The art of decorating has come a long way and nowadays, it is not confined to wood, plastic and paper. In recent years, founders of Borneo Metal Art saw a lucrative market in producing customised metal posters. Aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting, metal posters take decorating to a whole new level.
Modern, high definition art pieces
As soon as I stepped in the office and workshop of ‘Borneo Metal Art’ located in Demak Laut, I was greeted by the eccentric and eye-catching decorations on the walls of the premises. Each carries its own distinguishing characteristics of well-known brands, franchises and custom designs. Made using metal sheets, they gave a vintage and rustic vibe, and are very pleasing to the eyes.
Founders Zulkifli Sahak and his son Ahmad Nazreen, seized the opportunity of being the first ones to offer the service in East Malaysia, after seeing the potential of the metal poster market. With an affordable price range, metal posters can be a splendid gift to many, or as an ornament in your home or eateries.
A common decorative item, metal posters have been popular for decades, but not in Malaysia. Zulkifli admitted that the idea stemmed from his love of watching American TV shows, where he noticed that the props that the shows often used on set are metal posters. He saw the potential of metal posters and decided to try his hand at it.
Setting the path early, he sent his son Nazreen to study sheet metal technology, where the young lad learned how to operate different machines. “There, I also learned how to operate the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine which we use to cut out metal. Once I completed my diploma, my dad and I started the business full time in 2016,” Nazreen said during a private interview with New Sarawak Tribune.
A carpenter by qualification and designer by profession, the 59-year-old Zulkifli became the core designer for Borneo Metal Art, while Nazreen handles the technical parts. He also shared that his father has always loved art, saying, “Dad likes to paint, and make up designs using computer softwares. He often encourages me to follow suit, but I have zero talent for it. However, I enjoy the mechanical aspects.”
A cut-out metal art
In their work process, Nazreen explained that once a design is finalised, it will be transferred to the CNC machine for cutting. Nazreen then proceeded to demonstrate his work on the seemingly complex screen, pressing the right buttons to make sure the machine makes the right cut. Before long, the plate of metal sheet that was cut was smoothed out using a welding machine operated by its technician.
But according to Nazreen, not even machines are perfect, and there are times when technical issues present itself. He said that there were times when the machine would cut a metal plate in half. “There was one time when the machine went ‘crazy’ all of a sudden. It was frustrating to the point that I burned the whole plate. Luckily it was not stainless steel as that would cost me more,” the 25-year-old recalled.
Nonetheless, after gaining numerous experience with the machines, he said that as long as you understood the basics of it, you can fix it. “There was another time when the machine broke down for a week and we couldn’t find a solution. We had to put clients’ projects on hold until it was fixed.”
Apart from always ensuring the machines are working well, another challenge that the duo had to face was finding the right design. “We need to produce a design that suits a client’s needs.” Once the design is approved, only then can they start the cutting phase. “Overall, a small design can take one or two days, but a bigger and more complicated design can take anywhere from four to five days.”
To avoid rust, the metal posters will be undercoated with a regular spray can and then topped with paint that is used on cars. For artwork meant for outdoors, Nazreen would use powder coating as it is more suitable to withstand different weather conditions.
According to Nazreen, the most expensive material he used is aluminium which can cost up to RM1,000, depending on the size and design.
Never give up
Having sold their artwork to clients as far as in the United States, Nazreen is happy that their hard work has paid off. “Dad and I did think about quitting during the early years. The technology was new then, and hardly anyone knew about it. And when we tell them how much an artwork would cost back then, they thought it was expensive.”
He added that over the years, demands gradually increased, and at the moment, the market of customised metal posters is good. “I think that many are now aware of the current prices, and agreed that the end product is worth it.”
Asked about the life lessons he had learned from the business, Nazreen said that it was to never give up. “It may be cliché, but I learned not to give up. During the first year, we barely made ends meet. It was hard to make even RM1,000 a month. Thankfully, we held on and now we have regulars who helped us along the way.”
If not for Borneo Metal Art, Nazreen conceded that he would have worked as a machine operator in factory elsewhere. In the future, he has set his eyes on owning a complete set of metal sheet cutting tools in a workshop.
“I want to own a laser cutting machine that will result in more precise and detailed cutting. The metal art will be more refined than what it is now.” Currently, Nazreen said that he only owns a welding machine and a CNC plasma machine at his workshop.
What’s certain, the development of metal posters helped redefine the way we decorate our spaces. With the right design and colour, metal posters are a big help in elevating the aesthetic value of a room, and create a nice ambience.