FROM INK ON paper to mammoth copper sculpture, Han Meilin is one of the most versatile and prolific artists working on the mainland. And at 70, he shows no sign of stopping. 'I feel these are my golden years. I'm now doing my best work. Next year, I want to try oil painting,' says the man who has been dubbed 'Picasso of the Orient'. Ranked as a first-class artist on the mainland in 1986, a high state accolade, Han will soon have the honour of having a second museum dedicated to his work. Last year, the Han Meilin Art Gallery opened in Hangzhou with more than 1,000 works donated by the artist. Early next year the Han Meilin Museum, spanning 10,000 sq ft, will open in Beijing. Located on the east side of the city in the Tong Zhou district, it will house 2,000 pieces. 'I feel very privileged as a living artist to have two museums with my name. Usually you have to wait until you're dead,' he says. Han has retained much of his work over the years, 'because they're all unique, like children'. 'For sure if you see a Han Meilin for sale on the market it's likely to be a fake,' says the artist who was recently in Singapore where a retrospective of his work is being planned for next year. Born in 1936 in Jinan, Shandong province, Han was the second of three sons from a poor family. He started studying calligraphy and painting at the age of six and quickly showed artistic talent. By 13, he was enrolled in the army and tasked with painting and sculpting busts of army heroes, a skill he would employ years later on his giant sculptures. In 1955 he graduated from the Central Academy of Arts and Design (now a part of Tsinghua University) and was retained as a faculty member at the Department of Decorative Art. The Cultural Revolution brought hardship for the already famous artist. He was imprisoned for more than 41/2 years and tortured. After his release from jail, Han turned his artistic attention to animal portraits 'because I couldn't get into trouble painting only animals'. He also developed his own style of Chinese ink painting, which he admits to stumbling on by accident. 'After I came out of jail, I was so poor I didn't have any money to buy rice paper. So I worked with very cheap paper, which would not absorb the ink properly and would leave edge marks. I quite liked the effect. Later, I experimented maybe 10,000 times to achieve the same effect on good quality paper. Once I'd mastered the technique I could do the work very, very quickly,' he says. To achieve the new style, Han invented his own paint brush, a very long, thin variety made of dog hair, which are not as straight as the usual horse hair. This made the ink dry a little less quickly. For his latest work he's been pushing himself by using ink on watercolour paper, which gives a different effect again. Han is passionate about his work and doodles throughout much of the interview with a black marker pen, quickly producing six images of stylised antelopes and reindeers on paper, before starting to decorate some white porcelain plates. When asked about his artistic philosophy, he says: 'No matter how globalised the world becomes, an artist must always retain his independent thinking. Otherwise the world won't be so colourful and as interesting. Art cannot be globalised. You need to have your own individual style, influenced by the culture of your nation.' He has drawn inspiration from a mix of Chinese folk art, traditional embroidery, paper cutting, as well as primitive cave drawings and ancient calligraphy. His work was exhibited for the first time in the west in 1980, in a show that toured 21 cities in the US. His most famous work included official Chinese stamps for the Year of the Pig in 1983, panda stamps in 1995, the phoenix logo of Air China, and most recently the logo of the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as the mascots, the five Fuwas, known as the Five Friendlies. Designing for the Olympics had its challenges, including the exceedingly low copyright fees the artists were paid. The government has promised to look into possible legislation to protect artists' copyrights since Han broached the subject with National People's Congress president Wu Bangguo. In recent years, Han has put most of his time and effort into colossal urban sculptures, including the 36-metre long sculpture of six tigers in Dalian or more recently a 78-metre long sculpture of five birds at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. 'I have no self-control,' he says with a laugh, before adding more seriously, 'I don't think an artist should have any limitations.'