We all see the beauty of the orchid, but no one pays attention to the dirt on its roots.
As a local artist, Tiffany Lovage has all the outward trappings of someone who’s ‘made it.’ She’s the polar opposite of the ‘starving artist’, one who’s able to make a decent living as a full-time illustrator.
She’s a sought-after instructor and public figure at live events and workshops, working with several big name brands, including her most recent collaboration with Tiger Beer on the design for Tiger’s National Day Orchid Brew.
On Instagram, where she has over 42,000 followers, Tiffany projects the image of a confident creative with the physique of an MMA fighter. Before being sidelined by a serious knee injury, she kept to a rigorous workout regimen, regularly training at Vanda Boxing Club in both boxing and kickboxing.
But Tiffany’s outward ‘success’ doesn’t reflect her lived experience. To this day, she still has crippling moments of self-doubt and insecurity.
Part of this has to do with anxiety and body image issues she developed at a young age. Other struggles are more existential. What’s her purpose as an artist? What value does she bring?
And in a country like Singapore, where creative work is often undervalued, what difference does her work make in people’s lives?
Growing from the Soil
Tiffany’s artistic moniker ‘Lovage’ is the name of a plant species that’s long been cultivated in Europe. Every part of the plant serves a practical purpose: its leaves are used as an herb, its roots as a vegetable, and its seeds as a spice.
One could say that the Lovage is an ‘essential’ plant.
The irony of her namesake isn’t lost on Tiffany. In a recent survey conducted by the Sunday Times, artists were ranked as the ‘least essential’ job in Singapore, below telemarketer and social media influencer.
In Singapore where creatives are viewed with, at best, a polite indifference, a local artist’s ‘worth’ often needs to be validated by international awards and recognition.
But why can’t something that’s ‘Singapore made’ and ‘locally grown’ be good in its own right?
This was what led local brewery Tiger Beer to pursue a collaboration with Tiffany on the design of their Tiger Orchid Brew. Through the years, Tiger Beer has always been a strong advocate of local creators—more so during these difficult times.
Infused with orchids, the limited edition Tiger Orchid Brew is inspired by Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, chosen for its year-round blooming quality, and as the national symbol of resilience.
“I resonate a lot with what the orchid stands for,” says Tiffany. “Especially its resilience and hardiness against the elements.”
Tiffany’s own test of adversity came after a devastating injury.
Weathering the Elements
In January 2019, Tiffany tore her ACL, MCL and both of her meniscuses in her right knee.
“It was from a gradual process of wear and tear,” she explains. “Then after one kickboxing session in Bali, I fell, and couldn’t get back up again.”
What followed afterward were two knee surgeries and an eighteen-month recovery process—one that’s still ongoing. In the earlier months, she hobbled around on crutches, and had to give up all contact sports. Over time, she gained 15 kilograms and lost most of her muscle in her right leg.
But more so than the physical pain, the rehab process took a toll on her mental health. Without the distractions of the gym, she isolated herself in her studio for months, and came face to face with her insecurities.
“After the injury, I started to put more of myself into my illustration,” says Tiffany. “It allowed me to confront my relationship with art in a way that wasn’t possible before. And the more I gave to my craft, the better I felt about myself.”
To help her cope with the setbacks in rehab, Tiffany designed a logo for herself based on the Chinese character 从. The character represents both a point of departure as well as a visual depiction of two people (人) standing together.
Her message: every person is on their own journey, but no one walks the road alone.
Blooming As One
A year and a half into her recovery, Tiffany is finally strong enough to do some light training. So we take the photo shoot outside, to capture her in motion.
“The sun gives me confidence,” says Tiffany, as she runs through a light workout in front of the camera.
As our photographer shows her the samples, she recounts a prior photo shoot she did during the most vulnerable period of her rehab. When she saw her ‘bloated figure’ at the time, she broke down in tears.
“I’ve struggled with body image issues my whole life,” she says. “After the injury, I learned to be kinder to myself. To let go of things that are out of my control.”
After the shoot, we sit outside in her garden and crack open some cans of Tiger Orchid Brew. Taking a sip, there’s the crisp and familiar taste of black lager, with an added floral note that reminds me of a craft-brewed IPA.
In the afternoon sun, Tiffany seems less guarded and more comfortable. Moving forward, she’s still trying to figure out many things in her life. She wants to use her skills to support the causes she cares about, issues like climate change and social justice.
“I used to think that ignorance was bliss,” she says. “But we can’t just ignore our problems and hope they go away.”
After a year and a half of soul-searching, Tiffany has finally found her purpose: to help Singaporeans communicate visually when sometimes words aren’t enough.
Because art doesn’t always have to draw attention to itself. Art can help us wind down. It can remind us to appreciate our surroundings, when sometimes, after a rough week, month, or even year, all we want to do is kick back with some friends and crack open a few beers.
We drink to slow down. We drink to savour the moment, and drinking Tiger’s National Day Brew feels good precisely because it’s local and has the familiar comforts of home.
As Singapore goes through uncertain times, there’s a certain strength in knowing exactly who you are and where you come from.