Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #22: Emily Chu
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on Jan 23, 2022
The twenty-second person I’m profiling in my newsletter subscriber Q&A series is:
Illustrator and Visual Artist Emily Chu
Getting to know Emily Chu:
Emily Chu is 32-year-old Illustrator and Visual Artist originally from Beijing, who grew up in Calgary before moving to Edmonton (Amiskwaciwâskahikan). Emily specializes in editorial and advertising illustration but is also passionate about visual arts and community-centered arts engagement work. I first became familiar with Emily when I saw her ameowzing (😉) cat-themed artwork many years ago. I invited her to be a vendor during the early days of the Edmonton International Cat Festival and have been following her artwork ever since. Emily runs an initiative called Chinatown Greetings, which you’ll read more about below. She also co-organizes the very popular Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair, and she serves on the equity board at the Edmonton Arts Council.
She is such a creative, talented artist who cares about and is involved in initiatives that are so important to the community, I’m excited for you to learn more about Emily in the Q&A below and be sure to check out her Website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Emily Chu:
Can you describe the work you do and how long you have been doing it? Can you describe your “style” of design/graphic design/artwork that you do?
Like most artists, it’s a journey and a mix of many different experiments. When I first graduated from art school (design/illustration major), I spent the first 1-2 years hopping between companies as an in-house designer and print shops.
Around 2014, I started making indie graphic novels and vending at markets and comic conventions. I also worked in textile/pattern illustration where I produced surface design collections for home decor/upholstery fabric mills (I still see some of my designs randomly on love seats at big furniture stores).
Also in 2014, I started vending at the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair, where I’ve found “my people”—a super supportive arts community. I’ve been a continuous vendor since then :) And naturally grew my clients and business over these last eight years. I’ve taken a few part-time teaching positions at post secondaries and workshops in illustration and painting but I’ve worked full-time as a freelance illustrator since 2018. Moving forward, I am also pursuing more self directed visual arts, public art, and community-focused art.
Can you talk about some of the initiatives you’ve been a part of? Recently, Chinatown Greetings, this holiday, the YEG Holiday Book, previously Royal Bison, I feel like the list goes on and on, what other projects are you proud to have been involved in, what did they entail, and what inspires you to start or join different projects?
Yes, I seem to have a passion for community-driven work. I love both vending and helping organize the Royal Bison Art & Craft Market, working with a great team, meeting and being inspired by new artists each season—all really positive work in the creative community!
Earlier this year, I started working on more self directed art, in learning and drawing Edmonton’s Chinatown. That quickly turned into a community project as well, hosting sketch-clubs in Chinatown, engaging with long-time community members to share stories of the neighbourhood to give context to the art sessions. And that project grew into Chinatown Greetings—an initiative to engage with artists to make work that amplifies and celebrates our historic Chinatown.
As for the YEG Holiday Book, I just love the folks at Glass Bookshop. I’m so grateful for their trust to capture moments through my art and to be apart of such a great initiative to support local businesses!
How did you get into graphic and visual arts and design? And what made you decide to pursue it professionally?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My family enrolled me in after-school art classes for as long as I remember, so drawing and creating is just my comfort. I grew up between countries and languages as well, so visual communications was always the most comfortable language for me.
In some ways, art is my first language and the one I am most fluent in.
I decided to seriously pursue art in High School, I was in the art IB program in Calgary. Initially I wanted to be a painter, but learned about illustration as a profession (by accident) in Grade 12 when I encountered a beautiful CD cover at HMV. So I am grateful for attending a high school across from a mall, haha!
- Can you articulate why you do what you do?
Honestly, not really. It does bring me joy, but as my job, it also brings a lot of stress/deadlines/pressure to the creative work. I do believe that art is extremely powerful and has the ability to connect people. I try to keep this as my top priority when I create illustrations for both commercial clients as well as for myself!
I want to push myself to make art that has impact, art that uplifts myself and others—whether if it is a silly comic that can make someone laugh, a children’s book that can give a child confidence, or editorial illustrations that can convey a feeling.
I love the problem solving aspect of my job, and that challenge keeps me inspired to improve.
Can you share a memorable moment or ‘successes’ in your career / life?
Chinatown Greetings is one that I am very proud of. It is an accumulation of all of my creative skills, market/community building, art-direction, as well as community engagement, to make an incredible collection of goods to celebrate Chinatown, alongside a supportive group of talented artists! I am so thankful to have the trust of other artists and community members to make this project happen. Since our fall 2021 event, we have met many other artists and are already planning the next project/event for 2022.
Can you share a challenging moment, obstacles or failure in your career / life? And perhaps what you learned from it or how you overcame it?
I’ve had a slow journey and have worked through a lot of self doubt. I went to art school right out of high school and struggled a little bit in finding my voice (due to confusion and general immaturity). I am currently reading “Your Art Will Save Your Life” by Beth Pickens (thanks to Jason at Glass Bookshop for the recommendation!), and one concept is to “keep making art not for the now, but for the art I will make in the future”. I found that to be very true and a great reminder that the life of an artist is a long journey of trial and error, discovery, and surprise!
Can you share advice for others who might be interested in getting into graphic design or visual arts?
It is a difficult field, one of many grey areas and lack of clear industry standards, but also so worth it, and so good for the soul. My advice is to network, and to reach out for help when needed. If you feel safe to do so, engage in the local arts community.
- Generally speaking, artists are stronger together.
- Also, don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out right away. It typically takes 5-10 years to be able to work full time as a freelance commercial artist. For me, it was at least 6 before I felt comfortable to quit my side-jobs to work full time.
Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you do for fun?
This sounds silly, but I love to sketch. On-location sketching (and disconnecting from a computer) feels so so good, and so does sketching with friends. I also really enjoy music/singing, a long walk in the ravine, and a good movie!
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix (or other streaming services) and why?
I watched the Sesame Street documentary last month and I loved it. Brought on many happy tears.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
I am reading the Beth Pickens set at the moment: Your Art Will Save Your Life and Make Art No Matter What. Although I am mid-book for each, I feel that they are essential reading for all creative folks. I also listened to “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor (which she narrates – extra bonus) a few months ago, which I am very thankful of.
What is one of your favourite local restaurants or stores you’d recommend?
Glass Bookshop! ❤️ Just some of my favourite people doing amazing things and amplifying diverse voices and arts!
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
Check out Chinatown and walk from Louise McKinney Riverfront Park all the way to North Chinatown. So many heritage businesses, family businesses, and sites that are in threat of cultural erasure, as well as so much great food! Also public art in the area (Tiffany Shaw-Collinge at Kinistinâw Park)
Thank you Emily for sharing your story!
You can connect with Emily on:
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