On Playing With Food and Crafting Puns with Local Artist Emily Cheung

Graphic designer and lettering artist Emily Cheung has mastered the craft of the food pun, so be sure to have a couple in your arsenal when you visit her at East Van’s upcoming Got Craft? fair, which runs May 5th and 6th.

Your favourite/most underrated type font? I love looking at clean minimalist typefaces like Gotham and Avenir — contemporary but classic and never out of style.

Least favourite/most overrated type font? Scripty ones like Mistral/Brush that tend to be the default scripts available — there are so many new good ones (and custom lettering options) out there!

Your favourite word? No favourites, but definitely ones with a mix of ascenders and descenders or options for fun ligatures.

What inspires you? There are so many great artists, designers and letterers out there doing amazing work that really inspires me to keep going and try new things. Otherwise, I’d say a vibrant local food scene and an awesome city definitely have a positive impact!

Three local restaurants or businesses that you would like to collaborate with? Especially with summer approaching, I’d love to work with a local ice cream maker like Earnest Ice Cream, but we’ve got a lot of great ice cream options in town! It also makes me think patio season, so a local brewery like Twin Sails, Parkside, Yellow Dog or Moody Ales out on Brewer’s Row in Port Moody or Dageraad in Burnaby. Otherwise, probably a restaurant in Chinatown; there’s some fun spots in there and lots of new ones arriving.

You’ve used everything from chalk to taco chips…what is a material that you haven’t yet utilized but would like to? Something more temperature-dependent or liquid-based, if we’re talking food, would definitely be a challenge. Most of the items I’ve worked with are dry and relatively moveable without issue. Maybe it’s time to try throwing another wrench in the mix? I’m otherwise interested in getting my hands on acrylic or wood pieces and cutting letterforms.

The most challenging project/material you’ve encountered so far? Definitely the more perishable and or wet ingredients because they can’t be as easily adjusted as dry ones. Sesame seeds were also surprisingly finicky — they’re so light they tend to jump at the slightest move.

The most rewarding project or your favourite project, to date? The “Up to Dumpling” series was a fun favourite. We’ve been doing dumplings the last few years for Chinese New Year, trying to get back to family traditions. It also happened to fall right around Valentine’s Day this year, which I know isn’t everyone’s favourite holiday, so I thought, ‘Why not have a little fun with it?’

Are you a perfectionist? Yes and no? I will tweak and tweak things, but I’m trying to get better at letting go by the time it hits that minutiae point where no one else will notice but me!

A time you got in trouble for playing with your food? There were pretty strict rules about it in my house and I listened, so this is probably my inner child rebelling!

Favourite Vancouver sign(s)? The Ted Harris Paint sign on Hastings between Heatley and Hawk — a little faded and worn over time but I love the colour and type. Or the Helens/Heights Girl Swing sign on Hastings near Gilmore…This one’s purely sentimental. I remember being so excited when I got my first big event dress there as a kid!

Tell me about the process of your “Playing Flavourites” series? The “Playing Flavourites” series started with a Christmas card I did a couple years ago that was my first try at food lettering — it was something I’d seen and was looking to try something different than pencil and paper. I’ve always loved puns (and food!) so it made sense to keep going and try a few more. They always start with the pun generation, and work their way through sketches just like any lettering project, albeit slightly less detailed; considering material colour and background, and readjusting when considering materials, size and shape. Sometimes the lettering changes once I start working with it — the variable materials is what makes it interesting and a challenge and you have to be ready to adapt.

Many of your projects, such as the rice grain lettering, seem like they’d be very tedious to do with all the detail involved! How long does it take for you to complete a project? That one was for sure. As one of my first pieces I tried, I think it took me close to 8 hours by the time I’d sketched, planned, executed and photographed it! I’ve since gotten a little better about doing more planning, considering materials used, and prep work, so most involve about half or less than that now.

Why, when there are so many technological tools and programs for design, do you choose to use physical objects to create your work? I grew up learning to do more things by hand first and love doing it. I’ve always preferred pencil/pen and paper over a screen whether drawing, writing or whatever. There’s an immediacy and literally the opportunity to get your hands in and get dirty and something really great about touching, moving and seeing things change in real time as you do it in front of you. It’s a physical, tangible thing to interact with. That’s my favourite part!

Your most invaluable tool? Well-rested eyes.

The tool that you wish existed? Correcting glasses/goggles/contacts that help draw straight lines or notice small edits to make, especially when the eyes aren’t so rested!

Most of your work is quite humorous…tell me the last thing that made you laugh out loud? Surprise, surprise: food puns in response to my food puns!

Your favourite joke or pun? The puns involving cheese, just cheese-nius.

You recently participated in the 36 Days of Type challenge. What was the most difficult letter or number? The most fun or surprising? What did you learn from the process? I always struggle with E, even though you’d think it might be my favourite letter, and definitely find numbers more difficult than letters. J is definitely one of my favourites! The process really teaches you to look at letters and numbers, ways of lettering them, and realizing or pushing bounds of legibility and readability.

You also make greeting cards and have done a series of Galentine Day cards. What imaginary holiday do you wish existed? Treat Yo’ Self day! Still along the Parks and Rec theme. I know it exists unofficially, but wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone got one of those as a Stat to use as they please every year?

What is your next project? Currently I’ve started working with Piquant Marketing on some local, food-based brands. I love their style and supporting local and other business owners whenever possible! I’m also working on opening and expanding my online shop. I’ve just been doing markets for the last year or so and I love creating things that live and are used out in the real world, outside of my design projects.

The project you are most looking forward to this year? There are definitely some potential client projects along the lines of things I’ve been working on, but I can’t quite talk about them yet. Otherwise, fun side projects I do for myself are always at the top of the list. I’m going to be continuing the Playing Flavourites series for sure, as I’d love to eventually have enough for a whole book of food lettering puns, and I’m also hoping to push the tactile nature, 3D aspect, and scale of my lettering work even further — probably not with food — but working as installation art pieces. No definite plans but this is where I’d love to see it go!

What’s your personal motto? I don’t really have one, but as I go forward I keep telling myself: “You won’t know unless you put it out there” …meaning, trying or doing new things and talking about them, people won’t know you can or want to do those things and/or let you do them otherwise!

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