Finding Creative Catharsis with Local Artist Nicole Jang of ‘See You Soon Studio’

Nicole Jang, illustrator and maker, in her Vancouver studio.

See You Soon Studio is the new venture by local artist and maker, Nicole Jang. What initially caught our attention was the playful patterns, vibrant colours, and narratives of her textiles and prints, not to mention the custom-made nigiri wall-hanging we spied on her Instagram feed.

See You Soon Studio will be making its big debut at the upcoming Got Craft? market (May 4th and 5th at the Maritime Labour Centre). For an inspiring interview with the artist and entrepreneur, read on…

First of all, who are you and what is See You Soon Studios? My name is Nicole Jang and I’m a multidisciplinary designer, born and raised in Vancouver. My trajectory into an artistic field was the inevitable result of being nurtured by a family of creatives. Last year, I started my own business called See You Soon Studio which creates textile-based products and illustrated paper goods. The business is a fever dream of my obsessions in bold contrasts of colours, abstracted forms of nature and narratives, sometimes supernatural in theme. These aesthetics carry through my current offerings of quilted wall hangings, quilted pouches, art prints and greeting cards. It’s a studio that also reflects my values to locally produce handcrafted products with a commitment to a sustainable practice.

What’s your educational background? I studied Industrial Design at Emily Carr University, which introduced me to the importance of design process and objects as evocative storytellers. The most impactful take-away from my time there was how to recover after continuous personal failings. It took me almost 9 years to complete my Bachelor of Design because I became severely depressed during my 4th year. Understanding my depression was a grueling education in itself but it also unexpectedly gifted me with a stronger sense of perseverance, patience, and empathy. My learnings from this experience have informed many aspects of how I approach my work and conduct my business.

What’s the significance of the name “See You Soon”? On my last week of full-time employment, I was saying this phrase to my coworkers instead of “goodbye” and it struck me as the perfect sentiment for a name. “See You Soon” is a tethering statement that never quite denotes a farewell. It’s a comforting gesture. Like me (and my work), it is a touch melancholic but optimistic.

What is the difference between the objects and art you produce under the SYS Studio brand and your personal artwork? At this point, the distinction is very slight. I regard my SYS work as a more curated and further refined selection of my personal work. I would say my personal work is slightly less filtered, so maybe less serious or sometimes more serious.

You have a very tactile approach to your designs. Where does that come from and why did you decide to embrace this element with SYS Studios? I am a hands-on learner. As someone who spends a lot of time agonizing over details and sufficiency, the best way for me stop the cycle of self-doubt is shifting the notion of “creating” to “exploration”. I honestly do not sketch very much because I find the most gratification and inspiration comes from being less precious – cutting up paper to move it around, looking at how shapes can layer or transition, flipping something upside-down, etc.

I read on an Instagram post that you recently left the security of a day job in order to put your energies into your own business, SYS Studio, full time. Props! What were you doing before and what inspired this drastic change? I was a Product Prototype Designer at Herschel Supply Company for over 3 years. I worked alongside a talented group of individuals to bring concepts to realization through various rounds of hands-on prototyping. It was translating a sharpie sketch to sewing up a bag in a blink. I grew immensely there. I felt validation as a designer and it contributed to restabilizing my self-confidence. I did personal and freelance work after hours to temporarily feed that creative satisfaction, but in the back of my mind I think I always knew I wanted to pursue my own practice. The timing felt right to make a big change and my husband was a very vocal supporter. He and I both knew if I didn’t at least try, I would deeply regret never doing so. To ensure I wasn’t proceeding blindly, I enrolled in a small business class to understand the viability and challenges involved with being running a business. This provided me a stronger foundation to disregard my self-imposed excuses and finally say, “okay, let’s do this”.

What has been the scariest moment of starting up your own business so far? When I initially launched my instagram in March I can recall hovering my finger over the “post” button for several seconds, slightly hyperventilating. I felt very vulnerable. I had been making and developing a body of work in the privacy of my studio for months but secretive work does not translate well to running a small business. I knew once I posted any declaration, everything would suddenly be more real.

What has been the most rewarding moment to date? There’s no singular moment but rather the most rewarding realization. I cannot express how overwhelmed I have felt (and still feel!!) with the abundance of loving support I have received in this business endeavour. It’s heartwarming how generous people can be with words of encouragement and lending a helping hand. I have fewer days now where I wonder if I made the right choice.

What was the biggest learning curve? Understanding when to stop and move on has been a constant challenge. I could work on the same thing obsessively until the day I die. Shifting my creative process to be more mindful of time management is an ongoing effort. Unless I am working on a contract, I have the final word which is still terrifying. Also, cost-analysis breakdowns involving conditional formulas is a nightmare.

Now that you work for yourself, describe what kind of “boss” you are. As a boss to myself, I am guilty of being pretty awful. Hahah. I make myself work into the wee hours of the night with little forgiveness. Sometimes I will reward my little successes with a cookie break. Honestly, this question has forced me to take pause and pat myself on the back.

How would you describe your work ethic? Frantic, semi-calculated, and ambitious. As the person who wears all the hats in my business, I try my best to stay organized by writing a lot of lists and scheduling my calendar meticulously. Despite my best intentions, I do get distracted by all the business needs that run in parallel with each other. Like, I would rather be making inventory than scanning my expense receipts. Prioritizing has been a critical practice. I’ve really valued the flexible schedule so I can allocate buffer time to compensate for creative blocks or days when my depression hits. It’s crazy how much shorter the days feel when you run your own business and how many waking hours are spent thinking about it.

Do you have a studio space? And/or how do you separate your workplace from your home? I feel very fortunate to live in a two-bedroom apartment with a very generous husband who encouraged me to use the master bedroom as my studio (we sleep in a room that just fits our bed). Big shout out to Ben for that. There’s a nice big window that welcomes the light and looks onto our balcony with an overgrown Japanese maple. I will often scrunch up on the couch to draw on my iPad or do computer work on the dining table, but it’s nice to have a designated space to focus (and contain my mess). I’ve always been a homebody so I adapted very quickly to working at home, but I also have to remind myself to get some fresh air and socialize.

I love the nigiri sushi wall hanging! What food and/or restaurant has currently got your stomach and creative juices going? There’s rarely a moment when I’m not thinking about food so my mind is racing with “mmm” moments. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into a Salted Egg Yolk cream puff from Beta 5 and was practically brought to tears. It was like the pastry chefs looked into my soul and captured my every desire into a dessert. I think I hit peak dessert, guys.

Can you tell me a bit more about your “Alphabet of Emotions” series? (For instance: What sparked the overall concept and where do you find emotional inspiration for each of the letters?) I started the series as a prompt for Inktober with the very rudimentary concept of translating emotions/feelings into an illustration, limited to 1 spot colour. I made a list of words for each letter and depending on how I felt that day, I would choose the word that resonated with me at that moment. Unintentionally, most of the chosen prompts were negative feelings (eg. bored, greedy, panic, tired). I really enjoyed how this series played with the possibilities of interpretation and integrating unexpected or light-hearted narratives. The main goal was to not be literal or obvious. Daily drawing challenges can be a creative strain and it’s easy to feel uninspired to do it everyday for a month, but the rewards are always vast. I now have 26 images that are essentially 26 different avenues to build upon (even the duds).

Which letter of the alphabet do you currently relate to the most? Maybe a U? It’s perpetually precarious, but retaining some form of balance.

Which letter of the alphabet is your favourite of all time? Q is a great shape. Essentially a dynamic O with a tail. Q words are also effortlessly whimsical in some sense.

Besides being a creative outlet, how does designing and making art and artful accessories/decor fulfill you? There’s a self-indulgence when it comes to creating your own products — it’s my choice of design and colour palette that is constructed based on my aesthetics. I tend to gravitate towards blobby shapes. I like punchy colours. So, I find a lot of fulfillment simply knowing that my work resonates with someone. The connection that is created is an amazing thing.

What is your most invaluable tool? I have a pair of fabric shears that belonged to my grandmother. They’re heavy and retain their sharpness so well. They make me feel connected to her even though we didn’t share a relationship based around textile craft while she was alive.

What design challenge and/or material have you not yet tackled but would like to in the future?I have a massive, never-ending list of projects! The highest priority is tackling the textile waste in my production; I try to prevent wasting as much as possible but there are bits that are difficult to re-purpose. Besides using it as stuffing, I would like to develop a more clever alternative. If we’re talking about pipe dream projects in the very distant future, I would love to make some sort of tactile children’s book.

I know that Got Craft? is your official launch…but what else is in store for SYS Studios that you’re looking forward to? Got Craft? has become my public debut and I’m really looking forward to connecting with other vendors and participants of the craft community. It will also be very interesting to see how my products are received and where there will be opportunities for improvement. The next few daunting tasks on my list is to launch my e-commerce website this summer and develop a plan of attack for the holiday season. I already have a bunch of potential product ideas in mind that I am antsy to develop. Quilted throw pillows? Maybe a screen-printed 2020 calendar? Enamel pins?

Where do you see this project and/or your art and design endeavours in the next year? 5 years? Decade? My current main objective is to create a strong foundation for my studio so that it will become a profitable business without me burning out. That would be truly amazing. I also want to find more opportunities to collaborate with other creatives and local initiatives. Further in the future, I would love a studio/retail space where I can keep designing, hire enough staff to maintain local production, and potentially host workshops and events that cater to the creative community.

What sort of impact do you want to make with SYS Studios? At the end of the day, I want to make people happy. I want to continue to make products that are crafted with an intention for quality, and integrity for using ethically sourced materials. My line of products can still be delightful without compromising the environment.

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