I recently interviewed a fellow illustrator as part of a required project to gain a better understanding of life in the design industry. Joon Saw is a prolific creative, with a fresh and youthful aesthetic. She has also been a friend of mine for several year. I have designed the questions to be broad so as to make them helpful for people in a wide range of creative fields. I had a lovely, long chat with Joon, and thoroughly enjoyed editing the transcript. I hope my readers find the following insightful.
I WAS COMPLETELY THROWN IN AT THE DEEP END
You are a busy designer, juggling three different projects. Tell me about the work you are involved in right now.
Yes, I have a full-time job at a graphic design studio. A weekend job designing for a street wear company. And I also collaborate with an illustration collective in London, exhibiting my work with them.
I got my full-time job at a graphic design studio in Singapore called Restless through a friend of a friend. It’s a small company, so I’m in charge of a lot of the design work, including UI/UX (user interface and user experience design). When I was hired, I thought I would only be doing illustration work, which is my area of speciality. But as it turned out, I was completely thrown in at the deep end! The studio is working for a client who is an up-and-coming app company, so there is a lot of UI/UX design involved. Because it is such a small team, I taught myself interface design on the job.
As if you don’t already have enough things on your plate. Tell me about your second gig.
So Hypersupply is a street wear company founded by two guys. One of them is based in the UK. And the other one is based in China where he is in charge of the manufacturing. The guy in the UK actually saw my work at the graduate show. He especially liked my dissertation about streetwear that I had shared on my website. They give me a call every week or so, and we discuss about the designs, the progress and so on.
STICK TO YOUR OWN NICHE
That’s incredible; I love how your work is so detailed and technical. Walk me through your design process.
At my full-time job, the founder of the studio is the art director, and so he gives direction as to how to approach a certain brief. For all professional graphic designers or illustrators in general, we mainly use Adobe Illustrator. I believe in sticking to your own niche; for me, that is digital illustration. For my personal projects, I use Adobe Photoshop. I think Photoshop renders organic lines a lot better. I use sketchbooks mainly for quick initial notes and brainstorming. I then proceed onto Photoshop or Illustrator drawing with my Wacom tablet, building layers of shapes and colours. Other than designing, I’m involved with other aspects of studio work as well, such as setting things up for photography.
You were invited to show your work at a trade fair. How did this opportunity come about?
Hero of Switzerland is a collective of illustrators who I first met at a trade fair. I saw their stuff there and really loved it. I was a fan of their work and a customer too, having bought a t-shirt from them on one of my visits. I had been following their activity online, and I submitted my work to them when they held an open call for new work from artists. I was pleased to know that they like my work, and after I graduated, I started exhibiting with them at London Illustration Fair.
See Joon’s interview with Hero of Switzerland here (p.s. these guys are pretty hilarious).
↑ Joon’s breakfast spread. Got protein, got carbs, and of course, some of that dark liquid fuel that runs through designers’ veins.
A GOOD BREAKFAST PUTS ME IN THE RIGHT MINDSET
Design can be an incredibly fast-paced and high stress career. How do you manage to keep a work-life balance?
I always take a good few hours before work to get ready and get a good breakfast in. I have the same breakfast at the same café pretty much everyday. I’m such a regular there that the server gets worried when I don’t turn up! Having a breakfast routine is very important to me. Starting my workday with a good breakfast puts me in the right mindset, and just sets the tone for the rest of the day.
So this is a typical day for me: I wake up around 7:30 am on a weekday, and leave home at 8 am. From my house, I take a bus, and two different trains to my breakfast place. My journey is over an hour long, but luckily in Singapore, we have excellent wifi on public transport. I listen to a range of different podcasts on Spotify, not necessarily design related, usually something light-hearted and funny. Recently, I’ve been listening to the H3 podcasts, as well as Under The Skin by Russell Brand. At 9:15 am, I arrive at the breakfast place. As I walk in, the kind server says hello to me. I order the same things every time: Two pieces of Xiao Mai (Chinese Dim Sum), two hard-boiled eggs served with soy sauce, and a black coffee. I finish up eating at 9:50 am, and walk the short distance to work. At 10 am, I arrive at the studio.
I get to my desk, plug in my earphones and get started on my work. The studio usually has Spotify playing in the background too. I either continue on with yesterday’s work or start on a new brief. Lunch is from 1-2, and I usually have food from the hawker centre nearby. The studio works till late, sometimes until 12 am. Unfortunately when I do work this late, I don’t have time for dinner, as the work must be finished by the end of the day. And then I go home, and start the next day all over again.
GET USED TO BEING REJECTED
I especially love your breakfast ritual. People in industry seem to work even harder than I had previously imagined. This is just the dose of painful reality I needed. What advice would you give to new graduates?
I’ve always had a very specific design aesthetic, as I’m interested in skateboarding and street wear subcultures. Throughout your whole degree as a student, you can pretty much design in your own style. But when you’re working for a studio or a client, your stuff has to fit with the style of the company. So my advice to new graduates would be to get used to being rejected. I’ve often had clients approach me because they like my work. But even when they approach you, clients have their own opinions as well. So your work has to be tweaked to tailor the client’s specific tastes and requests.
Thank you Joon for your time and invaluable advice!
See Joon Saw’s amazing work here: