Argonaut interview about Who is Your Shero? by Bianca Ng

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A few months ago, my friend, Linh-yen, who is a designer at Argonaut in SF reached out to me because their team was looking to feature artists and designers in their quarterly magazine. This quarter's theme was collaboration. I was excited to take part in this cool internal, passion project Argonaut created. Down below was the interview I had about the creative process behind Who is Your Shero?


Q: Right off the bat, why design and illustration (among other creative disciplines)?
A: I have a theory that we are born with a passion, but we avoid pursuing it throughout our lives because we get trapped believing what we should do. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to that authentic self. I spent the better part of my life feeling ashamed of my creative self. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, not with my family, friends, or community. Being surrounded by people who excelled at academics, it felt like my value was dependent on my report card. I remember almost failing the second grade and looking back at it now, I can laugh about it, but back then, I was like what the fuck is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get this? Until I left for college, I felt isolated from my community. Starting at age 7 or 8 I’d spend hours alone, drawing in my room. It was the only thing I loved to do. Eventually, it became the only thing I was good at, and now as an adult, I feel grateful I'm able to keep drawing and designing.

Q: What led you to begin this personal project?
A: Last year, after the presidential elections, I felt overwhelmingly hopeless. I didn’t know what to do besides complain to my friends. One day I was tired of being surrounded by negativity and complaining. I just wanted to create something positive. So I said fuck it and spontaneously decided to pursue the project.

Q: Describe your creative process.
A: From the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep, my mind is running. I'm constantly making connections, asking questions, and consuming content. I know an idea is worth exploring when it keeps coming back. Once I have an inkling of an idea, I become obsessed until I create the project. I can't let it go. It's like an itch on your back that you can't scratch. I probably annoy the crap out of my friends because I'm relentlessly asking them for feedback or picking their brains.

Particularly for this type of personal project, it’s 90% process and 10% execution. After I solidify an idea, I have to find participants and collect the stories, and then digest the stories. Finally, after hours of processing, I can sit down and illustrate. My favorite part is when everything clicks, and I have a clear vision of how I want to express the story visually. 

Q: What challenges did you face in this project?
A: The first challenge I faced was finding participants for my project. This year, I am continuing the series with a different theme and visual (#takeupspace_defyingdualities), but now I have more than enough participants, which is super exciting for me. For the first time, I don't have to force my friends to participate in my project!

Most people weren’t aware of this, but the second challenge was using color. Up until this project, I rarely used color. Black and white is home to me while colors always intimidated me. So I challenged myself to use over 60 unique colors for this project. It pushed me to go beyond my creative comfort zone.

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It’s 90% process and 10% execution.

Q: Why is important for artists to collaborate with others (artists and non-artists)?
A: Collaboration, especially with people from different backgrounds, is essential because that's where the real creative magic happens. There is a saying that designers design for other designers. When I first started designing, I fell into this trap, but I'm more interested in crossing the boundaries across different disciplines. It's more interesting, meaningful, and realistic. Designers don't need more designers. The people who need designers are writers, entrepreneurs, podcasters, etc. I love collaborating with non-artists because I get to show them the power of design and in return, they teach me something new. Through this collaboration, untold stories got a special spotlight.

Q: What did you learn through working with others?
A: Every person you interact with can teach you something if you pay attention and listen closely enough.

Q: Are you creatively satisfied?
A: I’ll never be creatively satisfied because my curiosity is like a perpetual fire. Sometimes, the fire is only a low, wick, barely lighting a room and sometimes it’s an all-consuming, wild beast that could burn down a forest. Even as I'm working on a personal project, I'm already thinking about the next one. Every project leads to the following and it's tricky to differentiate when one ends, and the next one begins. 

Q: Would you do this again? And if so, would you change anything?
A: Absolutely! I’m not sure I would change anything, but I wonder if it could’ve been better if I had more time. I began this project when I was working in SoHo and commuting from NJ. I had 12 hour days on average and then I’d go home and work on this crazy project. Given the circumstances, I can’t believe I got it done, and people gravitated towards it!

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Every person you interact with can teach you something if you pay attention and listen closely enough.

The 2017 Stamps Alumni Juried Exhibition by Bianca Ng

A few months after I launched my project on Instagram, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response I received from friends, family, peers, and strangers. I thought to myself, "Well that was fun and exhausting." And then I took a monthlong break from all social media to travel to China with my family. 

When I returned, I received an email from my alma mater, The University of Michigan, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, about submitting to the group Alumni exhibition. I was hesitant. A secret, that's not so secret, 90% of creative people suffer from imposter syndrome. I regularly analyze my imposter syndrome with my therapist. But among the participants from my project was my boss from my previous job. I asked her if I should submit my project to the group show theme of ambiguities. She responded, "Of course! Being a woman is a minefield of ambiguities," I scrambled together an artist statement and hit send. 

I forgot about the submission. A month later I got a notification: "Congratulations! The 2017 Alumni Exhibition juror, Brian Kennedy, President, Director, and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art has selected your submission for inclusion in the 2017 exhibition “Ambiguities/ Innuendos. Go Fish.” I was both shocked and excited. A project I created, out of a small idea I had, was accepted into a group exhibition.

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This seemingly small feat made two points clear to me 1. The only times I've received any recognition was for my passion projects. The first time it happened, I called it supernatural. The second time it happened, I called it luck. The third time is the charm. This acceptance gave me the confidence to believe in my capabilities in creating something authentic and meaningful. 2. "Being a woman is a minefield of ambiguities." Unknowingly, this conversation with my old boss was the seeds of the next theme for take up space 2018.

Who is your shero?: Creative Process by Bianca Ng

I remember waking up that morning in November and reading a group text message from my friend, "It happened." I cried in my bed and then had to explain to my mom why I was so upset and terrified about the election results. Over the next few months, every conversation was about some shitty thing Trump did or didn't do. I feel privileged to say that I don't remember the last time the entire country felt so angry, divided, and fearful. Before heading to the Women's March in D.C., I spontaneously illustrated a few poignant quotes from strong women. They were colorful and straightforward, but somehow still powerful. Most importantly, I had fun creating them.

Out of sheer frustration and hopelessness about the political climate in the U.S., I decided to pursue a personal project celebrating women for Women's History Month in March. I was sick of being surrounded by negativity and wanted to contribute something positive to the world. As a type-A lady who has to-do lists and religiously lives by her calendar, this project was relatively unplanned. I sent a call out to friends, family, and collaborators to answer the question, "Who is your shero?" 

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Up to this point, most of my creative work had been primarily analog and black and white. Black acrylic ink markers were home for me. I wanted to challenge myself outside my comfort zone, so I spent a weekend having fun in illustrator and using the Adobe Creative Cloud app on my phone. 

I'm not one to pace myself, so naturally, I pushed myself off the deep end by challenging myself to use over sixty individual colors. There wasn't a single color I used twice in the thirty-two illustrations I created for the project. If something scares me, I try to face it head on, sometimes dangerously so. This creative experiment helped me gain confidence in using color in my designs and illustrations. Previously, I would hesitantly pick colors and avoid any muddy, gross hues, but now, I'm able to embrace the potential for every color combination. The stranger the pairing, the more I gravitate towards it. I was super excited anytime someone complimented the colors because that was the most challenging aspect of the project for me, besides getting enough people to participate in my project!

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Another challenge I struggled with was physically completing the project because I wanted to share one drawing a day during Women's History Month on my Instagram. On average I had twelve-hour long work days working as a designer while commuting from Manhattan to NJ. Because this project was so spontaneous, I didn't plan out when I would create or share the work on my Instagram. Some days, I would rush back home after a long work day and stay up late to complete the drawing because I didn't want to miss a day. As much as I wish I had more time to reflect and create, I think the lack of time prevented me from overthinking. This whole project was a bit of a creative experiment for me (as most passion projects are). Before this project, it had been many months since I pursued another personal project. Despite the exhaustion and frustration, I felt the creative spark within me come back to life and I found the joy in creating again.

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