About Filming Cheng-Khee Chee

Posted January 23 2015

Long before we filmed Cheng Khee Chee we had heard of him, how nice he was, his mastery of watercolor, and how generous he was sharing his knowledge. We hadn't been filming long, and we were nervous about hosting and filming a "revered master". But from the moment he and his wonderful wife, Sing Bee, arrived, they put us at ease. 


And it was a good thing, too. Our project with Cheng-Khee lasted a full week, a different workshop every day. In total we filmed five workshops and an extended interview and introduction. Only later, after working with 50 more artists, would we fully appreciate what an amazing accomplishment that week was. Most artists occasionally stumble in front of the camera.  It's natural. They are artists, not actors. From introducing themselves to naming the paints in their palette, it was not uncommon to go brain dead at least once in awhile.  Cheng-Khee Chee was flawless.

 Creative Catalyst Filming Cheng-Khee Chee

We, however, were not. We still filmed in our modified living room. Before every artist arrived, Jim moved out all our furniture, draped the walls with sound insulation, set up piping to support the over head cameras, and run extension cords across the floors. It looked a bit nuts, but it worked. I operated the side camera (camera B) to catch the shots that indicated how much paint, water and pressure the artist applied to the brush. Jim operated the front camera (camera A) for the head-on shots. The overhead cameras ran on a remote gizmo that Jim jerry-rigged to capture the palette and close-ups on the painting. I seem to recall a three pound coffee can was involved in his invention. In any case, the  results were very acceptable.


I could have quietly stood and watched Cheng-Khee paint for weeks. It was an absolute dream come true to watch him begin a painting. He always started by accessing his emotional side. Then he'd transition into his analytical side. There he accessed his knowledge of design, and he'd zero in on whatever detracted from the strength of his painting. He expertly made corrections without leaving a tell tale mark on the final piece.


Unfortunately we didn't understand the full  meaning of Cheng-Khee's suggestion, part way through filming "Splash Color Technique", to prepare for the next step. We were unaware that he would be painting without a break for the next hour and a half. When we returned from our 20 minute break, Chee dampened a sheet of 300 watercolor paper, poured creamy pigments on the wet paper and sculpted three beautiful koi. Moisture and timing dictated that he could not stop. Unfortunately, our film cartridges dictated that we had to. The cartridges were limited to one hour, and we had 40 minutes already shot. It is only through the miracle of editing and the unflappable nature of Cheng-Khee that the viewer is unaware of Jim climbing above Chee's work surface, hovering there to swap out film cartridges while below, Cheng-Khee stays focused on his painting.

Creative Catalyst Filming Cheng-Khee Chee   Creative Catalyst Filming Cheng-Khee Chee   Creative Catalyst Filming Cheng-Khee Chee

Even though we no longer film, this and many other fond memories linger. There have been many benefits of Creative Catalyst and getting to know excellent people and artist is right up there at the top.

Watch Bonus Clip on Vimeo:  

Enjoy our interview with Cheng-Khee Chee