At 12, Hannah Sun is already an accomplished painter in the Chinese traditional style—and an authority on hard work and passion.
She is 12, but thinks more maturely than most—and she’s creating traditional Chinese artworks one can only expect from a hundred-year-old art sifu (master).
Yueran Hannah Sun, or Hannah, as she likes to be called, has accomplished in five years what most people won’t have the heart to do in a lifetime—a solo art exhibit. Her first solo exhibit, entitled “Sunshine in My Heart,” features paintings of landscapes and flora in guóhuà or Chinese traditional style. The exhibit was launched last April at the 77-year-old Kamuning Bakery, and will stay on its walls for a while.
It has only been five years since Hannah’s brush first touched canvas, but her work speaks of talent and wisdom. “My classmate was doing a painting and I thought it was really beautiful. I became curious and wondered if I could do something like that, too,” she says when asked what inspired her to follow the way of the brush. Since then, she has studied art and painting, and has been winning contests and awards left and right. One of her most outstanding achievements was winning the Grand Prize in the Chinese Traditional Painting Contest for children among Chinese diplomatic families globally in 2014—she was 11 then.
At four, Hannah was already traveling the world. The work of Hong Sun, Hannah’s mom, brought the family from China to Malaysia, the United States, and the Philippines.
“I started learning about art in the US because my first traditional Chinese teacher was there. I didn’t know how to paint at all, but he taught me a lot of different techniques,” Hannah says of her first Chinese painting teacher, Joseph Yan. Apart from Yan, different artists and a couple of Hannah’s teachers have greatly influenced her style. One of her favorite artists is Zhang Daqian, one of the most prodigious Chinese artists of the 20th century.
Zhang Daqian, apart from being a guóhuà prodigy, is also a master of copying. His versions of Chinese masterpieces have been very hard to distinguish from the real thing, owing to his keen knowledge of the brush, ink, and paper. Some of Hannah’s works, mostly her earlier ones, were modeled from existing artworks. She would browse through her dad’s book collection featuring Chinese artworks, ceramics, and culture, and she would make her own rendition of something that catches her fancy.
One of the artworks displayed in Kamuning Bakery for the exhibit was something she modeled from an art book, one of her earliest works, created when she was still in fifth grade.
Hannah has already developed a preference in the things she draws. She loves to paint mountains and landscapes—nature scenes that showcase the freshness of the flora and the liveliness of the fauna. “Nature is something I like to paint because I live in a big city,” she says.
What Hannah really likes about the traditional Chinese style of painting is the attention given to the smallest details and the use of color. Even though she isn’t formally enrolled in an art school now, she takes it upon herself to continue studying Chinese culture and developing her craft.
She has already built her corner in the art world at such a young age, so it’s only logical for people to expect greater and bigger things from her. But when asked what she plans to do in the next couple of years, she reveals that she has yet to find the career she wants. “I want to do more advanced Chinese paintings, but it’s not really the profession I want in the future. I’m still deciding what I really want to do.”
Not only in art, but also in life, Hannah already has the right way of thinking. “If you want to succeed in what you are doing, you have to be hardworking and passionate. Even though you have a lot of talent, if you do not work your hardest, you will never succeed.”