Annie Chen interview: Endless combinations of colours
Annie Chen is the creative force behind LEMONNI.
Although she was educated in biochemistry and psychology, she now explores her passion for patterns and colours from her home and studio in downtown Vancouver.
She will be exhibiting at Surtex, which will be Annie’s first ever licensing show.
Annie Chen shares with us the story of her transition from hard sciences to graphic design, learning the business end of design work, and details about her studio space in Vancouver, Canada.
The basics of colour theory
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Annie Chen: I have a background in graphic design, but I’ve always had a special love for patterns. I fell in love with textile design after I learned about the work by Marimekko and Orla Kiely. I love how simple their graphics are, and yet they grab your attention right away. Looking at their colourful prints just makes me happy. I’m also fascinated by how differently patterns can appear with a change in scale or colours. This is one of the factors that inspired me to create patterns. I enjoy every step of the process.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada at the age of 15. Since I was a kid, I have been collecting beautiful letterheads, paper, and packaging. Sometimes my parent thought I was collecting garbage, but I think I was just trying to appreciate art and design. Although I didn’t pursue a creative path in school (I studied biochemistry and psychology), I was inspired to pursue one after spending some time traveling and working in London, UK. I started to freelance as a graphic designer and take some relevant courses along the way.
In 2013, LEMONNI was established as a brand that combines my passion for patterns and love for paper and textile.
I think I learned to appreciate art and design because of my mom. She used to be a graphic designer and she’s very artistic. When I was a kid, she taught me drawing and the basics of colour theory, so it has been pretty natural to me when it comes to working with colours. My husband also inspires me a lot. He has been encouraging me to pursue my dream right from the start.
An eye for aesthetics
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I didn’t have any formal training. I actually studied biochemistry and psychology as an undergrad, and then I got a publishing master’s degree. I wanted to be a book or magazine designer at that time, but soon realized that a publishing degree wouldn’t suffice. So I learned my graphic design skills from taking some part-time courses and reading books. I practiced my skills through lots of self-initiated projects. For me, I think technical skills are easy to learn, but the hard part is to develop an eye for aesthetics and a unique style. It’s an ongoing learning process through lots of practice; there’s no shortcut to it.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
Because of my background in graphic design, I work mostly with computers. Designing with computers is convenient because I can see immediate result if I change the scale, the colours, or how the graphics interact with each other. Occasionally I would incorporate watercolours, inks, or colour pencils to create texture for my artwork. I would paint or draw on paper (or a different medium) first, scan it into the computer, and then play around with the digitized texture until I’m satisfied. I’d like to use this technique more often in my work.
Less is more
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My style is simple, but bold. I tend to use only a few motifs in my textile design, and I like my prints in big scale. I believe that less is more. I think it’s actually more difficult to convey ideas with just a few lines and shapes. My work is more on the side of commercial art. Having a background in graphic design, this is pretty natural to me. Essentially I still want to create something that people would love and appreciate. Even though I avoid following the “trend,” I always keep in mind what clients and consumers would love when creating new work.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
I always carry a notebook with me to jot down my ideas and sketch as much as possible. Sometimes I make a mood board of images that can help me develop my ideas. Once I’m satisfied with my sketches, I digitize them in the computer, and then I start composing how the patterns would repeat until I’m happy with the result. Sometimes I like to add a bit of texture by drawing my graphics with watercolour or colour pencils, and then scanning them into the computer. Once I have finalized my design, I start adding or changing the colours of it. This is where the fun begins. I just love working with colours, because there is an endless combination of possibilities! I share a studio with my photographer husband in downtown Vancouver. We’re currently renting a commercial retail space as our studio. The front part works as a showroom for my textile products. There’s a wall in the front covered with wallpaper featuring my Aqua Fish print. I have a table for my computer and another table dedicated to drawing, sewing, and all the other crafty things. We have a small kitchen where we have meetings with clients around a vintage butcher block island. Our studio and home are both located in downtown, surrounded by the sea and mountains. It’s a very beautiful place to live in. If I need to clear my mind or look for inspirations, I would take a walk with my puppy along the seawall or in one of the trails in Stanley Park. It’s a great balance between city and country life!
Do you use a sketchbook?
Yes. I have several lying around in my studio and home. I also put a small notebook in my bag, so I still have something to write in if I forget to bring my sketchbook.
The most challenging thing
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
My inspirations come from travelling and my love for animals. Meeting new friends also inspires me. There’s always so much to learn from from talking to others. I admire textile designers like Oral Kiely and Katsuji Wakisaka. I just love the simplicity and playfulness of their styles.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I haven’t been practicing in textile design long enough yet to notice an obvious evolution in my work. I think the most challenging thing for a new textile designer like me is to find my own style. It’s challenging to develop a unique style while making it commercially successful. Exhibiting at Surtex is my first ever art or design licensing show. When I first established LEMONNI, I developed the products myself with my own textile design, so I’m curious about how my work will evolve in the licensing world.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
This is from a standpoint of selling your artwork. Be yourself when you design, and learn the business part of what you do. If you’re not hired by an employer, basically you’re running your own business. I found myself spending a lot of time running the business itself rather than creating. Marketing is super important to get your name out there, and don’t feel that you need to be ready to show your work. The truth is you’ll never be 100% ready.
I’m still learning how to promote myself, too. You can have the best work in the world, but without marketing, nobody will know about you.
Lots of ideas
What other resources do you use?
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My computer, printer, pens, pencils, and sketchbook.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I participated in local/national craft shows and interior design show to showcase my handmade textile products. I also collaborated with friends for pop-up events. I show my work through social media; mostly Instagram.
Surtex will be my first licensing event.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Surtex, if you’re in the art or design licensing business.
I also have a showroom in my studio. (990 Nicola Street, Vancouver, BC)
Annie describes herself as relatively new to the world of textile art. How about leaving her a warm welcome with a comment below?