Home U.K Youngsters show off their artistic skills thanks to Cambridge engineering graduate

Youngsters show off their artistic skills thanks to Cambridge engineering graduate


Chinese New Year dragon

Chinese New Year dragon painted by Yangyang’s three year old daughter (Image: PA)

Cambridge University engineering graduate Yangyang Hou, 38, started her tutoring at Christmas time, after first showing her daughter, Marie, three, and her 65-year-old mother how to copy some famous impressionist and post-impressionist paintings as a diversion in lockdown.

Artist and teacher Yangyang

Artist and teacher Yangyang (Image: Press Association)

Married to a scientist, Londoner Yangyang, who left stockbroking to train as an artist, said: “When the Christmas lockdown really hit everyone, I thought we should do some quality things – not just trying to become influencers or colouring in Peppa Pig.

“I began with Monets and Van Goghs, as I wanted everything to be colourful, because Britain in winter is pretty grey, especially in lockdown.

“First, my daughter managed to copy a Monet – when you break down the key elements, shapes and colours you can do it – and then my mum and dad, who’s 69, jumped on board.

“I taught Marie and her grandmother, who had never painted before, about the relationship of colours – using primary ones and then mixing them – and we looked at composition, contrast and why closer things are in warmer colours.

Five year old's Van Gogh's Starry Night

Five year old’s Van Gogh’s Starry Night (Image: Press Association)

“I had been learning from others through free classes on subjects like music on YouTube during the lockdowns, so I thought I’d post my lessons on there, for free, too, for my friends.

“Then other mothers started joining in using Zoom, with about 15 other children and also grandparents. We did it every day from Christmas to March, when the schools reopened, with about 10 families in the group.”

Yangyang, who moved to England from China, aged 15, on an academic scholarship to a boarding school and had always loved art – despite her early career choices – was astounded by their talent.

Explaining her love of art, she said: “I studied calligraphy in China from the age of four with some old masters of the beautiful writing. If you did something wrong, they would hit you with a stick. But I won awards, including a gold medal in a National Youth Competition.

“After my scholarship studies I went to Cambridge. But my English then was so poor, that my only option was to do a science or engineering related degree because those subjects don’t need good English like art or social science subjects that involve a lot of writing.

Line up of artworks for the exhibition

Line up of artworks for the exhibition (Image: Press Association)

“After I met my husband who is Chinese in the UK, I wanted to focus more on family life and so in 2015 I left the stock market after about 10 years and studied painting for three years.

“After that, I became an artist and do mainly commissioned portraits.”

Now Yangyang has gained immense satisfaction from passing on her knowledge through her free classes, lasting 40 to 60 minutes each, and bringing out the artistic talent in others.

She said: “We painted and had fun, but we also looked at the works of great artists and analysed why the painter did something in a certain way, and why it was so good from a scientific approach, examining why the perspective is so effective and the colour relationships.

“We discussed why Van Gogh’s Sunflowers picture had three flowers, for example. One way to explain it is to interpret it is as a mother and fertility as the right one is heavily seeded, a muscular father, and a smaller child – because all three he painted differently. Often with three things it’s thought of as the Father, Son, and Holy spirit. There’s no definitive answer.  And even in the under-fives’ paintings you can recognise a Van Gogh.

Yangyang's three year old daughter's copy of Gaugin

Yangyang’s three year old daughter’s copy of Gaugin (Image: Press Association)

“We also covered Hockney, Turner, Cezanne, Gauguin and others.

“But the children’s attention span didn’t last long, so the younger ones would wander off after 10 minutes – although sometimes they’d finish a painting in 10 minutes, too!”

In order to retain the younger children’s interest for longer, Yangyang introduced new elements to the classes.

She said: “We watched a dinosaur documentary and then painted dinosaurs, and we linked art with child play and mini-theatres with toys like a famous Chinese play called ‘The Old Man Lost His Horse’.

“One girl loved huskies, so we looked at famous pictures of dogs in art history, and we also centred a class around the ballet of Sleeping Beauty.

“We linked the art with creative playful paintings and narratives – which helped me to discover that children’s imaginations are incredible.

Five year old's Monet Water Lillies

Five year old’s Monet Water Lillies (Image: Press Association)

“Three-year-olds understand much more than you think.

“Picasso once said, ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child’.

“And I certainly learned refreshing new ways to look at things from them.”

Yangyang, who got her students to comment on each other’s work, also introduced elements of philosophy and music into the classes – discussing how they are linked to art.

Five year old's Van Gogh Sunflowers

Five year old’s Van Gogh Sunflowers (Image: Press Association)

Yangyang's 65 year old mum and 69 year old dad

Yangyang’s 65-year-old mother and 69-year-old father (Image: Press Association)

She said: “Certain patterns go through every subject. Even if you look at the history of stocks on the stockmarket you find patterns.

“My calligraphy teacher said there are five thought processes for everything – observe, imitate, brew – which means getting to know what you’ve learned – rich enlightenment, which is working out what you want to extract and take in your own direction, and finally create. My lessons covered the first two.”

Ending her 72 lessons with one on self-portraits. Yangyang was so impressed by her class’s output of 700 pictures that she published a book of the results called 40 Minutes Study from the Eyes of Masters, which is now available on Amazon.

And on June 27, 600 of the paintings will go on display to the general public for one day in an exhibition called Artists Born in Lockdown in Queens Gate, South Kensington, west London.

Eleven year old's painting from the final day self-portraits class

Eleven year old’s painting from the final day self-portraits class (Image: Press Association)

Poster for the exhibition

Poster for the exhibition (Image: Press Association)

Five year old's Marc Chagall Bouquet

Five year old’s Marc Chagall Bouquet (Image: Press Association)

Zhirui, six, paints a Gauguin classic

Zhirui, six, paints a Gauguin classic (Image: Press Association)

Painting by Zhirui, six, of Gauguin's classic Tahitian landscape

Painting by Zhirui, six, of Gauguin’s classic Tahitian landscape (Image: Press Association)

Three year old Marie paints Gauguin's masterpiece Mountains in Tahiti

Three year old Marie paints Gauguin’s masterpiece Mountains in Tahiti (Image: Press Association)

Yangyang's daughter Marie, three, paints a Gauguin classic

Yangyang’s daughter Marie, three, paints a Gauguin classic (Image: Press Association)

Yangyang's parents

Yangyang’s parents (Image: Press Association)

Yangyang's mum's Turner copy of The Scarlet Sunset

Yangyang’s mother’s Turner copy of The Scarlet Sunset (Image: Press Association)

The event, sponsored by Kadinsky Art Frames, and Chinese food chain Haidilao, who are offering free food to visitors, will include a speech from Tim Benson, the President of the Royal Society of Oil Painters.

Yangyang said: “My daughter produced 109 paintings, my mum – who paints all the time now – painted over 100, and my dad also joined in.

“There were over 700 paintings in total from the group.

“I am very proud of them and, who knows, maybe we have inspired the next Monet or Van Gogh, as there’s some real talent there amongst the children – although it may be a little too late for my mum.”

For information click here see  and for tickets click here.


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