Jen Ding

World of Earpers – getting to know your fellow Earpers, one Earper at a time.

There are a lot of creative Earpers out there, and this Earper is one of them. She draws and does photography, meet Malaysian Earper Jen Ding (@jen_ding)!

Who’s Jen Ding?

I am a rheumatologist, aka the doctor who deals with your musculoskeletal problems (trigger finger, heel pain, osteoarthritis etc) and autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, Sjӧgren’s syndrome etc). I also deal with medical problems which have been termed ‘X-Files’, ie cases which no one has an answer to despite having tons of other specialties consulting on that case. If there is another rheumatologist/Earper, I would love to meet you! 

I have a thing for redheads, somehow…Anne Shirley, Dana Scully, Silvia Castro, Nicole Haught….(I actually dyed my hair red as part of my celebrations after finishing medical school, in homage to Dana Scully).

I spent half my lifetime with my nose buried in books/papers and my ass slogging away in wards and clinics. This makes me a lot older than most of the cast. So, now is the time for me to have my fun before my hips and back give out. 

How did you discover Wynonna Earp?

I was searching for queer content on YouTube and stumbled onto the couch scene: I was piqued. When I saw Nicole Haught standing in the doorway of Shorty’s, I was hooked. The moment Nicole put the Stetson on, that was it for me. #E4L.

You’re in Malaysia right? What’s it like, being an Earper there? Do you meet up with other Malaysian Earpers?

Yup. I am Malaysian and still reside in Malaysia.

When I took my baby steps into the fandom back in mid-2018, I thought I was the only one in Malaysia because I didn’t see much activity on social media from Malaysia. Frankly, I was a little terrified of social media at that time because of some negative experiences on certain platforms. So, I decided to stay low and watch others. I did not actively search for other Earpers in Malaysia, either.

On a whim, in late 2018, I decided to go to EarperConUK and in the months leading up to the con, the organisers created chat groups for the attendees to get to know one another. I was put in the same group as @kid_earper. Imagine my joy when I realized Kid was also Malaysian. From there on, I got to know more Malaysian Earpers and we finally formed a little group last year.

We have done many things together: our most memorable activity was designing billboards for the #Fight4Wynonna. We put up quite a number: we were well and truly chuffed when Writer’s Guild of Canada featured one of our boards in their write-up on Emily Andras last year. In fact, it was this little group who encouraged me to post my drawings on Twitter last year. 

Billboard feature in WGC magazine

Our little group used to meet up monthly until COVID19 hit us. We did fun stuff like spending the night in a hotel, taking a road trip out of state, having a potluck dinner, watching Wynonna Earp as a ‘family’. It felt so good: it felt like coming home. I can’t wait till we can safely meet up again. 

I am sure there are many more Earpers in Malaysia. If any of you are reading this, feel free to contact me or Kid! 

You have been to EarperConUK 2019. What was it like, meeting the cast? Any special memories?

EarperConUK 2019 was my first ever fan convention of any kind. I was supposed to have gone to EarpExpo and EarpFest this year, but the pandemic put paid to those plans. 

To be honest, I was apprehensive meeting the cast: what if they were aloof and fake? The meet and greets dispelled my anxiety: the legendary Megan Follows was awesomely down to earth, Mel was side-splittingly funny, Dani was just Dani, Dom was her sweet, gentle self and Kat was so warm and lovely. They had no airs whatsoever. I will never forget the time I brought out a rubber durian for my cast photo and Mel recognized it. I brought it out again in my meet and greet with Mel and Megan: and eventually passed it to Mel as a gift. I do wonder what has happened to that fruit? Greg and Michael were so giving of their time: they spent so much time chatting with Earpers in the hotel lobby outside of the convention hours. I was amazed at the ‘normalness’ of this cast.  

I am so biased here, but my special memory of EarperConUK 2019 was meeting Kat Barrell: she surpassed all my expectations. To finally meet someone you have admired from afar and created artwork on was truly out of this world. My first real interaction with her was a selfie. I have presented scientific papers and given talks in front of big crowds but the prospect of taking a photo with Kat reduced me to a total wreck. There is a really calming aura around her: she exudes a sense of familiarity and warmth. I felt at ease immediately.

Jen and Kat, EarperConUK 2019

Other significant memories from that con were meeting Megan Follows, whom I had admired deeply since her Anne of Green Gables days, and the twins (Coral and Carol). 

You’re a very creative person, you take photos at conventions and you make artwork. How did these hobbies get started?

Thank you for that kind comment.

I have always liked to draw from a young age but I wasn’t any good. I remember pre-teen me spending hours watching my older cousin sketch all sorts of things effortlessly and beautifully and wishing I had that talent. I was the girl who drew lopsided stick figures in art class.

I never received any formal training:  I learned to draw in earnest in my teen years by copying the style of fellow classmate who could draw really well, like DC/Marvel comics quality stuff. I slowly got better, but this soon fell on the wayside as my tertiary education and further medical training ate up my free time. BUT, when I was a house officer (aka intern) in Orthopaedics, I worked for a surgeon who drew (and coloured!) beautiful anatomical figures in her operative and clinic notes. Going through her notes was like reading an atlas of anatomy. She encouraged us juniors to illustrate our clinical notes with relevant drawings. I actually bought a set of colour pencils and diligently coloured all my drawings, which I tried to do as accurately as possible. I don’t know if she actually saw any of my ‘artwork’. I drew tumours, fractures, ruptured tendons, phalanges, nerves and blood vessels. I was happiest and calmest while drawing; it made me forget the exhausted and fraught state I was often in at that time. 

Last year, I started thinking of what I could get signed at EarperConUK, short of buying generic prints of the cast. I wanted my stuff to be unique. That was when I decided to draw again. At that point in time, I had not drawn anything for nearly 16 years. The first portrait I did was of Bobo Del Rey because I could only draw men at that time. I was surprised how well Bobo turned out. My love for Nicole Haught and Kat Barrell made me learn how to draw women. I have never quite looked back after that. 

When I got Kat to sign my drawings of her at EarperConUK, she gave me some lovely, encouraging comments. I was actually very apprehensive asking her to sign my drawings as I felt they weren’t that good, but it all worked out well in the end and these drawings are hanging proudly in the Earp Corner in my room.

Autographed Kat drawing

I stopped drawing for a while after EarperConUK because of work commitments. But when the COVID19 pandemic hit Malaysia early this year, and things started going crazy at work, I started feeling very frustrated and upset. I was struggling to keep abreast with the rapidfire pace of changes: new wards were being opened daily for COVID19, new rosters and responsibilities were created nearly daily, protocols and guidelines were coming out fast and furious, I was potentially exposed to COVID19 every day in the wards. So, I started looking for a way to ameliorate the stress: I decided to put pencil to paper again. I found it tremendously therapeutic and it has now become a weekly ‘habit’ for me. A week is incomplete if I don’t do one drawing: I always make sure I make some time for art every week. I am at my calmest and happiest when drawing: I feel like I am transported to another realm when I am sketching or shading.

Lately, I’ve come to realise that I can only draw something which resonates with me or calls out to me. I can’t just draw anything: I need to feel a connection to what I am drawing or else I won’t enjoy drawing it and that drawing comes out flat.

One of the (many) highlights of last year was having my artwork featured in Times Square as part of the #Win4Wynonna celebrations! Thank you @Pandasam3194 for that glorious opportunity!

Billboard Malaysian Earpers, featuring Jen’s art

As for photography, I have always enjoyed photography, especially landscape photography. I wasn’t any good at photographing people but your photos inspired me to give panel photography a try. I’m still learning, though. I love your little tips on panel photography: I’ll have to wait till 2021 to try them out!

What techniques/process do you use to make art?

I worked primarily with graphite in the beginning, but this year, I decided to try inks and I discovered that I really liked it. Graphite is still my first love because it is what I started out with, it’s more forgiving and allows me to express myself more. It takes me 4-6 hours, on average, to finish one pencil drawing. I started off using only a couple of pencils. These grew into a collection of 20 pencils of different grades, several erasers, stumps and brushes etc. What I usually use for a typical drawing is shown in the picture below. I know it looks crazy…

Tools of Jen’s trade

I HAVE to listen to music while drawing: I’m going through a Spanish pop song and ‘Folklore’ craze now… I’m amazed my ears are still functioning well.

I use Instagram and YouTube as my teachers. There are many amazing artists out there who so generously share their techniques online. I am so grateful to them for helping me better my technique. I would love to attend proper art classes at some point, but maybe when I am retired… 

Will I ever do digital art? I have dabbled in some very basic digital art, and I hope to eventually expand my repertoire to include digital drawing. But for now, I would like to hone my ‘traditional’ drawings skills. I don’t want to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master (or mistress) of none. I’m also saving up to buy some pricey camera lenses, so whatever hardware I need for digital art would have to wait. 

Kat has used your artwork for her Instagram profile. How does that feel as a fan, to see your art used like that?

To have someone recognize your work is really the best feeling ever. It did take 1 year of posting stuff before Kat took notice of my work, though.

I still remember the first time Kat commented/liked my artwork (it was the Wynaught scene at the end of 307). I think I let out a scream when I saw her comment and like.  

The second time I got a comment/like, she actually used my artwork as her Instagram avatar. I had woken up at 3am for no real reason, so I decided to check my Instagram. I did not go back to sleep after that and survived working a whole day with just 3 hours of sleep. I also wore a silly grin that whole day. Life was great! 

Name me another actor who happily uses fanart or fan photos as their avatar on a regular basis. I feel that it is awesomely cool and supportive of Kat to do this: she has no obligation to do what she does, but in doing so, she is indicating that she sees and recognizes your work, which is a huge deal to us who don’t do this sort of stuff on a professional basis. It validates our sweat and tears and, to me, it is worth more than any award on earth. This spurs us to keep creating and keep getting better. The other thing that Kat does which I really appreciate is that she also comments on the stuff which she likes, instead of merely liking it. That makes the ‘like’ more personal and sweeter. Kat is the true embodiment of humility, class and grace.

What does the future hold for you, Wynonna Earp wise? More artwork? Planned cons?  

I hope Wynonna Earp goes on for a few more years: Emily has a lot more stories to tell, I’m sure. But all good things will come to an end eventually. I will never stop supporting the show and cast, even after the show ends. They are the representation that I lacked while growing up and for this, I am eternally grateful. They are the reason I have finally acknowledged my real self and damn, that feels so good.

I will continue producing artwork as long as I am capable. Creating artwork based on this show has happily led me to explore new techniques and styles and new ways to interpret the photos which come our way. It has allowed me to grow artistically and finally have a passion outside of work. 

As for cons, I would love to travel to more than one con per year, but being a consultant in one of the largest and busiest hospitals in the country does not make it easy for me to take much time off. Furthermore, being in Malaysia makes traveling for cons a tad inconvenient and expensive because I am quite a distance away from the traditional sites of cons and currency exchange rates don’t quite favour my currency. So, for now, one con a year. If COVID19 stays quiet next year, I will be at EarpFest! I would love to meet Earpers whom I have only been communicating with through tweets. Nothing beats a real hug and smile.

You can find my art on IG @jentriestodraw