Making figurines of everyday people

Ms Ong Sze Sze (above) and her clay creations, Summon Auntie and Kopitiam Uncle, which use Lego figurines as a base.
Ms Ong Sze Sze (above) and her clay creations, Summon Auntie and Kopitiam Uncle, which use Lego figurines as a base.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Ms Ong Sze Sze and her clay creations, Summon Auntie (left) and Kopitiam Uncle (right), which use Lego figurines as a base.
Ms Ong Sze Sze and her clay creations, Summon Auntie (left) and Kopitiam Uncle (right), which use Lego figurines as a base.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Ms Ong Sze Sze made her first clay figurine when she was 10, as she did not have the toys that her three elder brothers had.

"I wanted my own toys and I remember making a snowman and a pig because those characters were missing from my brothers' Playmobil toy collection," she says.

That hobby has turned into a lifelong passion for the freelance digital art director, who is now in her 30s.

Ms Ong, a multimedia design graduate from England's University of Huddersfield, says her skill has vastly improved since her first creations, which she threw away as they were "very ugly". Her figurines are 5 to 8cm tall and made from epoxy or air-dry foam clay. Some of her works use Lego figurines as a base.

She gets "random inspirations" for her creations, such as Finn and Jake from animated television series Adventure Time, of which she is a big fan. Then, when the Minions craze hit, she made her own army of the banana-coloured characters from the Despicable Me animated films.

I wanted to base the series of characters on archetypes that every Singaporean can relate to. Take, for instance, the summon auntie who dishes out fines to cars parked illegally - she's someone everyone recognises.

MS ONG SZE SZE and her clay creations, Summon Auntie and Kopitiam Uncle, which use Lego figurines as a base

When Singapore's late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was hospitalised in March, she made her first figurine inspired by a local newsmaker, which depicts Mr Lee in PAP attire and carrying his signature red box that contains his daily work documents.

"When Mr Lee fell sick, I wanted to dedicate a figure to him," she explains. When he died later, she created a Mrs Lee figure "to go along with him".

Recently, she made a series of 10 figurines based on the people in her Whampoa neighbourhood, including her father on his bicycle, her skateboarding neighbour and the drinks stall uncle who makes teh tarik.

"I wanted to base the series of characters on archetypes that every Singaporean can relate to. Take, for instance, the summon auntie who dishes out fines to cars parked illegally - she's someone everyone recognises."

Although Ms Ong, who is single, has sold a couple of her figurines for $15 to $25, she no longer sells them.

"I love making them and I did not want to turn my passion into something I do for profit," she explains, adding that she can take up to a month to complete a piece as she "procrastinates a lot".

She will make her third appearance at Maker Faire Singapore this weekend to display her works - which are not for sale - and catch up with fellow crafters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Making figurines of everyday people'. Print Edition | Subscribe