Meet The Cancer Survivor Using Her 2nd Shot At Life To Finally Pursue Her Passion For Art

YiliYuli is an artisan jewellery brand launched by Evelyn Chan. The pieces are created by the founder using genuine vintage jewellery, then painted on and embellished to feature nostalgic scenes or soft flowers inspired from Evelyn’s own time growing up in English countrysides.

“YiliYuli was named after my children and it’s something for them to remember me by in case of any health hiccups. I don’t want anything too sorrowful and upsetting for those who care about me.”

Image Credit: YiliYuli

But her journey towards turning her paintings into wearable art hasn’t been as clear cut.

Evelyn Chan developed her love for painting after she moved to the UK countrysides at 13, which inspires her artwork even today.

“It was the time when I saw more sheep and landscapes than humans,” mused Evelyn.

“I was rather keen to become an artist, but my parents stressed that a professional career is a safe boat, as it was hard for ethnic minorities to survive in the UK during the 90’s.”

Evelyn married a Malaysian there, and eventually decided to move to Malaysia.

In 2015 she got diagnosed with thyroid cancer. 

It was during a health-mandated bedrest that Evelyn began incorporating painting as part of her recovery regime.

While doing this, Evelyn discovered miniature painter Eva Thissen—who paints miniatures on clay—which finally solidified what would become YiliYuli’s core business.

In an interview with The Star, Evelyn said “How nice to be able to tell a story in something so petite!”

But she didn’t plan on turning it into a business.

Painting on jewellery was still just a hobby when Evelyn’s eldest daughter began wearing them out.

“With a bubbly character, my eldest is my advocate of everything in life.  She would wear little pieces of children jewellery whenever we go out, and words just spread.”

Interest and curiosity finally led to inquiries, especially from a fellow parent who liked how the paintings made her reminisce about her time in England.

“So she ordered lots and encouraged me to give it a try. We have now become good friends, and she had also launched her part-time jewellery business too.”

At the present, YiliYuli as a serious presence has just started. 

YiliYuli’s website

With a newly minted website, Evelyn has just embarked on a journey to take on staff and begin exports and showcases.

“At present, it’s still not profitable yet as I am re-investing into supplies and I was struggling to find time to paint,” said Evelyn about her new direction.

YiliYuli may be in its beginning stages, but Evelyn is no beginner.

This PhD holder runs a London Translation company full-time.

She was trained and supported by her university back when she first launched her business in the UK. This helped develop her business planning and business etiquette.

On a more artistic side, Evelyn thinks that creative businesses are about lateral thinking and crazy art so she hopes that her “wild thinking, sometimes peculiar and irrational will keep my customers’ minds busy”.

The fact that many of her pendants are essential oil diffusers probably helps too (essential oils sold separately).

They are popular among those with health issues,  or those who like having a convenient little pick-me-up.

Some of her pendants are diffusers / Image Credit: YiliYuli

“My main vision is to introduce my handpainted jewellery as soulful accessories.  It’s not just the value it carries, but the meaning and how it connects with your body and mind.”

As such, each line in her work tells a starkly personal story from Evelyn’s own life.

Her lines in 2017, in particular, were snapshots of many of her struggles when Evelyn’s father’s nearly died by stroke. He survived the ordeal, but was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

For instance, Tree of Life came from her fascination with a children’s picture book, The Giving Tree, and from when her father was stuck in the ICU. Angels Watching Over You was painted after her father’s discharge. For all of the obstacles following that, Evelyn likes to think there’s someone up there watching over her family.

A pendant from the Be Fearless line / Image Credit: YiliYuli

The jewellery—containing vintage elements from 1920s to 1960s—serves as the frame for Evelyn’s paintings. Evelyn calls them “new old stock”. They were produced in the vintage era, but never used.

She sources everything from vintage, antique and even modern pieces because sometimes, customers have special requirements due to skin conditions.

Evelyn will paint on absolutely anything that can turn into pendants—ceramics, plaques, resins, gold and silver, etc.

“The smaller ones are the most challenging.  I sign every single piece painted by myself and never outsource the painting,” said Evelyn.

Evelyn is still figuring out which route the business should take, but we think that there is something special about her work so far.

It carries an unspoken theme of carrying on despite adversity, and to find a lighter, more hopeful side in darker times.

  • YiliYuli is a vintage artisan jewellery brand launched by Evelyn Chan.
  • Made using vintage jewellery elements, the jewellery is embellished with Evelyn’s miniature paintings as pendants. 
  • She began doing miniature jewellery painting seriously after a thyroid cancer scare in 2015. 
  • Each piece of artwork tells a very personal story from Evelyn’s own life, as part of Evelyn’s bid to introduce handpainted jewellery as “soulful accessories”.

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