Red Repels Demons! Design Your Own Red Packet

It was 2014. A huge family event was taking place, all of my to-be-in-laws were gathered together. Noodles were being happily tossed and relations chatted away. These little envelopes, ang paos, were being handed around but I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to accept them. In fact, I found it difficult to accept them all the way up until recently. So what changed?

First of all I discovered how I fit in the picture. I’m woven in, I can’t just receive ang bao’s I have to pass them on too. The ang bao is supposed to be symbolic of a blessing or well wish and it would be discourteous and rude not to pass them on. But where do these ang baos come from?

In popular stories the colour red, loud noises (think of drums and the dragon dance), and coin shaped charms are revealed to offer protection from an evil spirit that lived in the sea or mountains. He was known as Nian, 年兽, and he typically terrorised villages, most famously Peach Village. This sets a mythical origin for the gifting of money packaged in red.

That’s bad news because if we have to start at a myth, then the evolution of the ang pao to what it is today cannot be clear.

The connection between money and blessings, seems to have origins in early China, likely predating the time of the Three Kingdoms (220C.E). Eminent officials and leaders had began producing coins with blessings on, or coin shaped charms, that have survived until today (primaltrek). The most obvious continuation of this idea is the string of replica coins and charms that are continually for sale for the purposes of fengshui. Then as now, carrying these charms is believed to offer protection, luck, or fortune, amongst other things. Given the symbolism of the colour red, passing a red bag of such positively charged coins to a loved one or a neighbour would have been an extra compassionate gesture.

祥庆荣华 — happiness and celebration, prosperity and high position

Coins, as a form of money, represent power.  Coin-shaped charms are, therefore, a very compact form of power.primaltrek

Today, the ang pao remains a symbol of well wishing and blessing and its contents echo that intention wherever they are distributed; at WeddingsTea Ceremonies, the Lunar New Year, in exchange for a service like Lion Dancing, a bribe, or a baby’s first month celebration. However, ideas, particularly those disconnected from an original purpose or belief, are quick to change. Mystical coin charms are still occasionally found in effigy, printed on ang paos, but it’s rare. Ang pao’s are more often emblazoned with corporate logos instead of blessings and they do not even need to be red.

After using Italic&Bold’s special themed design of red packet, we wanted to create ang paos of our own. First we trawled the internet for templates. This is a good way to start because then you have some print ready layouts and the measurements are all predefined for you. There are some already available online, see below examples, but usually you can just inquire at a printers directly.

Easitech — Singapore (Ai.)

e-print — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr.)

The Copy Boy — Singapore (Ai.)

Print100 — Hong Kong (Ai. Cdr. Psd.)

Presuming you have the correct software, you can quickly adapt the colours and image to suit your taste. Do you remember that coat of arms we were talking about using? Well that ended up emblazoned on our red packets. We didn’t specify that all the specs on our ang bao were supposed to be in gold foil so we got the CMYK version of gold instead. My bad.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about printing techniques but just know that you should be able to print in “foil” if you have marked a colour or layer for printing in a shiny colour. There is also hot stamping if you want a raised image but honestly, what does this add?

We scanned around in Singapore for a good price and almost went with the company Print City. But in the end we went with a printer in China for cost reasons. Whether printing in Singapore or abroad, ask about gluing, you don’t want 500 unglued and unfolded red packets to deal with.

Prepare to print in advance of your event as designing might take a week and printing can take anywhere from 3 days to three weeks depending on where you’re sourcing the print from.

Extra note: As a teacher, these ang baos were perfect for giving a token gift to my students. We used The Natural Confectionary Co. chews for most packets and YumEarth organic pops for the kids that don’t eat meat or pork. See below.

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Coats of Arm: Part 2

Last week we looked at the design of a Coat of Arms as well as some of the basic ideas behind it. This week I want to explain the design I went for and what direction I want to take it in later on in life.

It’s important to me that my design is practical and malleable. At some point I will want to change it to include my children and maybe they will take it and make it their own too.

First of all you must know what presumptions the design is based upon.

  1. The shield design is only important as a “space” for symbols to reside.
  2. The peripheral elements of a coat of arms are disposable/optional.
  3. The traditional symbols are out-dated.

I wanted a family coat of arms, so I needed something that could speak for myself and for my partner. The Chinese zodiac was an obvious choice. I had been working on another project and had found myself researching the uses of the 12 animals.

The character and personality attributes of the animals are fun but I had to discard them. These are inherent or imbued characteristics that I can’t really use or play with. A few other aspects of the animals, like their yin and yang associations, were also dead ends for me but could be useful for someone else.

Instead I decided to base my design on the four Earthly Branches found in BaZi. These assign an animal and a character to you based on the year, month, day, and hour that you were born. These animals are supposed to have descending influence on your character, the year animal being strongest and the hour animal being weakest.

Year or “Birth Animals”

  • 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 — RAT (鼠)
  • 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009— OX(牛)
  • 1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010— TIGER(虎)
  • 1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011— RABBIT(兔)
  • 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012— DRAGON(龍)
  • 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013— SNAKE(蛇)
  • 1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014 — HORSE(馬)
  • 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015 — GOAT(羊)
  • 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016 — MONKEY(猴)
  • 1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017 — ROOSTER(雞)
  • 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018 — DOG(狗)
  • 1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019 — PIG(豬)

Months or “Inner Animals”

  • January — Ox
  • February — Tiger
  • March — Rabbit
  • April — Dragon
  • May — Snake
  • June — Horse
  • July — Sheep
  • August — Monkey
  • September — Rooster
  • October — Dog
  • November — Pig
  • December — Rat

Days or “True Animals.”

  • Monday — Sheep
  • Tuesday — Dragon
  • Wednesday — Horse
  • Thursday — Rat,Pig
  • Friday — Rabbit, Snake, Dog
  • Saturday — Ox,Tiger, Rooster
  • Sunday — Monkey

Hours or “Secret Animals.”

  • 11am -1am: Rat
  • 1am – 3 am: Ox
  • 3am – 5 am: Tiger
  • 5am – 7 am: Rabbit
  • 7am – 9am: Dragon
  • 9am – 11am: Snake
  • 11am – 1pm: Horse
  • 1pm – 3pm: Goat
  • 3pm – 5pm: Monkey
  • 5pm – 7pm: Rooster
  • 7pm – 9pm: Dog
  • 9pm – 11pm: Pig

What I liked about this most, was the idea of being able to approximately represent the birth time of an individual to within a few hours. With four animals.

Now, what I felt was somehow extra special, was the method of calculating the time of birth. It is strictly tied to the lunar calendar and the passing of the sun. How much of a difference do you think it can make?

Well, I am born in 1988 which is usually listed as the year of the Dragon. Yet Chinese New Year occurred fairly late that year and with my birth taking place on the 6th of February I ended up being a Rabbit instead.

Then when calculating the hour, you need to know the latitude and longitude of the birth site so that you can compensate for changes to the sun’s position in the sky. This could easily change your hour animal significantly if you were born in the northern or southern hemisphere or even if daylight savings time was in operation. This means charts offering a western time to “eastern time” conversion cannot be 100% correct.

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As an example of how this plays out, I’ve sourced this table from Kevin Foong’s Feng Shui website. We are only using the Earthly Branches to identify Donald Trump’s animals, they in the first table. The second table of branches were those waving about around election time.


In my own case I had two sets of data:

  1. 1991 August 27th 15:41 (solar time 16:47) = Goat, Monkey, Snake, Monkey (Monkey).
  2. 1988 February 6th 11:03 (solar time 11:23) = Rabbit, Tiger, Dragon, Horse (Horse).

Abandoning the conventional shield shapes, I chose a circle for the symbols. A circle is easy to find balance in visually and is a particularly auspicious shape. In Chinese culture, the circle stands for fulfillment, oneness, and unity. This meaning is mirrored in Western thinking.

At the centre of our coat of arms are a clock and a dinosaur. These are two characters we found for ourselves, these two icons of time and age walk hand in hand as lovers and friends. The meaning of these two characters are of a personal nature and may be lost in later evolutions of this design.


I’ve used the design on two projects in Singapore so far. Some tweaking is in order but I love this design. I think everyone should be able to use something like this.

In coming weeks I’ll write up some details on how the ang bao and the Christmas card printing experience went.

The angbao.
The Christmas Card.


Have you eaten

You can buy a set of 6 cards to send to friends, especially cool if you know some Singaporeans abroad!

Etsy title


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We are live! I’m excited because it’s a new shop experience. We have our debut postcard series in the shop and you’ll see some Art-Prints appearing there soon.

You can buy a set of 6 cards to send to friends, especially cool if you know some Singaporeans abroad!

If you have any cool ideas for our prints, anything you want to see, then please get in touch 🙂

Anthony and Friends

Anthony & Friends

Ink and Brush on Vegetable Parchment, Teck Kee Coffeeshop, Tanjong Pagar, Singapore, 11.7 x 18.5″, 2013.

It was breakfast time, Anthony, his wife and their two friends sat eating kaya toast and soft boiled eggs, each with a cup of “teh”.

My attention has been elsewhere of late. On the coffeeshop project. I would recommend you to look at the original artworks in the shop. The real value of art is in ones response to it rather than what one has heard about it:

“Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongues” Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 2.1.15

After realising Singapore’s ethnically diverse harmony, it appears empirically true that the co-habilitation of various religions is realistic. However, perhaps also illustrated by Singapore’s ethnically diverse culture, the largest of all differences is really just language.


The focus is driven onto the characters in this detailed painting. I wanted my audience to forget there was a context though it is there if you look for it. This is what it is, to be lost in conversation, as this uncle and these aunties were.


Teck Kee has been a regular place for me to draw and I should add that a number of early works are mounted on the walls here. It is a good idea to drop in, particularly around midday, when you can grab outstanding briyani from Nachin Briyani Dam, or some great Hong Kong style [Teck Kee] wanton mee. There are is also a Japanese style stall that gets quite busy at lunchtimes.

Teck Kee Coffeeshop Exhibition


The Teck Kee Coffeeshop exhibition marked the birth of “The Coffeeshop Project”. With the supportive permission of Teck Kee’s proprietor this exhibition is on show in the coffeeshops secondary eating area. An area that is packed with business types from the surrounding office blocks each lunchtime. This is in a central business area and the flow of people through this area is very high.

It ought to be stressed that this is a highly unusual exhibition. Artist have no tradition of showing art in coffeeshops and coffeeshops are widely considered one of the lowliest venues. It is for these very reasons that we have chosen the coffeeshop as our host and our subject matter. These are important places for Singapore’s working majority.

Before they were installed, and also afterwards, there has been apprehension towards these artworks. We say that we will install these images partly as a study of the coffeeshop environment and partly because we believe that art can be appreciated by anyone who crosses it. It must be known that this exhibition could not be possible without support, and least of all without that support that has emanated from Teck Kee’s proprietor. To different people, art is many different things, in this case it is a decoration adorning the walls and a respectful gesture to the people who work and eat in this area. It is also an attempt to document and preserve an image of coffeeshops in Singapore, an identity that is unique to those privately owned businesses.

This project features ink and brush work that features techniques adapted from Chinese calligraphy and drawing styles. Over coming months new studies will hopefully lead to more interesting interventions of Singapore’s established food culture and this contribution to it’s art culture.

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