Colouring brightens 85-year-old grandma's mornings

Madam Yeo derives simple joy from colouring intricate mandala designs.
Madam Yeo derives simple joy from colouring intricate mandala designs.PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

With a magnifying glass in one hand and a coloured pencil in the other, Madam Yeo Soon Kim sets about her daily task.

The 85-year-old brings intricate mandala designs to life with a vibrant burst of colours and not a stroke out of line.

Mandalas are circular abstract designs that are seen as a spiritual symbol in Indian religions.

Madam Yeo starts colouring at 8am every day, and looks forward to it. The retiree has been home- bound since she suffered a fall a decade ago.

"After my fall, my leg is no longer as strong," she said in Malay.

"When I just sit, I feel sleepy. If I walk, I need someone to accompany me. So I started colouring."


Madam Yeo derives simple joy from colouring intricate mandala designs.

She started with her grand- children's colouring books. Her family knew she enjoyed doing colouring, but they were "often baffled by her interesting choice of colours", said her granddaughter, Ms Jesline Teo, 26, a designer.

"Whenever I visited her, she would show me the cartoon characters she coloured - Disney princesses with blue faces, bears in green."

Ms Teo then realised her grandmother was not as interested in the cartoon characters as she was in the colours she used.

"I realised that all she needed was an appropriate medium to exercise her thoughts on the colour coordination," said Ms Teo.

She found an abstract design online and scaled it up for print for her grandmother.

"The results were amazing. The entire family was so surprised, we kept posting pictures of the artwork on Facebook.

"I began to order mandala colouring books online for my grandma. Some of my friends also did up drawings for my grandma or bought her adult colouring books. It got more and more exciting," said Ms Teo.

But when Madam Yeo suffered a stroke last year, she took a break.

The right side of her body was weakened by the stroke.

"Her hands and legs would feel numb the whole day and she could no longer pick up the coloured pencils," said Ms Teo.

"Grandma was really disappointed at that time and would apologise to me for not being able to finish the art pieces I passed to her."

Madam Yeo took a few months to recuperate and exercise. "She was really positive and optimistic about her recovery," said Ms Teo.

While her grandmother has since recovered and is able to do colouring again, she does so at a much slower pace now.

To Madam Yeo, who has worked all her life, colouring brings simple joy.

"I have seven children. My husband worked as a security guard and he didn't earn much, so I had to help. I would work at coffee shops wiping the tables, serving drinks. I would be at work at 7am and return at 11pm, when my children were young.

"Now when I colour, I don't think about anything else," she said with a laugh.

Rahimah Rashith

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Colouring brightens 85-year-old grandma's mornings'. Print Edition | Subscribe