The most meaningful friendships are very often the hardest to describe with words – and this is exactly the nature of the bond between actress Jeanette Aw and Elain Lim, who has been the celeb’s go-to makeup artist for years.
Which is why the pair seemed absorbed in thought for much of the time when CNA Lifestyle spoke to them about the subject, as they tried their best to find the most accurate way to express their opinions about each other and explain how they became good friends via work.
One can easily sense how they seem to be quite alike in character (as attested to by Aw’s manager, who chipped in with her own opinion during the interview), as both have pretty much the same views and answers to our questions. After all, the two of them share a mutual creative interest, besides being connected by their main field of work – both are also artists who paint, draw, and have held art exhibitions.
In fact, Lim is not just the talent behind Aw’s flawlessly executed makeup looks seen on glossies and TV screens. She also created the artwork that is proudly displayed in Aw’s patisserie, Once Upon A Time, as well as the design of the brand’s logo and packaging for her highly sought-after bakes.
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FRIENDSHIP AT WORK
The two have been working together at photo shoots and film sets for so long that they cannot pin down exactly how long it has been. “About 10 years, I think,” Lim concluded after pondering over her answer for a bit.
“I think the first time I worked with Jeanette was on the set of The Little Nyonya. I remember my niece was so excited to hear that I’ll be doing her makeup then, and even asked me to get Jeanette’s autograph for her. I was quite nervous at that time, actually, because I haven’t worked much yet with artistes,” said Lim, laughing at the memory.
Aw, however, recalls that it was on a photo shoot for a magazine that they first worked together. “The veteran stylist in charge of the shoot was telling me that Elain is one of his favourite makeup artists to work with, and that’s why I had a very good impression of her right from the start,” she shared.
Evidently, that impression was lasting, as Lim soon also became one of Aw’s preferred makeup artists to work with.
I like how Elain focuses on her work instead of talking for the sake of talking. I’m very comfortable with that because I am like that as well!
Compatibility, in terms of the way they work, paved the way for a long, enjoyable and trusting partnership.
“Right from the first time we worked together, I felt comfortable with how Elain does my makeup. She knows how I like my makeup done and, at the same time, understands how I like to experiment with new looks,” revealed Aw.
“There’s this synergy – she’s very open to listening to suggestions and my feedback, which makes it easy for us to discuss things. I don’t even worry about how she’s going to make me look like – we have come to a point where I can trust her totally.”
Lim agreed that they have a “similar energy”. “There’s also mutual trust and respect. I appreciate how Jeanette will give me the freedom to explore and exercise my creativity with her makeup. I don’t perform well when someone I’m working on has a lot of anxiety and wants to excessively control how the look turns out. Personally, I also like trying new things – makeup is a form of art, so it cannot be fixed and stagnant, it has to be free-flowing,” Lim explained.
Apart from this, it seems their successful working relationship is also partly due to the fact that they both have a similar temperament and an aversion to excessive small talk. “I like how Elain focuses on her work instead of talking for the sake of talking. I’m very comfortable with that because I am like that as well!” remarked Aw, as she laughed at her own confession.
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OPPOSITES ATTRACT? NOT NECESSARILY
It’s natural, then, for them to became steadfast friends. It also comes as no surprise that their friendship is rather private and low-key, as opposed, perhaps, to some of the other celebrity friendships documented on the Instagram accounts of local stars.
“In our industry, it’s not unusual for people to be a little more ‘flamboyant’ in showing their closeness with friends and people they know. I guess me and Jeanette are again a little similar here, in the sense that we may not be as expressive (about such things),” said Lim. That said, it doesn’t mean that they do not show their concern for each other – they do so in their own little ways and at times when it is felt most deeply.
Lim recounted how Aw made the effort to go to her art exhibition a few years ago, despite a heavy downpour. “She even made a video in which she talked about my exhibition. Throughout our friendship, I felt her support in various forms – even if it’s not in an obvious way. Sometimes, people are all about the talk, but I feel that actions at the right time are what really count,” she explained.
Throughout our friendship, I felt her support in various forms – even if it’s not in an ‘obvious’ way.
“There are many people in this industry who will shower friends with gifts or perhaps text them every day. That’s not me – I’m not expressive towards my friends like that. I do it in a quieter way, I would say. It’s hard to verbalise all the little things you’ve done for each other, or like what you discovered about each other – because, to me, these are things accumulated over the passing years as you become closer as friends,” said Aw.
“Sometimes, we can’t define a friendship by, for example, how often two people are hanging out together. I mean, even if you see each other and do stuff together every day, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the best of friends, right?” she pointed out.
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A MUTUAL PASSION FOR ART
Their understanding of each other’s character is also deepened by their shared interest of drawing and painting. Aw’s numerous artistic accomplishments have been well publicised by the media – these include her pictorial book Sol’s World: Somebody To Love, exhibitions that showcased her illustrations from the book, as well as other art-related projects she collaborated on with an array of brands.
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Lim, while primarily known as a very experienced professional makeup artist, is now also a painter on the side.
“I had always been sketching and painting, but never pursued it seriously until a few years ago. I fell in love with painting after art-jamming at a cafe, so I picked it up as a hobby after that. When I posted my art on my social media accounts, people started approaching me for commissioned work. It all then led to an exhibition and I also started doing live art events for various brands. It just all happened organically,” shared Lim, who said she didn’t actually set out to start a career in art.
When Aw asked her to create art for Once Upon A Time, Lim was surprised, as she thought that Aw could easily do it herself. But Aw had a reason for going to Lim.
“If I were to do the art myself, I’d be putting too much of Jeanette Aw into the shop. You can see my art on my other platforms, but I want my bakery to have its own identity, which is why I prefer having someone else help me realise the artistic vision I have for it,” Aw explained.
I want my bakery to have its own identity, which is why I prefer having someone else help me realise the artistic vision I have for it.
Just like how she found it a breeze to work with Lim on photo shoots, Aw felt that same synergy while discussing with her about the art she wanted for Once Upon A Time. Aw gave her a simple brief, but pretty much trusted her with the rest and to work her magic.
“Elain’s art is like an extension and reflection of herself. I feel comfortable looking at it – it’s a very honest portrayal of what she wants to say. As an artist, that’s very important, instead of producing something very commercial that everybody out there will like. In that sense, it’s what I myself am like when I’m working on my art… only when your story’s honest, then you’ll be able to touch hearts,” she said.
And so, that’s how Lim’s colourful artworks came to grace the white walls of Aw’s bakery. They add that touch of fantasy that seem to pop yet fuse seamlessly with Once Upon A Time’s minimalist interiors, and also aptly mirror its owner’s unique personality. Who would have thought that the resulting art from their partnership could express everything unspoken about their friendship so perfectly?