Take Breaks, Vancouver-Based Graphic Designer Charmaine Cheng

Charmaine Cheng is a graphic designer and art director living on unceded territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Nations, otherwise known as Vancouver BC. She currently works at Rethink Communications, an award-winning creative agency. When Charmaine isn’t working, she’s obsessing over typography, taking personality tests, or watching interviews of her favourite musicians.

Portrait, 2019

We’d love to hear how you got started. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was always a creative kid. I grew up drawing, painting, singing and dancing and could spend hours doing all those activities. I was always told I could make it as an artist, but only started to believe it when I got to high school and took classes that made me feel confident about pursuing a career in art. After graduating, I discovered what graphic design was and instantly fell in love. Now I work at an advertising agency called Rethink as an art director and graphic designer.

Project – Fox&Foul, 2019

What ideas are you exploring in your practice? What is your process like?

It’s a bit vague, but I’ve been exploring ideas that have substance and mean something to me. I think the best ideas come from places of passion, so I’ve been exploring what’s important to me and how my work can reflect that.

In terms of process, it’s a bit chaotic, but it’s fun chaos! I start by casting a wide net, thinking about everything under the sun that pertains to the subject I’m focusing on, and then narrowing it down until I (hopefully) strike gold.

Costa Rica Lettering – Sports Illustrated Magazine, 2019

Do you have a mentor or piece of advice that influenced your practice?

My approach to mentors is to look for them in everyone. I like to read and watch interviews from a bunch of different people in different industries and pick out the things that resonate the most with me. That way, I have advice from people from all different walks of life. If I had to pick a quote that I try to live by, it would be “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

What do you find the most challenging in pursuing your artistic career? Do you have any secrets to stay creative?

I think the most challenging thing is the imposter syndrome and lack of confidence that comes with being a creative. It’s really easy to think your work isn’t good enough and be self-critical. But it’s also important to remind yourself that everyone feels that way, and it’s just a part of life.

My secret to staying creative is to pursue other forms of creativity. When I’m not working my 9-5 job, I like to spend my time doing something creative that has nothing to do with advertising and design. If I just worked on advertising and design 24/7, I’d get tired of it. But, by spending my time painting, writing music, playing instruments, etc, I’m flexing different creative muscles and also maintaining my excitement and passion for advertising/design.

Zafrane Packaging Design, 2019

What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community inspired you as a creative?

Community to me means a safe space for all of the community members. A healthy community is a place where different people can come together and be represented. 

I consider my community to be my coworkers, who have definitely inspired me as a creative. Being surrounded by creative people who are so smart and come up with such great ideas is incredibly inspiring, and pushes me to try and do my best work.

Is there any advice you would like to share with others?

Take breaks! As creatives, it’s tempting to get sucked into hours and hours of work. It’s also easy to feel pressured to work all the time and to not complain, because we have the “dream job”. But mental health is incredibly important, and burnout is very real. So my advice is to always check in with yourself and how you’re feeling, and take breaks as needed. Who knows, maybe the break you take will inspire your next amazing piece.

Project – Weekly C Words, 2019

text & photo courtesy of Charmaine Cheng

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