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.
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!