, were not resumed initially because canvas was not suited to the fine work I wanted to execute.

I started by sketching 10 pieces on canvas and abandoned them because I was not ready to paint on rough surfaces. Instead, I used the same ideas and applied acrylic and drawing ink on very smooth paper. That resulted in “Restart 2020”. Just after Christmas 2021, I decided to pull out the initial canvases and paint them using only black and grey without referring to the earlier series. I am quite glad I did. They are a series in themselves.

All paintings in this entry are available as limited-edition archival-quality prints using pigmented ink on art paper. For inquiries, please email

It was never my intention to stay in black for any length of time. In early 2022, I ventured back to colour. First, by combining analog pieces using Adobe Photoshop. Click through below to read the story.

Lim Siang Jin

Lim Siang Jin